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Architect David Chipperfield wins 2023 Pritzker Prize

Torsten Landsberg
May 24, 2023

The acclaimed British architect won the prestigious prize for his timeless modern designs and focus on the climate crisis.

A close-up photograph of British architect and urban planner David Chipperfield
British architect and urban planner David Chipperfield won the 2023 Pritzker PrizeImage: Monika Skolimowska/dpa/picture alliance

The Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Japan Art Association's Praemium Imperiale, a knighthood in his native Britain: The list of honors and awards is so long that it's surprising David Chipperfield had yet to receive the Pritzker Prize.

But that will change on May 24, 2023, when the Briton receives the award — considered the Nobel Prize of architecture — for the first time in Athens, Greece.

Sir David Alan Chipperfield was born in London in 1953 and grew up on a farm in the southwest of England. He originally wanted to become a veterinarian, but his passion for architecture was ignited when his father converted another farm into vacation apartments. As young David assisted his father, he became fascinated by the design possibilities.

After studying architecture in London, Chipperfield worked at the office of legendary architect Norman Foster in the 1970s. In 1985, he founded his own company, David Chipperfield Architects.

Today, the architectural firm has offices in London, Berlin, Milan, Shanghai and Santiago de Compostela.

Chipperfield made a name for himself internationally, especially with the renovation and reconstruction of old buildings while taking into account their history and environment.

His offices have completed more than 100 projects in Asia, Europe and North America, including the reconstruction of the Procuratie Vecchie in Venice, the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, and the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach, Germany.

Architect's special relationship with Berlin

David Chipperfield has realized only a few projects in Britain and has felt a certain estrangement from his homeland since Brexit. But he has developed a close connection with Berlin. In 2009, he completed the reconstruction of the German capital's Neues Museum located at the city's Museum Island, which had been severely damaged during World War II. 

Chipperfield Architects also designed and built the visitor center for the Museum Island, namely the James Simon Gallery, which opened in 2019. Its completion took seven years longer than planned.

The fact that the project ended up costing €130 million ($140 million), twice the original sum, prompted Berliners, with their characteristic irreverence, to dub it "the most expensive coat check" in the city.

A modernist building rises behind a brindge on a river
David Chipperfield's James Simon Gallery stands in contrast to the classical architecture of Berlin's Museum IslandImage: Jürgen Henkelmann/imageBROKER/picture alliance

In addition, the office was responsible for renovating the Neue Nationalgalerie from 2015 to 2021. The building, inaugurated in 1968 and built according to plans by Bauhaus master Mies van der Rohe, had significant construction defects.

When the Pritzker jury announced its choice in March 2023, it praised Chipperfield for his "timeless modern design that confronts climate urgencies, transforms social relationships and reinvigorates cities."

Speaking to DW, the 2023 Pritzker Prize laureate emphasized the social responsibility of his industry. 

"Architecture takes, it takes land, it takes resources, it takes energy — so then the question is, what does it give?" He added that sustainability for too long has played a secondary role in architecture.

A view of a corner of the Neue Nationalgalerie, with walls of windows below and a flat metal roof above. A small modern sculpture is in the foreground.
One legend meets another: David Chipperfield oversaw renovations to Mies van der Rohe's iconic New Nationalgalerie in BerlinImage: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

Galician foundation to help protect environment

In 2017, Chipperfield founded the Fundacion RIA in Santiago de Compostela. Based in northern Spain, the foundation aims to harmonize construction and the environment through planning control.

He told DW that it's more energy-efficient to preserve existing buildings rather than demolish them. His stance aligns with the philosophies of previous Pritzker laureates, such as the French architectural firm Lacaton & Vassal.

Architecture must not simply work to make the world more beautiful, said Chipperfield, but also to make it more just and sustainable: "This is the moment in the planet's history where we really have to think about how we aspire society to be."

This article was originally written in German.