The award-winning British architect, now 65, told DW what has changed about Berlin, how he feels about Brexit and why he's inspired by one of the poorest areas of Europe.
DW: Did you always want to become an architect?
David Chipperfield: I grew up in the country and as a child I was maybe more interested in in rural things and animals and I wanted to work with them. But in school I had a very good art teacher. And he inspired me very much. I wasn't very academic, but he was one of those teachers you dream of. It was very inspiring and reassuring. He really coached me a lot and gave me a lot of confidence and he sort of pushed me.
You are often in Berlin. Do you also speak German?
I understand a reasonable amount after all of this time, but embarrassingly my German has not improved that well. Berlin is a little bubble. You often go to restaurants and even the staff don't speak German. Normally they are Australian or something. Not an easy place to learn German.
You've had an office in Berlin since 1997. Did you fall in love with the city at first sight?
Berlin's somehow special, strangely. I mean you can't say it's the most beautiful city in Europe. But there's something very open, accessible, about it. I think this is why young people came. Especially in the early days, it was a city in progress, with a lot of openings — literally physical gaps.
And where is Berlin today?
Well I think every city has history and Berlin has too much. Clearly this fragmented quality was very much part of the appeal and the atmosphere and identity of Berlin. In recent years, of course, we've seen a change where now the rest of the world — not just young people but investors — have decided this is a trendy place to come and also an investment place.
So now we have money and money changes everything and investment changes everything. Now the challenge for Berlin is how to grow up; how to deal with protecting its inherent character and at the same time taking investment and building to the next stage.
There were strong protests against the modernization of the Museum Island when the planning began. How did you deal with that?
A lot of my colleagues apologized and said it must be bad to have to deal with this, but my answer was always that we as architects always want people to feel strongly and emotionally about architecture and therefore you can't complain when they do.
And I think we didn't see this as only negative; it was about an engagement. It was about the importance of the project and I think it forced us to explain ourselves better, which I think architects should do. And also, if you're a foreigner in another city you don't have a sense of entitlement, anyway. I respected the fact of being given this responsibility — it was an honor to do it.
Chipperfield presenting his new James Simon Gallery on Berlin's Museum Island along with Culture and Media Minister Monika Grütters and the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Hermann Parzinger (l)
You've established your career in London, where you also have an office. How do you feel about Brexit?
On a professional basis, I think it's not the end of the world for us. On a personal basis, I would say it's demoralizing and very upsetting. For the young generation, for my children, I think it's terrible. I mean we only hope that the difficulties the [Brexit politicians] are having, which are real difficulties, will bring some reality to this but I think it's an incredibly negative solution and I think it has split the country. I don't know what a second referendum would be, but the only way to bring the country back together would be to say: Do you wish this never happened?
You also have a home in Spain. How did you pick Galicia?
First of all there are accidents that bring you somewhere. But then why do you stay there and why do you keep going there and why do you develop your love for this place? I think it's the directness of it, you know, in our complicated world. It's wonderful to be in a place that draws on its simple qualities. And that's how people are there too. And I think that's something very, very refreshing.
What are the ideals you believe in? How will we be living in the future?
I don't know. But the nice thing about our work in Galicia is that we're not interested in let's say a "recipe" for the rest of the world, but to demonstrate how quality of life is not necessarily directly connected to income. I mean Galicia is one of the poorest areas of Europe, but when I ask people, "Do you have a good life here?" They say: "Yes, absolutely."