Pritzker Prize 2023: David Chipperfield wins ‘Nobel of architecture’ –
Throughout its 44-year history, the Pritzker Prize — regarded as the “Nobel of architecture” — has often been awarded to individuals with distinct design signatures: Frank Gehry’s irregular forms, Zaha Hadid’s sweeping curves, Tadao Ando’s textural concrete.
It may be a sign of the times that 2023’s laureate, Sir David Chipperfield, has been praised by the prize’s judges for precisely the opposite.
“A gifted architect can sometimes almost disappear,” reads the jury’s citation, published Tuesday as the 69-year-old was unveiled as the latest recipient of his profession’s highest honor. “We do not see an instantly recognizable David Chipperfield building in different cities,” it adds, “but different David Chipperfield buildings designed specifically for each circumstance.”
Although best-known for cultural institutions, like Des Moines Public Library in Iowa, the UK’s Turner Contemporary gallery and his reimagined Neues Museum in Berlin, the English architect’s firm has completed over 100 buildings around the world. Spanning residential, commercial and public uses, the understated works are not defined by trademark motifs but by Chipperfield’s insistence on answering what he calls the unique “questions” posed by each project.
“I’m not that interested in architecture as an autobiographical exercise,” he said on a video call from London. “(We) are sort of a midwife in this process. When we finish a building, we go home — we leave it, and it belongs to somebody else (and) we’re not there to justify it and sell it anymore. It has to sell itself.”
Speaking to CNN ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, Chipperfield partly — and modestly — attributed his approach to a “lack of talent,” describing himself as “not an original genius in the way some, like Frank Gehry, are.” He also recognized that architects often have little choice but to stamp their identity on their work.
“Architects have become products. And products have to be distinguishable from each other,” he said, adding: “So, they profile themselves, shape themselves and present themselves in slight opposition to each other. In a way, their signature and their autograph become part of their branding, and therefore their corporate and commercial success. I’ve somehow been shy of that, or at least I found that counterproductive.”
As the prize’s jury attests, Chipperfield’s apparent lack of ego (in an industry that often glorifies great individuals) has proven an asset. He is the latest in a string of Pritzker laureates with few, or even no, conventionally iconic buildings to their name. Last year’s prize was awarded to Burkina Faso-born Francis Kéré, whose career has been largely committed to schools, health centers and community facilities in Africa. The year before, design duo Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, best known for renovating France’s postwar social housing buildings, claimed the honor.
First awarded to American architect Philip Johnson in 1979, the Pritzker Prize continues to recognize what it describes as architects’ “consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment.” But within that broad remit, the merits on which winners are judged appear to be evolving. So, might Chipperfield’s victory herald a wider shift, not only in architecture but society at large?
“I hope you’re a little bit right,” Chipperfield said. “The period … distinguished by the sort of ‘icon’ architecture of the last 30 years — I’m hoping that’s a bit in the past now. It does, within the perspective of sustainability and social inequality, start to look a little bit irrelevant.”