Chipperfield talks architectural balance

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Photo by Kamaria Greenfield.

Architect Sir David Chipperfield discussed the challenge of juggling modern architecture, historical buildings and public opinion in a talk at the Yale School of Architecture Thursday night.

Chipperfield, a renowned British architect and Norman R. Foster visiting professor, spoke in detail about the difficulties he has encountered in trying to reconcile his own modern aesthetic with the traditional style of architecture the public often expects. In addition to students, faculty and members of the New Haven community, the event attracted prospective graduate students who had been at the School of Architecture for its open house that day, filling Hastings Hall to maximum capacity.

In his talk, Chipperfield critiqued both his own and other architects’ works, using his reconstruction of the Neues Museum in Berlin as a case study.

“[Chipperfield] has established a reputation of great importance in contemporary architecture,” said Architecture School Dean Robert Stern. “He is able to oscillate between a very provocative modernism and a more disciplined or traditional compositional mode.”

Chipperfield began the lecture discussing his early experiences in Japan, where he said he was able to experiment with abstract ideas characteristic of modernism. He contrasted this freedom with the skepticism of modernism prevalent in England in the late 1980s, an attitude that quickly made him aware of the tension between the public’s conservatism and the modern architecture.

“It was a shock to come out [of graduate school] and realize [modern architects] were a public enemy,” Chipperfield said.

This “hostile public opinion,” he said, was the result of poor work by the previous generation of architects, whose bad reputation became projected onto Chipperfield and his contemporaries. Furthermore, the damage to England’s monuments and other edifices caused in World War II contributed to the public’s grim outlook on architecture, he added.

And in moving into the digital age, modernist architecture faces new challenges, Chipperfield said. Today, the field faces the prevailing belief that modern architecture must be revolutionary, Chipperfield said, but works are rarely wholly original.

“By definition, [architecture] is not an easy place to be radical,” he said.

Instead of focusing on innovation, Chipperfield emphasized the importance of architecture to blend into its environment and respect the history of the area.

Chipperfield said his remodeling of Berlin’s Neues Museum, which re-opened in 2009 after an 11-year-long reconstruction, was a unique project because the building had been in ruins since World War II. While he insisted that the absolute replication the contractors had hoped for would be impossible, Chipperfield and his team took every possible measure to maintain the museum’s historical integrity. Under Chipperfield’s direction, every piece of original material that remained was kept, stabilized and cleaned so that it could be incorporated into the reconstruction.

During its construction, his work on the Neues Museum faced great opposition from the German public, Chipperfield said. More than 500 newspaper articles had been published regarding suspicions over whether his design would be able to do justice to the original monument. Fortunately, the opening of the museum was well-received, Chipperfield said, and his designs were “universally accepted.”

Four students interviewed said they appreciated Chipperfield’s respect for history, as well as his handling of different architectural styles.

“I liked the international aspect of the talk,” said Lara Kroepsch MED ’11. “It was interesting to hear from a famous British architect who talked about blending modern architecture with old world international art.”

Prospective architecture student Corey Collier agreed, saying that he was inspired by Chipperfield’s commitment “to doing what he thought was right” as opposed to abiding by any strict method of design.

Associate Professor Keith Krumwiede will present the next Thursday lecture at the School of Architecture. His talk is entitled “Freedomland.”

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