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Renowned architect receiving prestigious Pritzker Prize questions his industry's impact


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: David Chipperfield is one of the world's most prolific architects, with buildings all around the world. And, today, the British architect was awarded his profession's most distinguished honor, the Pritzker Prize.

Jeffrey Brown spoke to him for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: David Chipperfield has designed museums, in addition to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Turner Contemporary in the U.K., the James Simon Gallery in Berlin, civic buildings, retail stores, apartment houses, more than 100 built works over four decades, and an espresso maker.

He's less known for a signature look or style than for work that responds to specific places and needs.

David Chipperfield, 2023 Pritzker Prize Winner: I would hope that there's a certain consistency of approach and a certain consistency of process and ethos in our work. But I am very concerned that buildings are of their location more than of their author.

The important thing is to make a building for Mexico City or Des Moines, Iowa, or Berlin. It shouldn't be an obsessive idea that it's a recognizable signa, signature building. That's reducing architecture to becoming a sort of product and object.

Jeffrey Brown: I saw an interview where you said: "As I get older, I am much less interested in architecture, per se. I'm more interested in the societal issues of architecture."

What does that mean?

David Chipperfield: I suppose, putting it very bluntly, as architects, we are very concerned, of course, with our products, you know, what -- the buildings we make.

We can see them as, in a way, sculptures. We can see them for their physical and creative qualities. But we also should be seeing them for their societal worth and their purpose. And there's a lot of mismatching in that. So, I think I'm increasingly concerned with what architecture is for and in what ways we build our cities and how useful or useless architecture is for the general public.

Jeffrey Brown: One unusual aspect of his work, transforming older buildings, preserving what holds history and beauty, while adapting them for today.

Among these, in Berlin, the 19th century Neues Museum, left devastated during World War II, given a new life by Chipperfield in 2009, and, completely different, the refurbishment of what's considered a 20th century masterwork, by Mies van der Rohe, the new National Gallery, and, in Venice, a recent restoration of a building that dates to the 16th century.

It's a challenge he believes his profession must embrace, rather than focusing so much on the new.

David Chipperfield: From a sustainability perspective and a resource perspective, we will be working much more with existing buildings, not just monumental ones, and not just the obviously significant ones. But I think we are going to change our attitude towards the reuse and the refurbishment and the refitting of more ordinary buildings.

And I think this will be a big shift in the next 10 years.

Jeffrey Brown: Does that require a shift in thinking among architects and your profession?

David Chipperfield: I think it does. I think it makes a big shift.

And I think it's challenging, but also, I believe, quite rewarding. There is something very collaborative about restoration projects. And I believe that that's very important for the profession to embrace. And I think it's a way back for my profession to become slightly more useful to society, where we're sort of seen to be artistic at the best and commercial at the worst.

We haven't quite made up our minds whether were profiteers or artists. I believe that architects, we have all been trained to believe that we can help build better cities, we can build better places, and that that's the basis of quality of life.

Jeffrey Brown: What do you think is most important now for the health of our cities today and what architects can bring to it?

David Chipperfield: The most obvious is environmental crisis, global warming, and the fact that we're going to have to be more clever about how we use resources.

The construction industry contributes an enormous amount of damage to our environment. So, we have to think about how we might mitigate that, limit that, and address that. And the second existential crisis is social inequality, and, again, cities and where we live contribute or compensate for inequality.

They exaggerate or they level up, to some degree. So, again, I think, as architects, we should be provoking and encouraging politicians and our society at large to take more care about the cities we live in, not just the rich bits and the glamorous bits, not just the shopping centers, but where people live.

And I believe that the reflection that we have all been able to make or being forced to make over these last years with COVID, staying at home much more work being in our locality much more, I think, has -- and being with our families much more, has reminded us of these simple facts.

Jeffrey Brown: David Chipperfield is now working on what could be his biggest project in Galicia in the northwest of Spain, where he's created a foundation to help plan and develop the region's long-term economy and environmental sustainability.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.

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