Architects blamed for decline in public’s trust
Chipperfield: ‘bad modern architecture’ partly responsible for profession’s marginalisation
Architects must accept some responsibility for the poor quality of public debate on architecture because they have designed so many bad buildings, David Chipperfield said this week.
Some post-war architecture and planning “brought tears to the eyes”, he told the audience at the RIBA’s Stirling Prize debate at Portland Place.
Chipperfield, who won the prize in 2007 and is shortlisted this year for the Hepworth Wakefield, said there was a “natural pejorative attitude” towards modern architecture in Britain. But he said architects should not be frightened by this into patronising the public.
Chipperfield was one of six shortlisted architects taking part in Tuesday’s debate. The others were Ellen van Loon from OMA, Alan Stanton and Paul Williams from Stanton Williams, John Tuomey from O’Donnell & Tuomey, and Philip Johnson from Populous.
They presented their projects before being questioned by architecture critic Rowan Moore and the audience.
Chipperfield took the opportunity to expand on well-received remarks he made at a London Design Festival event last week, when he lamented architects’ “shrinking role” in shaping cities, and accused politicians of only being interested in architecture when it was part of a regeneration project.
He also complained that the media had largely exiled architectural debate to the lifestyle pages.
Source: Elizabeth Hopkirk
But speaking at the RIBA event he admitted that architects shared some of the blame.
“We are not very agile in this country at talking about architecture and what it should look like,” he said. “That’s partly the profession’s fault because we’ve built a load of bad modern architecture.”
He said it brought tears to his eyes to see what had happened to Wakefield, whose historic centre is riven by a 1960s motorway.
Yet the fact that 500,000 people had visited his Hepworth gallery in its first year was proof of a public appetite for cultural projects, he argued.
He warned architects to resist the temptation to be overly cautious.
“The problem in England is we have this anxiety about what the public is willing to accept and what its expectations are,” he said.
“There are reasons why there’s a certain natural pejorative attitude towards modern architecture.
It’s a cumulative cultural anxiety that exists in England. It has plenty of justifications but it doesn’t mean people can’t step over that prejudice, and I think Wakefield was [an example of] that.”
Bad modern architecture “doesn’t mean we have to be frightened of doing things that have their own integrity”, he said.
“However, you need to be able to explain and justify… and if you are going to do something radical it should be thoughtful and responsible.”