English architect David Chipperfield has been named the 2023 laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Born in London in 1953, Chipperfield established his eponymous design practice in 1985, gradually building an international portfolio of cultural work — all defined by intense rigour, clarity and an expressive quality that’s amplified through its dignified restraint.
After graduating from the Kingston School of Art in 1976, Chipperfield pursued a design education at London’s Architectural Association (AA), graduating in 1980. As a young architect, he worked in the offices of several notable British designers, including Norman Foster and Richard Rogers (both Pritzker winners in their own right) as well as Douglas Stephen.
After founding David Chipperfield Architects in 1985, he developed a portfolio of elegantly pared down retail spaces, including stores in London, New York and Paris. On London’s Sloane Street, a standout space for legendary fashion designer Issey Miyake was an early watershed, leading to a series of commissions in Japan.
As Chipperfield’s thoughtful retail portfolio continued to grow, a 1989 commission for The River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames marked the architect’s first building in his home country. Inspired by local boathouses and barns, the simple volumes of oak-clad walls and pitched lead-coated roofs sit atop a simple base of concrete and glass. An assertively modernist design nonetheless rooted in reverence for history and context, the complex established many of the sensibilities that would define his later work. The museum was completed in 1997, the same year that Chipperfield won the commission for what would become a landmark project — Berlin’s Neues Museum.
It is this project that perhaps best demonstrates Chipperfield’s radical restraint. The sensitive restoration deferred to the building’s original design — a mid-19th century structure that was destroyed during World War II. As Alejandro Aravena, Jury Chair and 2016 Pritzker Prize Laureate, put it: “In a world where many architects view a commission as an opportunity to add to their own portfolio, he responds to each project with specific tools that he has selected with preciseness and great care. Sometimes it requires a gesture that is strong and monumental, while other times, it requires him to almost disappear.”
Indeed, Chipperfield’s interventions are so subtle that they can hardly be detected, establishing a thoughtful dialogue between old and new. Among them is the updated main stairwell, a key architectural moment bookended by walls that reveal traces of original frescos and repurposed materials.
Across the river, meanwhile, the James-Simon-Galerie makes a striking statement. The gallery is a pared-down counterpoint to the Neues Museum’s neoclassical design language. And yet, its white stone façade and thin columns meld seamlessly with the proportion and materiality of its historic context. Beyond creating a new cultural icon for the city, the project demonstrated Chipperfield’s ardent consideration of the public realm — an ethos that has defined many of his noteworthy projects.
Both the upper level entry foyer and the grand entrance stair serve as gathering spaces that invigorate the site. “This commitment to an architecture of understated but transformative civic presence and the definition—even through private commissions—of the public realm, is done always with austerity, avoiding unnecessary moves and steering clear of trends and fashions, all of which is a most relevant message to our contemporary society,” the jury explains.
Recent projects, such as Venice’s Procuratie Vecchie, reflect these same sensibilities. His renovation enabled public access of the building for the first time. This notion of access is the throughline that runs through the project. Though the façade was left mostly untouched, Chipperfield’s interventions strengthen the connection between the building and the Piazza San Marco. Like many of his projects, the true pièce de résistance is an elegant, sculptural staircase that leads up to a generous new rooftop terrace that overlooks the square.
In Paris, his addition to the Morland Mixité Capitale creates a new neighbourhood hub, complete with affordable and luxury housing, retail, restaurants, a hotel and installation space. The new volumes, raised on vaulted load-bearing arcades, bring a contemporary new face to the former government building, while creating space below for public circulation and gathering. In other words, it’s signature Chipperfield.
“Designing isn’t coming up with colours and shapes,” says Chipperfield. “It’s about developing a series of questions and ideas which have a certain rigour and consequence to them. And if you can do that, it doesn’t matter which path you go down, as long as you go down the path well and have been consequential in the process.”
According to the 2023 Pritzker Prize Jury, “The career of David Chipperfield is marked by a long term, rigour and consistency in a body of work that has seamlessly integrated and balanced both terms of that equation.” Along with Aravena, this year’s jury included Barry Bergdoll, Deborah Berke, Stephen Breyer, André Aranha Corrêa do Lago, Kazuyo Sejima, Benedetta Tagliabue, Wang Shu and Executive Director Manuela Lucá-Dazio.
The English architect has been recognized for being “radical in his restraint.”