The 2023 Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded to Sir David Chipperfield The British architect is known for his crisp, understated, elegant work. "He enhances the quality of people's lives through a poetic sensation that always flows from his buildings," the jury said.

More timeless than trendy, Sir David Chipperfield wins the 2023 Pritzker Prize

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The winner of the most prestigious award in architecture was announced today, and the Pritzker goes to Sir David Chipperfield. If that's not a name you recognize or one that brings a famous building to mind, well, that's just the way the architect likes it, as he told NPR's Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The Pritzker jury, in its citation, commended Sir David Chipperfield for designing buildings that are not - and this is a quote - "instantly recognizable." I asked him if he thought that was fair.

DAVID CHIPPERFIELD: Yeah. I'm happy with that.

ULABY: Meet an architect understated in all things. Not one of your flashy starchitects, Sir David gets called a master of restrained opulence. When I asked what he was doing when he got the Pritzker call, he said...

CHIPPERFIELD: I was making soup, and I was right in the middle of it, and it was quite difficult to stop.

ULABY: This is a designer who loves process in his practice. Not one for splashy signature swoops or spirals, Chipperfield has designed dignified, elegant museums and additions to museums in Mexico City, St. Louis and London and the public library in Des Moines, Iowa. Architecture professor Mabel Wilson says a Chipperfield building works in harmony with its context.

MABEL WILSON: It's also a building that is very simple and precise with details of metals and stones and woods. But it isn't something that has a lot that comes at you all at once, but something that's very measured.

ULABY: In 1997, Chipperfield's firm was picked to renovate Berlin's Neues Museum. Here's a video from the museum on YouTube.



ULABY: It says, "on the west facade, there is an inscription. Only the ignorant hate art." The museum was built in the 1800s, bombed nearly to pieces during World War II and sat as an East Berlin ruin for decades. The video says Chipperfield preserved the remnants as part of the design. Also in Berlin, he renovated the huge, spare Neue Nationalgalerie, says Mabel Wilson, built by Mies van der Rohe in 1968.

WILSON: You know, that's an amazing modernist icon. That museum is actually one of my favorite buildings in the world.

ULABY: But the world is filled with hideous modern architecture. Sir David Chipperfield acknowledged this as a problem during a 2011 TEDx Talk.


CHIPPERFIELD: And no wonder you hate us.

ULABY: He showed a slide of a building close to his home - a gloomy, gray Holiday Inn.


CHIPPERFIELD: I mean, this...


CHIPPERFIELD: This is appalling.

ULABY: The Holiday Inn contains the DNA, he said, of all bad modern architecture.


CHIPPERFIELD: A sort of cynical client that wants to get as many bedrooms onto the site as possible.

ULABY: A construction industry consumed with finishing fast and architects unconcerned about building for the future.


CHIPPERFIELD: We don't build very well anymore. And in that process, we've seemed to have lost the physical quality of architecture.

ULABY: Perhaps something metaphysical as well, suggests this year's Pritzker winner - call it architecture's soul. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


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