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AJ100: Contribution to the Profession

Winner: David Chipperfield - Over 1,000 AJ100 employees were asked to nominate one person they thought should be recognised for his or her services to architecture - they chose David Chipperfield

When it comes to making a decent living out of architecture, David Chipperfield, is keen to point out that he has ‘done alright’. The RIBA Gold Medallist, charged with curating this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, is more worried about his colleagues.

‘Count me out. I’m fine. I’ve done better than I ever expected. I’m complaining because I’ve got a voice and I see younger architects struggling in the same way as I did. Why should it be the same now as when it was then?’

The issue at hand is fees. ‘The one simple fact in Britain is that we don’t pay architects. I know we don’t pay nurses, teachers, firemen either, I would look after them first. But we don’t pay architects either.’

‘In order to get good architecture, you need to be paid. It’s as simple as that, you need the hours. The difference between good architecture and bad architecture is time.’ Practices undercutting each other, is a zero-sum game, bad for the profession and the public.

‘It shouldn’t be down to the determined enthusiasm and commitment of young architects to sacrifice themselves. In the UK you make your first good building, you get some photographs and you get it in the AJ and you think “Wow! we’ve made it”. But you’re broke still. Whereas a young Swiss architect banks the fees from their first building, hire more staff, or a few more computers, bid for the next one and are off and running.’

On his newly-won conversion to Mies Van Der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Chipperfield says that there was much discussion in the office about the fee when the suggested price was deemed too low.

‘We had big arguments and some people said “you’re crazy, you’re going to lose the job” but we had to say come on guys, we know how long it is going to take us, there are no shortcuts. What’s the point of doing a restoration of Mies Van Der Rohe’s National Gallery if you’re going to fuck it up?’

‘That’s the first time I’ve ever done that in my life. In our competition document we put in a higher fee. And luckily we got it. Partly because it was a special project but partly because we had a relationship with the city and they understood it was a professional decision. But it’s taken me til I’m nearly sixty to have the balls to do that ‘

Now working on Elizabeth House in Waterloo, London, Chipperfield’s advice for architects charged with keeping clients happy while delivering quality pieces of city is to acknowledge the position of the architect, choose your battles, and aim high.

‘It’s our professional destiny to be both complicit and independent. We have to learn to be both complicit and independent and find a way by which you gain the respect of your client.’

‘A good client respects that you believe in things. It’s important to choose the right ideas and then have the courage to fight for those things.’

Though keeping an eye on fees is crucial, architects shouldn’t neglect the opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives: ‘No building changes the world but it should make some contribution. You should have added something to people’s lives through what you’ve done.’

‘I don’t think that architecture can change the world. But if you start form a modest position I think it’s quite surprising that how important it can be.’

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