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Chris Wilkinson - his life in architecture

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Chris Wilkinson discussed his love of painting, his experience of working with Norman Foster, the media and London’s Garden Bridge in a wide-ranging talk at the RIBA last night

Speaking to the BBC’s Razia Iqbal, the Wilkinson Eyre founder said he had begun to appreciate architecture and drawing while at St Alban’s School, experiencing the grandeur of places such as St Alban’s Abbey.

‘As a place it was very uplifting and I did manage to start doing some drawing in those days,’ he said.

Wilkinson said everyone should draw or paint and that the process gave him a sense of freedom.

‘It’s about freeing up your mind and letting go,’ he said. ‘You have to do that with abstract paintings and that is slightly contrary to the way that designers work, which is rational. Painting has given me a sense of freedom, which gives me more confidence.’

Questioned about Wilkinson Eyre’s unprecedented feat of winning back-to-back Stirling Prizes in 2001 and 2002, Wilkinson called this an ‘amazing experience’ but admitted the firm had later made an effort to reduce its profile in the media.

He said: ‘We started to get nervous because the press were onto us. We decided to lay low for a bit and we kept out of the limelight.

‘We thought that the press just lifts you up and shoots you down and [that attitude] led us to work abroad. So it was a good thing in the end.’

Discussing his early experiences in architecture, Wilkinson singled out working for Michael Hopkins and Norman Foster.

Asked about what he learnt from Foster he said: ‘You could say I learnt everything. It was an incredible time to be at Fosters when there were only 35 people there. I mainly worked for Michael, Norman’s partner at the time and it was trailblazing.

‘Norman is a real architect who can do every aspect of architecture.’

Taking questions from the floor, Wilkinson was asked by AJ about Heatherwick Studio’s controversial Garden Bridge.

Wilkinson said he wished Heatherwick luck with the project but he said he had ‘mixed feelings’ about it.

He said: ‘Bridges should keep a low profile [in London] because I like to see along the river and everyone likes the long views. I’m interested in bridges so we’ll see when it’s finished.’

Asked about the controversial Transport for London bridge contest which saw Heatherwick Studio outscore Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield on ‘relevant design experience’, Wilkinson added: ‘no comment’.

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