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Exclusive: Chipperfield responds to Nobel Centre criticism

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David Chipperfield has defended his design for the Stockholm Nobel Centre 

In an exclusive letter to the AJ penned in response to Paul Finch’s column, the architect addressed claims by King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden that plans for the Stockholm building are too big for the site.

Chipperfield said, ’It is very kind of Paul Finch to concern himself about the progress of the Nobel Centre project in Stockholm. I will indeed consider his advice, although I must point out that an auditorium that must seat 1,200 people does have an objective result on the size of the building.’

Chipperfield acknowledged that the project context was ‘complicated’ but likened this to ‘all major public projects in most countries’.

He wrote: ‘It is our experience […] that the civility of such societies, based on a fundamental commitment to social democracy and dominated by a concern for the welfare and opinion of its citizens, tend to struggle with issues that open up conflicts and differences of opinions.

‘It is a tribute to such societies that these things matter. Although it puts projects such as the Nobel Centre […] in a precarious situation, and it inconveniences the process and our task, I retain a certain respect for this condition and the predicament that it puts the architect in.’

Finch wrote an opinion piece for the AJ on the subject last week. He argued that ‘it needs to be the right building for the site, not simply right because it meets client requirements’. He also compared the way in which Sweden had got its ‘proverbial knickers in a twist’ to the effect that Prince Charles’ opinion has had on architecture in Britain.

David Chipperfield Architects beat two Swedish practices - Wingårdhs arkitekter and Johan Celsing Arkitektkontor - to win the competition for the high-profile job in April 2014.

Two years later Stockholm City Council voted through the scheme by 54 votes to 43 after the architect reduced the height of his initial concept by 3m in response to fierce opposition.

In addition, Chipperfield noted that he was more concerned about the situation regarding planning permission in London – possibly alluding to the impact of an ‘out’ vote at the EU referendum – than he was about the views of Carl XVI Gustav.

He wrote: ‘I am less worried by the explicit opinion of the King of Sweden about a particular project than I am of the implicit condition of planning and development that is ruining our own fair city, and will undoubtedly get worse should we further isolate ourselves from the influence of our European colleagues.’

Nobel Centre, Stockholm

Nobel Centre, Stockholm

David Chipperfield Architects’ reworked - and smaller - proposals for the new Nobel Centre in Stockholm [September 2015]

The King of Sweden voiced his criticism of the new Nobel Centre in an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Last year, Stockholm’s City Museum wrote to the council urging them to throw out the plans, objecting to the demolition of three historical buildings on the site.

Sweden’s Liberal Party also weighed in. ‘Blasieholmen may be the right place - but the building as proposed is not right for Blasieholmen,’ said Rasmus Jonlund vice-chairman of the culture committee and the cultural environment committee.

He added: ‘It is too large. It will particularly affect the important cultural heritage of the place’.

Construction is due to start next year on the scheme which will replace an 1876 customs house by Axel Fredrik Nystrom and two wooden warehouses from 1910. The £100 million project is due to open in 2019.

David Chipperfield’s letter in full

It is very kind of Paul Finch to concern himself about the progress of the Nobel Centre project in Stockholm. I will indeed consider his advice, although I must point out that an auditorium that must seat 1,200 people does have an objective result on the size of the building. I also persist in my opinion that the meaning and role of a building has an influence on its setting and its ability to negotiate or even influence context. This is not ‘the argument of a cynical developer’.

However, it is indeed complicated, as are all major public projects in most countries. Furthermore, it is our experience, also in Switzerland, that the civility of such societies, based on a fundamental commitment to social democracy and dominated by a concern for the welfare and opinion of its citizens, tend to struggle with issues that open up conflicts and differences of opinions.

It is a tribute to such societies that these things matter. Although it puts projects such as the Nobel Centre or, in the case of Switzerland, the Kunsthaus Zurich, or even the Neues Museum in Berlin, in a precarious situation, and it inconveniences the process and our task, I retain a certain respect for this condition and the predicament that it puts the architect in.

It is sometimes our privilege as architects to find ourselves working in other cultures and to learn and ‘suffer’ from differences as well as to enjoy what we share. The more time my office and I spend working in other countries, the more we benefit from such deep cross-cultural experiences.

In this context, it is worrying that we are in danger of deciding to isolate ourselves from a closer understanding of other viewpoints and ways of seeing things, limiting dialogue and real engagement.

On the evidence of what happens in our own planning process and the physical results, I’m not sure that we don’t have something to learn from others.

I am less worried by the explicit opinion of the King of Sweden about a particular project than I am of the implicit condition of planning and development that is ruining our own fair city, and will undoubtedly get worse should we further isolate ourselves from the influence of our European colleagues.

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