TEDx: Why does everyone hate modern architecture? / David Chipperfield

  • 06 Jan 2012
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In this Tedx talk,  of David Chipperfield Architects was invited to discuss the distrust that people feel about architecture, from a practitioners point of view, with the seductively titled talk: Why does everyone hate modern architecture?  Chipperfield asks us to consider architecture of the everyday – buildings that are being built on a daily basis, not the notable and expensive projects that are the exception.  In looking at today’s architecture, he laments over what he perceives to be, an unsuccessful way in which the majority of buildings are designed.

More on the video after the break.

© Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield Architects

Chipperfield blames several aspects of the architectural profession for low number of “exceptional” buildings to come out of everyday practices.  He mentions the “low quality dialogue in matters architectural and urban” and its effect on architectural production and the way our cities are designed.  He also mentions the ongoing battles that every architectural firm faces, and every architectural student is warned about: “fighting developers, fighting planners and fighting the expectations of the public”.

© stijn – http://www.flickr.com/photos/stijnnieuwendijk/

But there is optimism within his talk as he goes on to talk about collaboration as being the saving grace of productive architecture – a discussion in which he mentions one of his own projects for the rebuilding of the destroyed Neues Museum of Berlin, which was designed in collaboration with Julian Harrap.  Watch the video for more!

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "TEDx: Why does everyone hate modern architecture? / David Chipperfield" 06 Jan 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=197075>
  • ted

    A couple points:

    1. You’ll notice he covers his face for the first half of the lecture, during the period when he purports to not understand why “modern architecture” ends up the way it does. As we all know, covering one’s face like that is a sign of disingenuousness, and he lets slip later on that he does in fact know why: cheap developers and clients coupled with the legitimization of cheap mass produced buildings via Modernism (capital M, ie the first half of the 20th C).

    2. This constant theme of collaboration is more marketing than it is an actual idea and this is reinforced by his unwillingness to outright criticize clients, developers, and even the public for their cheapness and thoughtlessness when it comes to building architecture.

    3. The rest of the talk is a pretty shallow discussion of architectural history that romanticizes a period of time when slavery was still common and people’s relationships to buildings are irresponsibly extrapolated from a painting that depicts the wealthy merchant/aristocratic class in Italy, contrasting it positively to a Democratic society in modern Miami (while conveniently ignoring all of Miami’s beautiful Art Deco architecture). This is such a contrived argument on its face.

    4. In the end, dialogue is about conflict and conflict resolution. It’s an inevitable part of architecture and it always has been. Does anyone really think there wasn’t conflict at times between Michelangelo and the Medici family? Really? Inevitably, architects typically look to create buildings that speak to the general public, not just the paying client. This is why architects are viewed as arrogant, because unlike most people in our market economy, architects often have to tell a paying customer that they shouldn’t “get it their way” (like at Burger King). That only becomes heightened when we’re talking about developers, who have the power to not only stall a project but destroy an architect’s career if they don’t get it “their way.”

    Personally, I think it’s incredibly disingenuous the way that architects talk about “collaboration” in the profession these days. Architects are fighting market forces that result in a race to the bottom, and they should be. That’s their job, probably the most important part. Re-framing that fight as a dialogue is pretty shallow semantics in my opinion, especially if one doesn’t explicitly discuss the need or desire to re-frame these issues so as to market one’s firm to paying clients.

    Let’s call a spade a spade.

    • supermundane

      The hand at face, which I think you exaggerate could equally be an expression of discomfort with public speaking.

      As to your claim that Chipperfield romanticises a period when slavery was common-place (actually it wasn’t in the 14th century but became so later) I think you’re drawing a very longbow. This is a specious argument especially when you consider that by your criteria we could equally posit that any celebration of modern architecture is equally a romanticisation of mechanised and roboticised warfare, of ever-encroaching corporate survbeillance and control, of extra-judicial rendition and of applying the processes and ideology of industrialisation and mechanisation against human-beings, such as in the act of mass-genocide which we’ve witnessed on a numbe rof occasions over the past century. Incidentally, slavery is still with us, in forms familiar and new.

      Perhaps there’s something in that; in Corbusier’s visions of cities stripped of human-beings, with all their messiness and lack of predictability? The building as a machine and the human-being it’s appendage. The man was inhuman.

      Modern architects wonder why the public decry their profession with it’s general lack of human-scale, of forms and symmetries which instinctively resonate and of building as place and an expression of human craft.

      Its the notion that you can casually and uncritically disregard centuries of practice and unilaterally impose from above a vision upon the rest of us which lies at the heart of so much thats wrong with modern architecture and it’s most ardent proponents: those who know better and who can do no wrong int heir eyes. It’s well past time to dispense with totalist thinking and the destruction of organic, synergistic fabrics in order to impose a utopian purity.

      Architects need to be far more modest; to humbly acknowledge the debt to previous generations; understanding that there are forms and symmetries which resonate universally with human-beings throughout the ages (that some things work for a reason), and that human beings and human society, contrary to a progressivist ideology which regards human-beings as being essentially formless and imperfect clay to be remodelled according to a grand teleology, aren’t when the products of a consumer society are stripped away, aren’t really all changed is a good place to start.

      Lets dispense with the damaging and ultimately totalist concept that progress is linear and that the new necessarily equates with ‘progress’. Start with how human-beings really are and work from there. Look at what works. Why does Bath near Bristol work for instance; an essentially 18th century example of urban planning. Why is it a pleasant place to be? Why do most people find it uplifting and the kind of place they want to live in, conducive to the creation of community? Why have we discarded so much of what it can teach us, including the lessons of what not do do?

      Let’s start with the human-being as they really are.

    • john chanberlain

      <chipperfield seems to show the hesitancy typical of poor public speakers with little to say.Body language apart what he talks about hardly finds justification in his supposed exemples.Typical referense to Corb or the 20´s ignores the fact that this was the start of a public disinchantment with the modern.His German project has the historic as its base support,thus a bad exemple in comparison with more recente exemples he shows.

      A poor lecture, which denies the obvious care taken in the museum project where collaberation seemed to make him uncomfortable.
      Chipperfield on a bad day

  • Gisela Schmoll

    Unfortunately he doesn’t tell us much about the dialogue/process that supposedly took place and how it could be applied to other projects.

  • martin

    Expected a lot more from this TED..