David Chipperfield, laureate of the 2023 Pritzker Prize, has designed over a dozen museums throughout his career, with some still under construction. As a typology that has significant urban and social impact, Chipperfield and his team have skillfully leveraged each commission to transform neighborhoods and cities while still honoring the essence of the place and what was there before. His museums make powerful statements without being obtrusive, and this is reflected in the choice of materials and the construction solutions used.
Like an oversized minimalism, Chipperfield gives the materials space to unfold and be understood. In his galleries and museums, the materials appear exposed, clean, and highlighted through contrast. They give character to the space while giving prominence to the art on display, generating suitable atmospheres for its proper appreciation. Regularity, continuity, and repetition help shape this background, while the filtered light finishes building the right scene.
In the case of the MUDEC Museum (2015), the architects conceive a series of orthogonal volumes of different heights and sizes that surround a central hall with an organic and fluid shape. The materials reinforce this strategy: the square blocks are in tune with the industrial character of the neighborhood through an external coating of gray titanium zinc, while the central room is made of translucent opaline glass. Throughout the tour, the heavy materials contrast with the light and ethereal ones, although all of them are kept clean and function as a dramatic and subtle framework for the artistic works on display.
Upon entering the building, the focus of the visitor is directed towards a generous staircase that leads from the low concrete coffered ceilings of the ground floor up to the climactic light-filled central space.
The architectural variety of its context gave David Chipperfield great freedom when designing the acclaimed Museo Jumex (2013) in Mexico City. In this way, a distinctive building was raised, using the materials in its favor to enhance its character as an urban landmark. Its exterior walls, floors, and ceilings are clad entirely in locally sourced travertine marble, giving "the building a solid character reminiscent of indigenous sculptural traditions." Inside, the museum prioritizes a clean, continuous aesthetic, using white walls, exposed concrete, and oversized windows.
A distinctive saw-tooth roof creates a rhythmic geometry that defines the third-floor gallery. Consisting of a steel structure with west-facing roof lights and a horizontal diffuser layer, the roof distributes light evenly to illuminate the artworks and provide ambient light for the space.
Translucent opaline glass is once again the protagonist in the design of the West Bund Museum (2019), located on the Shanghai Corniche, on the banks of the Huangpu River. The team reuses this strategy to provide the interior space with a calm and uniform light, in this case, incorporating recycled panels that cover the 17-meter height of its three main volumes. The different types of glass include Jade glass, in an opaque green tone, and super-white tempered low-emissivity laminated glass, applied in the most transparent areas.
These façades, appearing iridescent during the day and prismatic at night, stand in contrast with the smooth brightness of the plaster clad hovering roof canopies.
As the gateway to Museum Island, the James-Simon-Galerie (2018) has become an important landmark within the city of Berlin, since it receives the thousands of people who visit the ‘Archaeological Promenade’ every day. Faced with the magnitude of the existing architecture, Chipperfield chooses a palette of materials that contrasts and blends elegantly with the traditional limestone, sandstone and rendered façades, including reconstituted stone with natural aggregates as the main material and smooth in-situ concrete for cover the interiors.
The architectural language of the James-Simon-Galerie adopts existing elements of the Museum Island, primarily from the external architecture, such as built topography, colonnades and outdoor staircases.
Translucent and opaque façades had been used long before by David Chipperfield and his team. In 2005, in Iowa, United States, the Figge Art Museum opened its doors; an orthogonal volume covered with glass panels with various treatments. Contrasting with simple, monochrome interiors, each façade responds to its orientation through a play of surfaces with different levels of opacity and transparency.
These glass surfaces are fritted with horizontal banding that varies in density so as to define each of the museum’s formal elements.
Located in the heart of Forest Park in Missouri, the Saint Louis Art Museum (2013) opens up to the surrounding gardens through four large floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside the galleries, sheltered from views, the light is filtered from above by a concrete coffered ceiling that extends like a grid throughout the entire building, including translucent glass and various light-diffusing layers. The building's strong presence in the park is reinforced by the material of the facades: dark concrete with local aggregates.
The coffered ceiling articulates a strong material presence and allows the internal walls to be relocated according to the module of the grid, creating a degree of flexibility for the arrangement of the galleries.
Neues Museum, designed by David Chipperfield Architects and Julian Harrap, consisted of the restoration and renovation of the ruins of an old building from 1859, designed by Friedrich August Stüler and bombed during World War II. Seeking to create a certain continuity between the existing and the new, the pieces designed by Chipperfield "respect the historical structure in its different states of preservation." Prefabricated elements made of white cement mixed with Saxony marble chips allowed for the regeneration of its main staircase, which contrasts with the rustic materials of the room.
The restoration and repair of the existing is driven by the idea that the original structure should be emphasized in its spatial context and original materiality – the new reflects the lost without imitating it.
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