David Chipperfield Architects
Who is design for?
Marking its 30th anniversary, the Bastian Gallery has opened its first international outpost in London’s affluent Mayfair. Having read that the renovation of the new residence had been undertaken by David Chipperfield Architects, I had expected a much larger scale project. The practice also designed the gallery’s Berlin location, Am Kupfergraben, which opened in 2007. This is a contemporary building, constructed from reinforced concrete, and features large window openings, which reflect the urban scale of the site. In contrast, the outpost is situated in a 20th century townhouse, so unimposing that I was distracted by its neighbour, Vivienne Westwood Couture, and walked right past. Perhaps it was intended for the commercial gallery to blend into its high end Mayfair surroundings, to be noticed only by those who it is targeting, art collectors and dealers. As interior designers we can become more focused on what happens beyond the threshold, but in order to entice our intended user inside, the exterior must indicate ‘this is for you’. The property housing the Bastian Gallery, which is part of a traditional Victorian mansion block, has retained its frontage as a former retail unit, indicating its purpose as a marketplace rather than public gallery. This provides passers-by with a clear view of the entire ground floor exhibition space, which during my visit was presenting a series of 60 polaroid portraits by Andy Warhol. The outward presentation was successful in letting me know, as a student without the means to purchase a Warhol original, that the gallery was ‘not for me’. The minimal interior and small 90sqm floor space, further indicated to visitors that the gallery is not a place to spend time, beyond appreciating the showcased work. A barrier prevented the public from using the new limestone staircase, but this lack of a customer journey is what made the space work as a commercial gallery. Only serious buyers would be invited to progress beyond the exhibition area, to the private showroom.
An opposing example, of architecture being unsuccessful in conveying who it was designed for, is the New York High Line. The former disused railroad turned elevated park, was intended for the local community, but quickly became a busy tourist attraction. This meant that locals ‘…didn’t see people like them there…’ and therefore didn’t use it, because ‘…they felt it wasn’t built for them’ (Gibson, 2017: online). This has taught me that design has the power to alienate, not only through its aesthetic but also for those who aren’t privy to its purpose. Therefore, the needs of the end user should be at the forefront throughout the entire design process. In the past it has been the purpose of design to serve the collective good. However in the present, abundant consumer choice has caused design focus to shift, to indulging individual desire. Chipperfield has understood its audiences desire for exclusivity with the design of the Bastian Gallery. Whereas designers of the High Line, which was intended for social good, failed to include the local community in their process. The projects popularity with tourists sparked mass redevelopment in the New York neighbourhood of Chelsea. ‘A previously rundown area, the low-income residents were not prepared for the pace of gentrification, which would [be triggered by] the creation of a new public space. The sudden increase in property prices in Chelsea is the reason Liz Diller, architect for the High Line, has suggested ‘…that post-occupancy, there should be a role for architects to think about what their projects have wrought, and to be able to manage the effect in some way’ (Hobson, 2017: online)’ (Lancaster, 2019).
Another recent London project for David Chipperfield Architects, is the expansion of the Royal Academy of Arts. The architect has designed a number of interventions to integrate the underutilised Burlington Gardens, in to the academy’s main building, Burlington House. The most prominent of these being Weston Bridge, a concrete structure which connects the two historic buildings. Chipperfield told Mark (2018) that he hoped this architectural intervention would be invisible. I believe what was meant by this was that the bridge should be unostentatious, so as not to detract from the artwork on display. Visually it is distinguishable, because of the material choice and full height black framed windows. However, I found this highlighting of the contemporary addition to be successful in terms of the customer journey, which is seamless in its transition from building to building. As a visitor I wanted to be aware when I had moved from one structure to the other, which was informed by the bridges change in flooring and wall texture.
Chipperfield chose not to make substantial modifications to the structure of Burlington Gardens, instead renovating the 1860s Italianate building, with small interventions, such as relocating the toilets, which improved the spaces functionality. This method of adaptive reuse realises the potential of an existing space and its materials, which are often of a higher quality in older buildings such as this. The character which has been retained provides a sense of time and place, giving the space an identity beyond simply being an extension of the academy. Architecture can be a storytelling device, and method of recording time. Chipperfield’s obviously new bridge will attest to when and how the two buildings were united. Architectures ability to snap shot a moment in history, is one reason that people are attracted to ruins, which can signify the decline of previous structures and orders. It is also why we fight to save buildings, such as Victor Pasmore’s icon of modernism, the Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee. This unique combination of abstract art and brutalist architecture, serves to ‘symbolise the philosophy behind Peterlee, which was…trying to create something…progressive’ (Brown, 2011:online).