Architecture doesn't have to be complicated says David Chipperfield


British architect David Chipperfield describes his approach to designing The Bryant, his first New York residential tower, in a new video about the project (+ movie).

The three-minute film shows footage of Chipperfield's studio and renderings of the new tower, which is rising on a site across from Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. Images of the 34-storey building were revealed by Dezeen last year.

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

The rectilinear tower will have a grid-like facade clad in precast concrete terrazzo panels, speckled with marble and sandstone chips. The building's structural frame will also be made of concrete.

"In all of our work we try to find a way by which buildings have a strong physical presence," said Chipperfield in the video. "In the case of The Bryant, we've used facade elements of terrazzo."

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

"The nice thing about precast concrete, and terrazzo, is that they are visible constructed elements," he said.

"The idea that the structure and the facade are the same thing, made out of this polished concrete, I think will give the building a sort of tectonic and physical presence."

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

"Somehow you've reduced the building down to elements of columns and windows, of solid and void, of mass and space," he added.

Chipperfield described the elements of architecture as "incredibly simple and very primary".

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

"I think you can make architecture out of very simple things," he said. "You don't have to be complicated. The difference between a good building and a bad building normally resides in being more thought about."

The 62-year-old architect said his early experience designing small-scale projects has influenced his work on larger projects in more recent years.

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

His portfolio includes the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, a gallery building at the Saint Louis Museum of Art, and a nine-building complex in Barcelona called the Ciutat de la Justícia.

Founded in 1985, his eponymous firm has offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai.

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

"In the first 10 years of my independent professional life, I had to work with small projects, very closely with individual clients," he said, noting that the time frame between thinking and building can be rather short.

"You see results very quickly," he said. "I've carried that attitude, I suppose, to even to bigger projects."

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

Slated to be complete in 2016, The Bryant is one of several projects by Chipperfield in New York.

He recently oversaw the renovation of the Takashimaya Building and designed the Manhattan flagship store for the fashion house Valentino, which is located inside the building.

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

He also designed the Bryant Park Hotel in 2001, which entailed the conversion of the 1924 American Radiator Building.

Last year, he was commissioned to design a new wing for The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that will house contemporary and modern art.

The Bryant by David Chipperfield in New York

Chipperfield described the city's architectural landscape as eclectic and full of contrasts.

"New York gets its energy from its diversity that manages to happen in a rather rigid grid system," he said. "You can have a small building next to a tall building, you can have a black building next to a white building. This freedom is something very special in New York."

The Bryant is one of a number of new towers in Manhattan designed by famous architects, including Renzo Piano, Norman Foster and Alvaro Siza. The rash of residential skyscrapers has led to protests and concerns about growing inequality in the city.

  • Sim

    In the case of David Chipperfield I think architecture should be a bit more complex. Also, I respectfully take issue with this: “The idea that the structure and the facade are the same thing, made out of this polished concrete, I think will give the building a sort of tectonic and physical presence.”

    Ah, but that isn’t the case in any building with a stone facade in a cold climate. You need to insulate the building and that makes that the stone facade is not a structural or loadbearing element, it is simply a decorative raincoat made of a material that comes from a limited resource.

    We as architects need to change our thinking and awareness about the materials we use. It is no longer “just” about the way things look or appear.

    • spadestick

      Are you saying that Chipperfield doesn’t insulate his buildings? And what is more unlimited than stone, pray tell? Even trees live off that in mineral form.

      • Sim

        What I am saying is that stone is a load-bearing material, however when you see a stone facade it hardly ever/never is load-bearing, because there is insulation behind the stone (brick, concrete, marble etc.).

        I think of it this way… For every brick/slab of concrete/piece of marble there, is a hole in the earth with about the same volume that will never be refilled with the same or a similar material.

        Mr Chipperfield suggests that that his facade is part of the structure of the building while all it really does is make the concept of the structure visible, but it does no “structural” load-bearing work.

        Also trees don’t live off “stone in mineral form”. If you plant a tree in pure sand it will die. Trees live off the organic matter and water in between the kernels of stone.

        • Guest

          Pre-cast concrete panels sprinkled with marble and sandstone chips. And if you’ve ever had the privilege of running your hand over a similar material he used in the Neues Museum, Berlin, you’d understand what a truly wonderful material it is.

        • Rob

          Air buildings for everyone please! Ah, no! Then the air will be limited.

    • com_on

      I think that is the creative challenge for this project. To insulate the structure/facade and still make it load-bearing. To think outside the box and come up with a creative solution.

      • Sim

        You can’t do that. It is not possible to bring the load outside of the structure into the facade and keep the building insulated.

        • com_on

          Evidently that’s what they’re doing.

          • Meme

            Haha. Good joke.

        • k0n

          Well, you absolutely could. Not saying this is done in that specific case, but it is possible.

          You make your ‘old-school’ three-layered wall (load-bearing core, insulation, face) and build it inside-out – the core facing outside. Set windows in the insulation layer so it is uninterrupted.

          There is the challenge of making the slab/wall interface to avoid thermal bridges, but it could be done.

        • student

          Look at Zölly tower in Zurich, by Meili Peter architects. They used prefab load-bearing and insulating sandwich elements in the facade, so the facade IS the structure. Maybe there’s something similar here.

    • I happened to be by this building last week and I suspect what he’s saying (when he says the facade and the structure are the same thing) is the following:

      First off, the exterior panels aren’t stone, they are pre-cast concrete. They are special pre-cast concrete panels made with much larger aggregate and then ground down and polished in much the same way that you make terrazzo.

      But at the end of the day, the (solid) facade elements are still cement, lime, aggregate and water JUST as the structure is cement, lime, aggregate and water. It’s all concrete.

      Below is a detail picture I snapped of the precast and the structure behind it. Apart from seeing where they have space for insulation (a very petty discussion point, in my view), you can see that the facade is literally the same thing as the structure: one is a highly manicured version of the other, but they are still made from the same ‘stuff’.

      The fact that they are the same thing most definitely gives this building the physical presence he was describing, and I suggest that having seen it with my own eyes.

  • bilby

    Structural elements in a building can be both aesthetically relevant to the design, and integral to the way the building holds together. What more needs to be said about this idea here?