David Chipperfield: Architectural projects “tricky to navigate” in Sweden

3:31 min

The British star architect has defended his Nobel Center as “a building with meaning”, but several appeals have been submitted against the City of Stockholm’s decision to greenlight the project.

The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony has been held in the Stockholm Concert Hall for the past 90 years, but it now looks set to receive a new home: The Nobel Center. It is an 18,000 square metre building with a shimmering brass facade which - if everything goes according to plan - will be situated by the waterfront in central Stockholm.

Tuesday marked the last day to submit appeals against the City of Stockholm’s decision to approve the Nobel Center, which is designed by British firm David Chipperfield Architects. Several appeals have been submitted, including by Sweden’s National Property Board and by the Swedish Association for Building Preservation.

However at a press conference on Tuesday, the British star architect David Chipperfield and Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, emphasised the civic nature of the Nobel Center project and explained that public engagement will be key to the future building. It will host exhibitions, research facilities, debates, school tours and more, Heikensten and Chipperfield explained.

“The challenge and the opportunity, and hopefully the reward, will be to create a building which has a strong civic role in the city, that conveys the notion of dialogue and meeting and discussion, which I think is absolutely critical to our time,” Chipperfield told Radio Sweden.

Architects, city planners and activists have quarreled for over a century about what a Nobel building should look like and what purpose it should serve. Chipperfield's Nobel Center is no exception.  

"Too big, too expensive and in the wrong place" was the verdict of several hundred demonstrators who gathered outside Stockholm's City Hall on a cold April day to protest against the project, which will cost SEK 1.2 billon (around 144 million US dollars) and will require the demolition of a nineteenth-century customs building.

Chipperfield said major public projects inevitably stir up debate and while he welcomes civic engagement he does not agree with the protesters, he said.

“I think if anybody is not totally convinced of the need for the building then they may think it’s too big, but the size of the building is determined by what is necessary for a Nobel Center. It’s not exploiting the value of the land or something – it’s not a developer building, an office building or a hotel. I disagree with the criticism but I respect the fact that is it part of the dialogue,” said Chipperfield.

Chipperfield believes there is discomfort with dissent in Sweden and a desire always to reach consensus. That, he suggested, can make large-scale architectural projects tricky to navigate.

Chipperfield said: “Sweden has a very healthy social democracy, and there is great concern that people's opinions count and everybody is very uncomfortable if there’s any dissent at all. The whole of Swedish society is built on a very sympathetic consensual social democratic structure, which I absolutely admire. Of course, that makes daily life very nice and rich. It makes extraordinary moments, where you have to do something which is bound to upset somebody, more difficult.”

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