Berlin Memoirs: The Strength of Limits

Enrique Sobejano 

Perhaps David Chipperfield had Goethe’s verse “It is in working within limits that the master reveals himself” (“In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister.”) in mind when, in one of his very few essays, he stated that “the limits of architecture are its strength” (Theoretical practice, 1994) anticipating, perhaps unconsciously, a conviction that in time he would fully confirm when undertaking the Museum Island project in Berlin. Though a first reading of his previous oeuvre and the first memory of his built works suggests a diversity of options according to each occasion and place, a closer reading reveals a coherent and continuous trajectory, founded on an expressive refrain and limitation that sets him apart from the more formalist attitudes of many of his contemporaries. After a long career based initially on a body of works of high constructive precision and spatial quality, the majority of them of middle or small scale and built in different countries, it might not seem inappropriate to assert that his ties with Germany – with the opening of an office in Berlin when the Museum Island project began – have meant a turning point, bringing a maturity that has marked and determined the character and scale of his later work. The Berlin project’s condition of work in progress is probably a very adequate metaphor of his own career as architect: pragmatic and empirical, neither prone to experimentalisms or formal excesses, nor to a priori theoretical abstractions, and indeed very committed to a patient search for the clarity and density of an architecture that we could define as realistic, conscious of its precision and of its boundaries, but also of its yearn for continuity in time and place...

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