One of the many qualities of David Chipperfield’s work is that it does not seem to feel the need to prove anything to anybody. Buildings respond calmly and with a sense of pertinence to the questions that are being asked and the circumstances that define the commission. When working for institutions, despite the use of contemporary languages and techniques, he is able to deliver classic architecture, in the sense of creating buildings that are able to transcend trends and stand the test of time. If he has to work in the restoration of old buildings, he is free enough to know when to prioritize the existing and to disregard what does not deserve to be preserved. This is how dialogue with history should be conducted: without fear, yet without arrogance.
It is a sign of architectural integrity to maintain the same approach while trying to protect the ruins of the crowning moments of human civilization but in tougher environments, both from a resources and a climatic point of view.
He starts the description of his project for the ruins of Naga in Sudan by stating that there is nothing less appealing than a visitor center. But instead of being intimidated (and exaggerating a solution) or giving up (surrendering to the existing), he is able to deliver a simple, pertinent, elegant, to-the-point, and powerful architecture. The project responds at the same time with care to what was there before us (ruins or landscape) and to what we need today (use). There are many lessons that we should keep in mind from this project: when dealing with a strong valuable heritage in places with limited resources, simplicity (not banality) is a way to rise to the challenge. When we have to do the same in places with abundant resources, modesty— always a consequence of self-confidence—is a way not to drown what we are trying to save. From the context, one can guess that a lot of threats menaced the quality of the outcome, but none of these difficulties altered the elegance of the solution. It is always rewarding to see battles won with such calm.