Chris Wilkinson RA
Born: 1 July 1945
Elected RA: 27 March 2006
Chris Wilkinson made his reputation with a series of long span, lightweight structures which reflected his roots in the high tech movement and his particular interest in large clear span sheds. After spells working with Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Michael Hopkins, he set up Chris Wilkinson Architects in 1983 which became Wilkinson Eyre four years later when Jim Eyre became a partner. Its reputation made with the Market Depot and station at Stratford on the Jubilee Line Extension, it remains the only firm to have twice won the Stirling Prize for the best building of the year by a British architect, for the Magma Science Centre in Rotherham and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Both these projects show how Wilkinson has developed the high tech tradition from its origins as rhetorical expressions of construction and material, to an ability to communicate narrative and metaphor. Magma is essentially a series of pods where visitors can play with and begin to understand how earth, air, fire and water behave, all located within the cavernous spaces of a vast redundant steel mill. Meanwhile, by opening to let boats through as well as providing opportunities to linger over the River Tyne, the Gateshead Millenium Bridge invites contemplation of its surroundings. Elegant bridges where structure traces fine filigree patterns which recall natural forms, are a hallmark of the practice, and the command of structure they demand is also reflected in their growing roster of skyscraper designs.
Wilkinson’s ability to weave narrative into architecture is also evident in a series of visitor destinations. Explore@Bristol turned a railway shed into a science exploration centre, while the National Waterfront Museum tells the story of the industrial and maritime past of Wales, interleaving new construction with existing buildings and exhibition installations. The massive King’s Waterfront arena, conference and exhibition centre, on the Mersey bank in Liverpool, marks a jump in scale. However, the way it fits with the city’s distinctive skyline shows a similar sensitivity to introducing new objects into an established setting.