On December 16, 2021 a brief message on the official WilkinsonEyre Twitter account announced the death of the studio’s co-founder and director, architect Chris Wilkinson. The British architect died suddenly at the age of 76, taking everyone by surprise.
Chris Wilkinson was not only an architect but an artist. He began painting in the 1990s, finding a sense of freedom in painting. The connections between art and architecture were very important for him, and in 2006 he was appointed an academician of the Royal Academy of Arts. After working with world-famous architects such as Norman Foster, Michael Hopkins and Richard Rogers, he founded Chris Wilkinson Architects in 1983. Jim Eyre joined the studio in 1987, and in 1999 the two of them founded WilkinsonEyre.
Within a decade WilkinsonEyre had risen to international prominence, thanks largely to a number of significant projects such as the Jubilee Line for the London Underground, Stratford Station and the Stratford Market Depot, which Chris Wilkinson considered his most revolutionary project. Other important projects include Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian and cycling tilt bridge over the River Tyne. These two constructions won WilkinsonEyre the RIBA Stirling Prize for two years in a row, 2001 and 2002. The studio’s fame grew when it placed first in important design competitions in the United Kingdom and abroad, constructing projects such as Guangzhou International Finance Centre in China, winner of the 2012 RIBA Lubetkin Prize, the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, in the United Kingdom, Singapore’s Cooled Conservatories in the Gardens by the Bay complex, winner of the 2013 RIBA Lubetkin Prize, and the Crown Sydney Resort Hotel (One Barangaroo), which has become an essential landmark on the waterfront of Australia’s Darling Harbour.
For his contributions to architecture, Chris Wilkinson was appointed to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Millennium Honours list, elected an academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, and awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the American Institute of Architecture and honorary doctorates at Westminster University and Oxford Brookes University.
Chris Wilkinson saw architecture as a bridge between art and science, a concept which became essential to the studio’s way of working and which the architect expressed in his drawings, paintings and writings. The projects he worked on over the course of his career were all based on thorough, rigorous study revealing the specific features of the projects’ natural or urban context and his clients’ needs and requests, an approach which gave every single project its own unique character. Discussing his career in an interview in December 2020, the architect called himself lucky for having been able to work at the time of Modernism, and above all for experimenting with the high-tech approach to architecture employed by studios such as those of Foster, Hopkins and later Rogers, with whom he was involved in projects such as Lloyd’s of London. This background drove him to continue exploring new technologies, incorporating into them a poetic approach with stronger ties to narration, adding depth and significance to his built projects, as demonstrated in one of his most recent projects, Lille Langebro cycling and pedestrian bridge designed by WilkinsonEyre and Urban Agency in Copenhagen, among the finalists for the 2021 RIBA International Prize.
Images courtesy of WilkinsonEyre and RIBA
Project Name: Lille Langebro
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Architects: WilkinsonEyre and Urban Agency
Photos: Rasmus Hjortshøj (02-11)
Chris Wilkinson's Portrait by Rob Greig (01)