Chris Wilkinson founded London-based WilkinsonEyre in 1983 to explore new directions in architecture. Since then, the firm has grown into a leading international design practice.
by Ian Spula, Specialist, Program Operations
WilkinsonEyre has enjoyed notable success with complex urban redevelopment projects in England and elsewhere, demonstrating a real knack for injecting the new into worn and obsolete spaces in the city. Chris's current projects include the mixed-use transformation of Battersea Power Station in London; the retrofitting of three unique, antiquated gasholder guide frames near London's King's Cross Station to accommodate new apartments; and an iconic tower in Australia.
What inspires your firm's large and diverse body of work for public spaces?
We like projects that are challenging, that provide an opportunity to design something new and innovative. We want to inspire people, to lift their spirits and create a sense of place.
How does good urban design lead to successful redevelopment projects?
Good urban design not only increases the economic viability of a redevelopment, but it also provides substantial benefits for the community. For a project to be truly successful it is vital to create an environment that people want to inhabit. Our client, Argent, has done an excellent job in demonstrating this at their King's Cross development in London.
Your firm is reviving the iconic Battersea Power Station in London, which has similarities to the Old Post Office in Chicago. How did you approach such a colossal project?
With historic landmark projects, one has to start with an accurate survey and careful analysis of the existing building structure. It is then a matter of working out how to change it to accommodate the new uses whilst respecting the character of the existing building.
Battersea Power Station was a huge shell with much of the interior space open to the sky. We were able to design the space to accommodate nearly 2 million square feet of space for retail, leisure, office and residential uses over 11 floors.
Looking back on the many bridges you have designed in Europe and North America, what do you believe they can do for urban spaces?
Bridges are an extremely important part of the public realm. In addition to providing important connections, they have a huge impact on the visual environment. They can unite communities, become landmarks, ease traffic and provide meeting points. Careful consideration of the context is an important starting point of the design.
What project have you enjoyed working on most during your career thus far?
I enjoyed designing the new museum to house the Mary Rose and its contents. This was King Henry VIII's favourite warship that sank in a battle with the French in 1545. It was raised in 1982 and underwent a conservation process in a dry dock until 2016.
Our task was to design a building which could be built over the top of it to house this precious piece of history together with the 19,000 objects that had been retrieved from the seabed.
We had to find an architectural vocabulary that would be appropriate for the Mary Rose and its neighbour, HMS Victory (Lord Nelson's flagship), which sits in the adjacent dry dock.
What aspects of Chicago resonated with you during your time spent lecturing at IIT?
I enjoyed exploring the city. I particularly liked the contrast between the dense city centre and the wide-open spaces along the lake.
What's your favorite Chicago building and why?
Whilst I like many of the towers and Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, my favourite building is Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall on the IIT Campus.
If you were not an architect, what career do you think you would have pursued?
If I weren't an architect I would be a painter because that is my other passion. I spend much of my spare time painting and drawing.
Mies van der Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright?
It has to be Mies van der Rohe.