In memory: Chris Wilkinson (1945 – 2021)

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In memory: Chris Wilkinson (1945 – 2021)

British architect Chris Wilkinson of WilkinsonEyre, who died at the age of 76, is remembered

British architect Chris Wilkinson has died at the age of 76. Wilkinson created Chris Wilkinson Architects in 1983, changing the firm’s name to WilkinsonEyre in 1999 to recognize the Jim Eyre partnership. Wilkinson began his career working for architects who changed the face of the industry. In the offices of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Michael and Patty Hopkins, he developed an intuitive understanding of the increasingly important relationship between architectural design, structure, systems and technology.

His studio grew in size and capacity until it worked globally, with offices in London, Hong Kong and Sydney. His passions included both art and engineering, the latter being represented in a number of iconic bridge designs across the world including the Twin Sails Bridge in Poole, the Peace Bridge in Derry, the Bridge Lille Langebro cycle route recently opened in Copenhagen and, most notably, the The Gateshead Millennium Bridge over the Tyne, winner of the Stirling Prize in 2002, (which followed the WilkinsonEyre Magna Science Center in Rotherham, which won the Stirling Prize in 2001) .

Marie Rose Museum. Photography: Richard Chivers

Another specialty was “supershed”, the ability to give very large span structures a grace and elegance that had been denied to them since the Victorian era. WilkinsonEyre’s membership in the power of the structure has been applied to a large and diverse portfolio of tall skyscrapers in Australia, Canada and China (including the Guangzhou International Financial Center, winner of the Lubetkin Prize 440 m) to new transport infrastructure designs. These included the modest reorganization of the listed Bath station, all the way to the mighty Gatwick Airport Skybridge which takes passengers above the taxiway. WilkinsonEyre also fashioned the twisted steel ribbons that support London’s Emirates Cable Car, the massive new Jubilee Line station in Stratford, and the renovated King’s Cross gasometers.

WilkinsonEyre will continue to be one of the world’s foremost companies, capable of making complexity simple and simplicity rich and complex. In Oxford, the company built the Weston Library and a Maggie Center, projects that apparently contrasted sharply with the sprawling, chilled conservatories of Singapore Gardens by the bay. By creating a culture of practice that encourages creativity and curiosity, Chris Wilkinson has been able to keep his own passions close to work. Small projects provided an opportunity to showcase his impeccable artistic eye, drawing and painting being an essential part of his practice throughout his career. Wilkinson was also a Royal Academician, and his 2015 exhibition at the Royal Academy looked at the sketchbooks that have always been such a fundamental part of his design life.

Maggie Center, Oxford. Photography: Ben Bisek for WilkinsonEyre

The architect also had a long and successful association with the Dyson family. WilkinsonEyre has designed the award-winning Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in Wiltshire, as well as many other structures for the company over the course of two decades. From the precise beauty of the Suction Bridge at the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden in London, to the proposed art gallery for James and Deirdre Dyson, to the complex technical demands of the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth or the stations of the Elizabeth Line in London, Chris Wilkinson brought a rare humanity and a sense of art to architecture in all its forms. §

A barangaroo. Photography: Tom Roe


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