For the first time in its 113-year history, the Nobel Prize Ceremony is to have its own home, a building on the Stockholm waterfront designed by the British architect Sir David Chipperfield.
It was announced on Wednesday that Sir David’s Berlin office, with a team led by his colleague Christoph Felger, had won the competition to design the new Nobel Centre, beating two Swedish architects, Johan Celsing and Gert Wingårdh.
The building, to be known as the Nobelhuset, will be sited on Stockholm’s Blasieholmen, next to the Swedish National Museum, in the centre of the city. The design is a spare, glass block, its façades defined by slender brass mullions that give it a glistening, golden sheen intended to look particularly striking in the northern light.
Its volume steps back slightly as the building rises, making its top section appear lighter and more ethereal against the city’s low-rise skyline. It will contain an auditorium to house the Nobel prize-giving ceremonies for the arts and sciences which are currently accommodated in the Stockholm Concert Hall, although the Peace Prize ceremony will continue to be held in Oslo – as stipulated in Alfred Nobel’s 1895 will.
The design for the auditorium is an oval room crowned by a huge, shallow bowl-shaped chandelier that dips down towards the centre of the space. It is galleried, with balcony seating running all around and a stage at one end. Situated at the top of the building, it is intended to be very visible from the waterfront and the city and, with its entirely glazed walls, will be strikingly lit up at night.
The Nobel Prizes are awarded in the long, dark Scandinavian nights of December, and the design clearly intends the auditorium to glisten like a jewel, illuminating the city with its glow.
The jury, whose verdict was unanimous, praised the design, saying: “With its shimmering vertical brass elements and glass, [it] has a lofty elegance and quality that can be associated with the Nobel Prize.”
Alongside the auditorium will be a library, restaurant, education and exhibition spaces, all part of an attempt to embed the Nobel Prize, a cultural totem that keeps Sweden on the map, in the fabric of a city where it is a central event but has had curiously little impact on the cityscape.
The Nobel Foundation was also keen to create a public space beside the building, asking all the finalists to reduce the footprint of their construction designs.
Sir David Chipperfield’s office has designed a new, south-facing waterside park in a city where the sun is always welcome. A “Nobel Path” has been designed as a public route through all the key areas of the building in an attempt to make it as transparent, accessible and open as possible.
Sir David, who was knighted in 2010, seems well-suited to the project. He has made his career in cultural buildings from Anchorage, Alaska to Perm in Russia (where he is currently building an opera house), always eschewing the easy iconic gesture in favour of subtle, clear and thoughtful buildings.
He recently completed the acclaimed Jumex Museum in Mexico City and is still working on the massive master plan for Berlin’s Museum Island, where his completed Neues Museum remains one of Europe’s most impressive cultural buildings – a project that manages to weave the dense, charged history of the city into a contemporary context.
It is particularly impressive that the British architect managed to triumph against two Swedish practices, both very respected. Sir David established his Berlin office to work on the Museum Island project and last year completed a purpose-built architecture studio and apartment for himself and his family there. He splits his time between his British and German offices but it is being made clear that this competition has been won by the practice’s Berlin office.
“All projects are important,” said Sir David, “but this project has enormous meaning, not just for the city of Stockholm but internationally.” The building, the architect continued, “can be spectacular on its greatest night, but also useful and functional and working for the rest of the year… An architectural challenge doesn’t come much better then this.”
The building is expected to be completed in 2018.