Sixteen years after he was chosen to design the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and a decade after it opened, Sir David Chipperfield has returned to the Quad-Cities.
The 61-year-old British architect was the guest at a free reception Thursday night and will be at a dinner for donors on Friday. Thursday morning, he met with reporters in the lobby of the Figge.
Here are some highlights from the news conference:
Roots of the Figge: "It was motivated by an idea to regenerate the downtown area," he said of the spinoff of the former Davenport Museum of Art. "At that time, the town was sort of at a tipping point. ... They were knocking buildings down to make more parking. There's a certain point where you don't have a town left.
"There was nothing downtown. Trying to get lunch here was a struggle."
Symbolic presence: "In a European context, you'd say the town represents the health of the community — symbolically, physically. I was shocked because as soon as I got up the hill (in Davenport), you'd find these very nice communities, beautiful residential areas. Judging from the downtown, you'd think you were in a quasi-Third World condition.
"There was a mismatch between the physical state of the downtown and the actual state of the community."
His impression of the Figge in 2015: "I'm happy that everyone's looked after it."
Role of a museum: "What I like about working in the Midwest is that cultural institutions are community institutions. Metropolitan museums, British museums don't really play a big role in the community.
"That sort of charges them with another vitality and life, which I find interesting."
Why he chose a glass-looking enclosure: "There was an acceptance that a solid building, a stone building, would somehow reflect the wrong image. I argued that if it is to be a more permeable social structure, then it should look open. You should be able to see people in the studios working, you should be able to see in and out.
"We're blessed with a spectacular location," he said of the Mississippi River. "Coming from Europe, I didn't know rivers could be so big when they've still got so far to go."
The towering look of the Figge: "I think it was quite important as a landmark to make it vertical. Museums tend to want to be horizontal, but there was something here urbanistically."
Role of design: "Architecture has as much to do with making things happen and trying to capture that energy at the appropriate place than it is to do with what type of floor or what sort of wood you use on the doors.
"Those are the words. The story is the most important thing. Looking back, the story is a very interesting story. As an architect, you're there to make things happen. Architecture shouldn't exist independently.
"It shouldn't have a life of its own. It should inhabit physical qualities that helps life happen, but it's not an independent thing."
Proposed changes to Bechtel Plaza, in front of the Figge: "If Davenport is looking forward 20 years, I imagine it will get denser. And then a square like that will be a very good square to have.
"I'm not sure one should panic too much about that square. It would be good to get rid of some of that parking, make it more of a place to sit," he said. "Most cities don't really suffer from having good public space."
Disputes with contractors: "I threatened to walk off the project — I did walk off the project at one point — because of the ceilings," said Chipperfield, who argued against having removable ceilings.
"We designed it so everywhere you need to get is under a skylight, under a panel. It was very, very difficult. I literally had to threaten to leave the project in order to push that ahead."
Downtown advice: "The next step is to make new housing that's as attractive as converted warehouses," Chipperfield said, while congratulating Davenport on its abundance of loft apartments.
Where the Figge fits in his design history: "I'm very grateful because it was an early project, and I was given the trust and responsibility to work on it. It was a very formative project for me, a great experience. One of the first public projects we did, and I think I learned a lot from it.
"It seems to stand up. The most important thing about architecture is its aspiration toward permanence. One hopes that things you do are relevant towards their ongoing life. It's very reassuring to come back here and see it's been embraced and playing a role going forward."