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

His studio grew in scale and ability until it was working on a global scale, with offices in London, Hong Kong and Sydney. His passions included both art and engineering, with the latter represented in a number of signature bridge designs around the world, including the Twin Sails Bridge in Poole, Derry’s Peace Bridge, the recently opened Lille Langebro bicycle bridge in Copenhagen and, most notably, the 2002 Stirling Prize-winning Gateshead Millennium Bridge over the Tyne (which came hot on the heels of WilkinsonEyre’s Magna Science Centre in Rotherham, which won the Stirling Prize in 2001).

the mary rose museum exterior
Mary Rose Museum. Photography: Richard Chivers

Another specialism was the ‘supershed’, the ability to give ultra large-span structures a grace and elegance that had been denied them since the Victorian era. WilkinsonEyre’s embrace of the power of structure was applied to a wide-ranging and diverse portfolio, from supertall skyscrapers in Australia, Canada and China (including the 440m tall Lubetkin Prize-winning Guangzhou International Finance Center) to new transport infrastructure designs. These included the modest reorganisation of Bath’s listed railway station, through to the mighty Skybridge at Gatwick Airport that takes passengers up above the taxiway. WilkinsonEyre also shaped the twisting steel ribbons that hold up London’s Emirates Cable Car, the massive new Jubilee Line station at Stratford, and the refurbished King’s Cross Gasholders.

WilkinsonEyre will continue to be one of the world’s most pre-eminent firms, capable of making complexity look easy, and simplicity appear rich and intricate. In Oxford, the firm built the Weston Library and a Maggie’s Centre, projects that seemingly stood in stark contrast to the massive cooled conservatories in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. By creating a practice culture that encourages creativity and curiosity, Chris Wilkinson was able to keep his own passions close to the work. Small projects were a chance to highlight his impeccable artistic eye, with drawing and painting being a key part of his practice throughout his career. Wilkinson was also a Royal Academician, and his 2015 exhibition at the Royal Academy delved into the sketchbooks that were always such a fundamental part of his design life. 

Maggie’s Centre, Oxford
Maggie’s Centre, Oxford. Photography: Ben Bisek for WilkinsonEyre

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

One Barangaroo
One Barangaroo. Photography: Tom Roe