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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six contributing inventors revisit their first fee

From a beach cafe to a social housing ziggurat: this is where it all began for Norman Foster, Asif Khan and others

Norman Foster

Amenity centre and passenger terminal for Fred Olsen, Millwall docks, London, 1969 -7 0
I met Richard Rogers in the early 60 s at Yale School of Architecture in the US, where we were both studying for our master’s. We got on well and blended patrols to pattern Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered architect at the house. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Identify in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no accompanieds and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall piers in east London, announced Fred Olsen. He knew it was looking to build an amenity centre for its personnel and I got an audience with the dock manager. I was 33.

Norman
Norman Foster at Millwall Docks:’ The dock manager had never met an architect before. He gave me three weeks to come up with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were frightening. Olsen was a progressive Norwegian company: it wanted to raise conditions for its employees. I arrived early and explored the site. The dock manager had never met an architect before. He showed me some existing designings. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire running worked. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s ships mixed trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I understood that a same strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I identified a restricted plan between two sheds on the waterfront. I threw the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and agencies for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 programme, outlined on a lamp-post for photographer Michael Franke

” You can’t threw foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I fulfill Fred Olsen himself. I are of the view that if you want to raise guidelines in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and lavatories, and start to overcome the ingrained prejudices between management and workforce. He agreed to the project and gave us one year to deliver it.

The building was challenging technologically as well as socially. At the time , no one in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal execution. At my own rate, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a established of driving draws from a company that could manufacture the glass. Inside, we inserted a gaming expanse on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and missile boards. Upstairs, Olsen’s artistry collecting was on the walls; this was revolutionary for an office building.

The Olsen building was visited by the computer company IBM, which commissioned us to build a temporary head office in Cosham, near Portsmouth. It is now grade II-listed. Today, a concrete wall is all that remains of the Olsen site. Revisiting the place brought back some astonishing remembrances. Olsen truly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial rebellion. Four year ago, my wife organised a astonish party for my 80 th birthday and I received myself sit next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t build more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: building parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet or a disadvantaged parish in Odisha, India, as I am through my foot. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London fashion week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation model, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply arrangement ‘. Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

I met Terence Conran in my final year at the Royal College of Art, in 1994. He had come to give a talk and decided to buy a piece from my layout stage establish- a gazebo made from birch ply- for his back garden. He then asked me to design an interior display for the Conran Shop, so I made a layered organize from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, considered it and would like to know whether I could design a window display at the department store for London fashion week 1997. I was 27 and this was my first proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically reckon: well, there is a window; what shall I make behind it? But I’ve always met it interesting to try to take a step further back. I recalled perhaps I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to become something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, reckoning she would say no. Everyone who insured the design thought it would be impossible to get the permissions. But Mary was up for it. I soon was revealed that, when you try to do something different, people want to be involved. We then had to find a way of stretching our minuscule budget to get this thing built. There was a team of us working for PS3 an hour( about PS5. 60 today) in a enormous studio in east London, including a couple of stone carvers from St Paul’s cathedral and a DJ who strolled past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided pattern wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 example that we then scaled up manually, applying huge expanses of graph paper.

I suffered a slight thrill on understand the prototype again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s foremen on Knightsbridge. I was anxious, but in a good way: you should be scared, you should be worried. It was a great success, thank goodness- it prevailed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] award that time. I recollect setting on a bus like to hear parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is would prefer it or not. It reached wall street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are 200 parties working at my studio; we don’t erect things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from mind to installing. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will take 10 times to complete. It involves billions of pounds of construction work and will endure for decades; but I feel the same strong gumption of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public committee learn me a better quality of simply obstructing conceiving, like a long-distance runner. It is easy for special things not to happen, but, rarely, some of them do. And in order for them to happen, it is necessary put everything of yourself into them.

Kate Macintosh

Dawson’s Heights, Dulwich, London, 1972

Architect
Kate Macintosh at Dawson’s Heights:’ Getting started felt exhilarating and terrifying.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

My father hinted I study building, which was a fairly advanced attitude for a husband of his generation. After world war ii, he pate a department in a Scottish house organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everyone, a ideology we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a lecturer taking me to one side and saying:” Young maidens are not exceedingly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou party and I fantasized: I’ll brutal indicate you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I wielded abroad – first in Poland, then in various architects’ parts in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of confidence. When I came home, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I visualized that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I was “the worlds largest” junior member of the team and I needed to get my boots soiled, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female architects begin by doing private residences, but I determined it as much more challenging to design a community. I visualized there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide home. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a job in the department of architecture and contriving at Southwark council and, to my prodigiou good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal website in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic see where we had to present our schemes. There was one architect from Hong Kong who was proposing four tower blocks and another who was proposing a high-density, low-rise scheme. My design was two overwhelmed ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the locate- the colossal attitudes to north and south and the extremely unstable ground conditions. At the boundaries, the ziggurats descend from their maximum height of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the smothering proportion of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and scaring. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The housing director of Southwark drew up the brief, but as far as I was concerned my buyers were the person or persons on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I designed a system that enabled one-, two- and three-bedroom homes to share the same access. My theory was that a mix of different family sizes, living next door to each other, would have been able to more capability to help each other out with babysitting or browsing. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in a number of cases, two. On site, I recollect virtually losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of labors had to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good parish feel there. The residences are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that grade. The center seat remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by inhabitants that children from the bordering area come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest improving I’ve designed. It was completed in the mid-7 0s, before the introduction of right-to-buy. After 1979, local authorities were starved of funding, including a restriction on their right to raise rents; this led to poor maintenance by Southwark during the 80 s. It is now owned by a large housing association, Southern Housing Group, which has invested in its maintenance. Looking back, I feel exceedingly grateful that my vocation spanned what was a golden age for the public sector.

Asif Khan

West Beach coffeehouse, Littlehampton, 2008

Architect
Asif Khan at West Beach cafe:’ I take my kids there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at building academy, I completed a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy gear I had designed and install in a favela outside Recife- and was invited to give a short presentation about it at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. I put a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I reputed: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone in the audience who told me I must speak to Jane Wood, a private developers in Littlehampton, West Sussex. It was 2007 and she had just commissioned Thomas Heatherwick, a rising star, to design a cafe on the site of a fish and chipping kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach coffeehouse. She was creating a real buzz about the town.

Jane and I emailed backward and forward for a year; during that time, I became a father. It built me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a new area on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a grey van full of cater gear. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking location on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a defect. It was a grey, breezy daylight and in front of me was a brick burger kiosk that hadn’t been used for six months. Jane said she wanted to replace it with something simple, like a beach hut or a shanty that served fish and microchips and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a construct that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when maladies are hostile. I accompanied epitomes of agricultural formations, doll’s mansions, sash windows and the colour blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we installed a sun statue I had designed. Jane accompanied it and said:” It’s not right for this place. You can do this in Clerkenwell, but not in Littlehampton .” I was so upset, but it learnt me one of the biggest readings of my job: shared responsibility you have to the people of a place.

After West Beach cafe, the financial crisis hit. I had to start again- to get out there and exhibit wreak, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several boards to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on activities across the world: designing the new Museum of London; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and designing 6.5 km of ambling roads and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this reach, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a target. I’ve oblige myself to these plazas just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids every year: the coffeehouse continues unabated and it feels like home.

Mary Duggan

King’s Grove, Peckham, London, 2008

Architect
Mary Duggan at King’s Grove:’ I loved that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

This was the first house by Duggan Morris Architects, a practice I founded in 2004, when I was 33, with my then collaborator, Joe Morris. I had worked for Gollifer Langston Architects for five years, overseeing the build of seven academies across north London, but you are never certainly in complete control of a designing when you are working for a practice. I was determined to be independent, as was Joe.

Before King’s Grove, Joe and I had revamped three houses and managed to accrue enough fund to invest in this project- something most designers simply wouldn’t be able to supposed to do now.( Our first property payment merely PS60, 000.) We were friends with an inventor who the hell is bought a small plot and got a planning application for it, but then decided he didn’t want to develop the site. He sold it to us for PS125, 000 and we locked a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous construct- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I desired that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most inventors have an idea of what their own house will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful plots. But from our first visit, I realised this wasn’t the area for that. I missed the house to retain the gaze and feel of the site. It was surrounded by brick walls and consumed by vegetation, so we designed a house in a similar brick. I’ve learned to rely those first instincts.

The design process was quite easy, since we are knew what we wanted; after all, we were also ” the client “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my precede job: the fact that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, eventually, the decision-maker. As such, I am now enabled to empathise with buyers.

We designed the infinite with two supposes in memory: lives in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or alter it if we wanted to expand our clas.( Our daughter was born in the chamber of representatives .) We used inexpensive brick and wasted a bit more money on joinery. The kitchen, which is appropriate to a niche in the wall, is made from oak and stainless steel. There is a roof light-headed in the centre of the house, while the front and back doors open up to a south-facing courtyard and a north-facing terrace.

When Joe and I separated in 2016, Duggan Morris demerged and we had to sell the house. A friend bought it and extended an invitation over several times, but I made up apologies. I simply didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to design a studio in the plot. Of direction, I had to go back, even though I knew the cavity intimately.

It wasn’t easy because, under different circumstances, I would still be living in King’s Grove. In fact, I might be improving an extension for myself now. But it was great to see it in really good condition. It is the sort of house in which the details don’t tire, because it’s made from very honest information: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private home , Richmond, London, 1990

Architect
David Chipperfield at the home of photographer Nick Knight:’ The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In 1990, when I was in my mid-3 0s and still fairly inexperienced, I was approached by the pattern photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar house that Nick’s father had constructed. Nick required a studio upstairs and more seat for his young family. At the time, I had a small office of four or five people and we were working with the designer Issey Miyake on a number of store interiors in Japan. This was my first building.

I was roused about everything I was seeing in Japan at the time: they tend to treat the garden as part of the house. Most of Nick’s neighbours invested a lot of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We developed a large concrete chassis that provided out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too meant that the reces of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting article, framing a thought into the garden, creating an outside room that may seem like an indoor one.

We aimed up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The beings across the road prevented their curtains depicted for a couple of years in demonstration. It was an introduction to conservative English taste, which was quite shocking. It wasn’t that the house was too big; it was that the front didn’t look like the other homes in wall street. That was the worst part of the process for me. Once we started to build, it was easy by comparison.

Designing and construct houses for parties is a delicate process, which is why I only take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a space of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center meaning to my job- the idea of creating an expansive vistum in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The live has been part of Nick and Charlotte’s life for 30 times and I think it has helped them formulate a work-life balance. Nick’s work is incredibly intense and demanding, yet he is dedicated to his family. I like to think the house has played a role.

* If you would like a comment on this part to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s words page in reproduce, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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