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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six conducting architects revisit their first committee

From a beach coffeehouse 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 combined thrusts to sort 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 Accompanied in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no affiliates and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall docks in east London, announced Fred Olsen. He knew it was looking to build an amenity centre for its workforce 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 grisly. 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 blueprints. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire operation operated. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries blended trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I looked that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I linked a restricted plot between two sheds on the waterfront. I gave the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and places for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

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

” You can’t applied foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I encounter Fred Olsen himself. I argued that if you want to raise guidelines in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and lavatories, and start to overcome the ingrained racisms 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high-pitched thermal concert. At my own expense, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a laid of toiling illustrations from a company that could attain the glass. Inside, we initiated a gaming country on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and dart boards. Upstairs, Olsen’s art 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 point brought back some remarkable memories. Olsen really was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discontent. Four year ago, my partner organised a amaze defendant for my 80 th birthday and I met myself digest next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t construct more projects together.

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

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London mode week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original supermarket pattern, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organize ‘. Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

I met Terence Conran in my final time at the Royal College of Art, in 1994. He had come to give a talk and decided to buy a piece from my blueprint magnitude evidence- 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 arrangement from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, encountered it and asked if 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 repute: well, there is a window; what shall I apply behind it? But I’ve always observed it interesting to try to take a step further back. I guessed perhaps I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to realise something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply arrangement that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, reckoning she would say no. Everyone who met the program thought it is not feasible 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 immense studio in east London, including a couple of stone carvers from St Paul’s cathedral and a DJ who moved past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided design wasn’t really available. I must be given to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 simulation that we then scaled up manually, applying vast membranes of graph paper.

I knew a slight chill on realise the model again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s intelligences 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 won a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] accolade that year. I remember sitting on a bus listening to people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is would prefer it or not. It stirred wall street more evocative and engaging.

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

My first public fee instruct me the quality of precisely keeping conceiving, like a long-distance runner. It is easy for special things not to happen, but, occasionally, some of them do. And in order for them to happen, it is necessary applied 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 intimated I study architecture, which was a moderately advanced posture for a humanity of his generation. After world war ii, he headed a department in a Scottish house organisation; he was committed to providing decent dwelling for everyone, a notion we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a mentor taking me to one side and saying:” Young noblewomen are not abysmally practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn person and I speculated: I’ll bloody-minded establish you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I laboured abroad – first in Poland, then in many architects’ parts in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of confidence. When I came back, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I considered 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 inventors start by doing private rooms, but I received it as much more challenging to design a community. I saw there was huge pressure on London’s parishes to provide dwelling. In 1965, at persons under the age of 27, I took a errand in the department of architecture and planning 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 programmes. 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 website- the colossal ideas to north and south and the extremely unstable ground positions. At the edges, the ziggurats tumble from their peak height of 12 storeys to four, reflecting the bordering proportion of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and panicking. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The home administrator 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 arrangement that enabled one-, two- and three-bedroom residences to share the same access. My theory was that a mix of different family sizes, living next door to each other, would have more ability to help each other out with babysitting or browsing. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in some cases, two. On site, I remember practically losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of studies had to heave me out.

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

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest constructing 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 financing, including a restriction on their right to raise leases; this led to poor maintenance by Southwark during the 80 s. It is now owned by a large housing association, Southern Housing Group, which invests in its maintenance. Looking back, I feel immensely grateful that my busines 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 architecture 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 applied a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I guessed: this might be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone in the audience who “ve been told” 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 microchip 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 moved me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new area on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the terminal wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a grey van full of cater material. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive locating on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I get out of the van, my dreams fell into a loophole. It was a grey, breezy daytime 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 shack or a shack that served fish and chips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with an idea for a building that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when modes are unfriendly. I introduced personas of agricultural designs, doll’s homes, waistband windows and the colouring blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we installed a illuminate figure I had designed. Jane checked 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 profession: the 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 make, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several fees to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on activities all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intent 6.5 km of treading directions 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 fasten myself to these lieu just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids every year: the cafe is still there and it feels like home.

Mary Duggan

King’s Grove, Peckham, London, 2008

Architect
Mary Duggan at King’s Grove:’ I cherished 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 actually in complete control of a blueprint when you are working for a practice. I was determined to be independent, as was Joe.

Before King’s Grove, Joe and I had renewed three houses and managed to accrue enough money to invest in this project- something most inventors simply wouldn’t be able to supposed to do now.( Our first dimension overhead merely PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect 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 procured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous house- a plaster mould workshop- had been dismantled. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I cherished that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

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

The design process was quite easy, because we 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 busines: the facts of the case that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, eventually, the decision-maker. As such, I am now able to empathise with buyers.

We designed the room with two recollects in sentiment: to live 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 category.( Our daughter was born in the chamber of representatives .) We used inexpensive brick and spent a bit more money on joinery. The kitchen, which fits into a niche in the wall, is made from oak and stainless steel. There is a roof light-footed 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 invited me over several times, but I made up pretexts. I merely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to pattern a studio in the plot. Of track, I had to go back, even if they are I knew the opening intimately.

It wasn’t easy because, under different circumstances, I would still be living in King’s Grove. In fact, I might be constructing 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 get this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private house , Richmond, London, 1990

Architect
David Chipperfield at the residence 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 way photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They is now in a postwar mansion that Nick’s father had built. Nick missed a studio upstairs and more opening 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 firstly building.

I was stimulated 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 spent a lot of fund on their facades; we did the opposite. We focussing on how the house and garden could connect. We formed a large concrete frame that spread out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise meant that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a deem into the garden, creating an outside infinite that may seem like an indoor one.

We intent up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The parties across the road impeded their curtains sucked for a couple of years in affirm. 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 figurehead didn’t look like the other houses 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 structure rooms for parties is a delicate process, which is why I simply take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a style of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center mind to my work- the idea of creating an expansive opinion in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The residence 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, hitherto he is dedicated to his family. I like to think the house has played a role.

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

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