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

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 fare 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 violences to organize 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 associates and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall wharves in east London, called 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 frightful. 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 motifs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire busines 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 insured that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I recognized a narrow scheme between two sheds on the waterfront. I made the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and powers for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 programme, depicted 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 encounter Fred Olsen himself. I are of the view that if you want to raise touchstones in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and toilets, 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal performance. At my own overhead, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a organize of acting describes from a company that could make the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming country on the ground floor: there were ping-pong counters and projectile timbers. Upstairs, Olsen’s artwork accumulation 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 amazing recalls. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial strife. Four year ago, my spouse organised a surprise defendant for my 80 th birthday and I met myself digest next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t build more projects together.

I am still doing versions of the same thing: constructing communities, 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 manner week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original store framework, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organize ‘. 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 designing position substantiate- 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 design from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, examined 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 consider: well, there is a window; what shall I throw behind it? But I’ve always learnt it interesting to try to take a step further back. I considered perhaps I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to manufacture something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply design that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, envisioning she would say no. Everyone who ensure the propose thought it is not feasible to get the permissions. But Mary was up for it. I soon discovered 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 vast 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 intend wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 model that we then scaled up manually, applying big sheets of graph paper.

I experienced a slight shudder on control the framework again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s thoughts 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 acquired a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] bestow that year. I remember convening on a bus like to hear people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is would prefer it or not. It realise wall street more colors and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 people is currently working on my studio; we don’t construct things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from notion to installation. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that are able to take 10 times 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 a better quality of just obstructing conceiving, like a long-distance runner. It is easy for special things not to happen, but, sometimes, some of them do. And in order for them to happen, you must placed 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 proposed I study building, which was a fairly advanced position for a humanity of his generation. After the second world war, he leader government departments in a Scottish house organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everyone, a belief we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a instructor taking me to one side and saying:” Young maidens are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou being and I recalled: I’ll viciou substantiate you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I toiled abroad – first in Poland, then in various architects’ places in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole climate in Europe was one of confidence. When I came back, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I envisioned 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 are essential in order to get my boots grime, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female inventors start by doing private mansions, but I encountered it as much more challenging to design a community. I visualized there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a undertaking in the department of architecture and scheduling at Southwark council and, to my gargantuan good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious locate in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly tumultuous meeting where we had to present our strategies. 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 area- the stupendous opinions to north and south and the extremely unstable ground status. At the members, the ziggurats condescend from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, reflecting the smothering scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and startling. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The house manager of Southwark drew up the brief, but as far as I was concerned my clients were the people on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I organized a method 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 capacity 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 remember roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of labors had to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good community feel there. The homes are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that degree. The center opening remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the circumventing expanse come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest improving I’ve designed. It was finalized 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 invests in its maintenance. Looking back, I feel exceptionally grateful that my career 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 structure academy, I accomplished 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 gave a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I envisioned: 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 property developer 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 chip kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach cafe. 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 saw me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new website on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing big-hearted sunglasses and driving a white van full of catering material. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable point on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a puncture. It was a grey, breezy day 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 shanty or a cabin that served fish and chips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a building that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when situations are hostile. I created personas of agricultural organizations, doll’s residences, waistband windows and the colour blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we set a lighter sculpture I had designed. Jane recognized 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 most important assignments of my profession: 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 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 campaigns across the world: designing the new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and devise 6.5 km of treading itineraries and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this series, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve bound myself to these targets just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids each year: the cafe continues unabated and it feels like home.

Mary Duggan

King’s Grove, Peckham, London, 2008

Architect
Mary Duggan at King’s Grove:’ I adoration 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, work practices I founded in 2004, when I was 33, with my then partner, Joe Morris. I had worked for Gollifer Langston Architects for five years, overseeing the build of seven schools across north London, but you are never certainly in complete control of a motif 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 coin to invest in this project- something most architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first dimension expense 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 secured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous structure- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I cherished that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most designers “ve got 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 call, I realised this wasn’t the website for that. I wanted the house to retain the watch 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 trust 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 occupation: the facts of the case that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, ultimately, the decision-maker. As such, I am now enabled to empathise with buyers.

We designed the space with two conceptions in sentiment: to live in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or convert it if we wanted to expand our family.( Our daughter was born in the chamber of representatives .) We used inexpensive brick and invested 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 figurehead 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 apologizes. I merely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint a studio in the garden. Of direction, I had to go back, even though I knew the infinite 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 cloths: brick, glass and oak. I get this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private home , 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 fad photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar residence that Nick’s father had improved. Nick craved 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 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 coin on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We developed a large concrete frame that provided out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise meant that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting editorial, framing a opinion into the garden, creating an outside infinite that feels like an indoor one.

We ended up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The people across the road impeded their screens drawn for a couple of years in protest. 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 residences 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 mansions for parties is a delicate process, which is why I merely take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a way of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center meaning to my work- 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 characters page in publication, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for brochure ).

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