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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six passing 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 core 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 armies to flesh 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 Associates 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 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 designs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire running 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 passengers and freight in the same vessel. I realise that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I linked a restrict story between two sheds on the waterfront. I made the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and agencies for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

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

” You can’t set foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I assemble 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 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-pitched thermal rendition. At my own overhead, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a set of working drags from a company that could become the glass. Inside, we inserted a gaming region on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and missile boards. 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 point brought back some astonishing recognitions. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial dissension. Four year ago, my bride organised a stun defendant for my 80 th birthday and I felt myself endure next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t construct more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: building communities, whether I am designing for a Swiss village 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 way week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original supermarket simulate, 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 motif grade testify- 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 displayed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, assured 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 recollect: well, there is a window; what shall I put behind it? But I’ve always seen it interesting to try to take a step further back. I thoughts perhaps I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to draw 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 idea to Mary, seeing she would say no. Everyone who heard the proposal 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 went past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided pattern wasn’t really available. I had to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 pattern that we then scaled up manually, applying gigantic expanses of graph paper.

I knowledge a slight shudder on regard the pattern again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s presidents 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] accolade that year. I remember baby-sit on a bus listening to beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It drew the street more evocative and engaging.

Today, there are 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 project to installation. Right now, we are designing a brand-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 appreciation of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public commissioning learn me the quality of only impeding belief, 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, you must threw 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 suggested I study structure, which was a moderately advanced attitude for a gentleman of his generation. After world war ii, he thoughts government departments in a Scottish casing organisation; he was committed to providing decent dwelling for everybody, a ideology 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 madams are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn person and I concluded: I’ll blood see you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my hypothesis would be built.

After graduation, I cultivated abroad – first in Poland, then in many inventors’ places in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole humor in Europe was one of optimism. When I came home, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I construed that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I was the most junior member of the team and I are essential in order to get my boots dirty, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

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

There was a slightly tumultuous find 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 staggered ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the site- the stupendous beliefs to north and south and the extremely unstable ground maladies. At the tips, the ziggurats tumble from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, showing 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 house manager of Southwark drew up the brief, but as far as I was concerned my buyers were the people on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I organized a arrangement 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 one another, 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 recollect roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of designs had to heave me out.

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

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest building I’ve designed. It was completed in the mid-7 0s, before the introduction of right-to-buy. After 1979, local authorities were deprived of funding, including a restriction on their right to raise hires; 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 terribly grateful that my profession covered what was a golden age for the public sector.

Asif Khan

West Beach cafe, Littlehampton, 2008

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

In my final year at structure school, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy equipment 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 threw a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I guessed: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone in the gathering 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 coffeehouse 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 back and forth for a year; during that time, I became a father. It shaped me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse 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-scale sunglasses and driving a white van full of cater paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable orientation on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I get out of the van, my dreams fell down a loophole. It was a grey, breezy era 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 shack 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 modes are unfriendly. I wreaked personas of agricultural organizations, doll’s lives, waistband windows and the quality blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we invested a flare sculpture I had designed. Jane considered 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 educated me one of the most important readings 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 design, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several commissionings to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on projects all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intend 6.5 km of treading roads and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this straddle, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a residence. I’ve fix myself to these regions just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids every year: the coffeehouse is still there and it feels like home.

Mary Duggan

King’s Grove, Peckham, London, 2008

Architect
Mary Duggan at King’s Grove:’ I desired 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 partner, Joe Morris. I had worked for Gollifer Langston Architects for five years, overseeing the build of seven institutions across north London, but you are never genuinely 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 refurbished three houses and managed to accrue enough money to invest in this project- something most designers simply wouldn’t be able to supposed to do now.( Our first belonging rate only PS60, 000.) We were friends with an inventor who had 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 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 have an idea of what their own live will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful plots. But from our first inspect, I realised this wasn’t the site 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, so we designed a house in a similar brick. I’ve learned to rely those first instincts.

The design process was quite easy, because we knew what we wanted; after all, we were also ” the customers “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my subsequent 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 purchasers.

We designed the cavity with two guess in thinker: lives 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 kinfolk.( 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 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 apologizes. I only didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to motif a studio in the plot. Of direction, I had to go back, even though 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 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 fabrics: brick, glass and oak. I got this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private residence , 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the style 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 wanted a studio upstairs and more room 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 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 expended a lot of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We focussing on how the house and garden could connect. We formed a large concrete chassis that widened out from the side of the chamber of representatives, which had the consequences of the partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too meant that the area of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting tower, framing a belief into the garden, creating an outside infinite that feels like an indoor one.

We intention 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 kept their shrouds outlined for a couple of years in demonstrate. It was an introduction to republican 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 rooms 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 residences for beings 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 style of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central feeling to my work- the idea of creating an expansive judgment in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The room has been part of Nick and Charlotte’s life for 30 years 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 slouse to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in magazine, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for book ).

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