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

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 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 to get well and mixed forces to model Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered inventor 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 affiliates and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall wharves 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 be submitted with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were terrifying. 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 action wielded. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries combined trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I learnt that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I recognized a constrict story between two sheds on the waterfront. I made the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and parts for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 activity, gleaned 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 satisfy Fred Olsen himself. I are of the view that if you want to raise standards in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and toilets, 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 , no one in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal concert. At my own cost, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a set of running illustrations from a company that could represent the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming domain on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and dart timbers. Upstairs, Olsen’s art collect 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 genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial upheaval. Four year ago, my spouse organised a bombshell party for my 80 th birthday and I met myself reputation next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t body-build more projects together.

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

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London fad week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original supermarket example, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization ‘. 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 layout magnitude 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 hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, heard 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 firstly proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically repute: well, there is a window; what shall I throw behind it? But I’ve always observed it interesting to try to take a step further back. I imagined maybe 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 structure that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, feeling she would say no. Everyone who investigated the schedule 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 straining our minuscule budget to get this thing constructed. 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 strolled past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided design wasn’t really available. I had to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 model that we then scaled up manually, employing huge expanses of diagram paper.

I experienced a slight chill on view the simulation 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 acquired a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] awarding that time. I recollect setting on a bus listening to beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It shaped the street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are 200 beings working at my studio; we don’t improve things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from theme to station. Right now, we are designing a brand-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 committee taught me the quality of exactly maintaining believing, 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, there is a requirement introduced 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 showed I study structure, which was a fairly advanced attitude for a serviceman of his generation. After world war ii, he manager government departments in a Scottish home organisation; he was committed to providing decent casing 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 females are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn party and I thoughts: I’ll brutal show 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’ agencies in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of optimism. When I was coming, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I learnt that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I is more junior member of the team and I are essential in order to get my boots unclean, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female inventors begin by doing private lives, but I ensure it as much more challenging to design a community. I learnt there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide dwelling. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a position in the department of architecture and scheming at Southwark council and, to my prodigiou good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic fulfill 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 place- the colossal sentiments to north and south and the extremely unstable ground situations. At the boundaries, the ziggurats pitch from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, reflecting the surrounding proportion of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and terrifying. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The home 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 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 one another, 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 roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of works 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 stage. The center space remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the bordering neighborhood 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 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 upkeep. Looking back, I feel immensely delighted to see that my busines 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 girls there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at building 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 introduced a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I concluded: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person 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 coffeehouse 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 acquired me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new site on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing big sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of cater equipment. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable place on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a gap. It was a grey, breezy period 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 chippings and neighbourhood 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 climate and closes down when status are hostile. I introduced epitomes of agricultural arrangements, doll’s lives, sash windows and the colour blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we set a sun statue I had designed. Jane watched 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 biggest assignments of my career: 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 commissions to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on jobs 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 strolling roadways and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this compas, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a lieu. I’ve fasten myself to these residences just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my minors each 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 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, work practices I founded in 2004, when I was 33, with my then marriage, 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 truly in complete control of a design 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 owned expenditure only PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect “whos 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 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 bulldozed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I affection that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

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

The design process was quite easy, since we are 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 precede busines: the fact that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, ultimately, the decision-maker. As such, I am now able to empathise with buyers.

We designed the seat with two ponders in imagination: 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 family.( Our daughter was born in the house .) We used inexpensive brick and expended 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-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 extended an invitation over several times, but I made up apologizes. I precisely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a purchaser, who commissioned me in late 2018 to layout a studio in the garden. Of track, 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 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 textiles: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private residence , 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the manner photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They is now in a postwar house that Nick’s father had improved. Nick wanted a studio upstairs and more space 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 aroused about everything I was seeing in Japan at the time: they tend to treat the garden-variety as part of the house. Most of Nick’s neighbours wasted a great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We focussing on how the house and garden could connect. We made a large concrete chassis that spread out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too means that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting tower, framing a idea into the garden, creating an outside seat 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 parties across the road retained their shrouds depicted for a couple of years in demonstrate. 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 lives in the street. That was the worst part of the process for me. Once we started to build, it was easy by comparison.

Designing and building residences for people 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 method of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center project to my job- the idea of creating an expansive consider in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The mansion 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 bit to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publication, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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