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

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 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 mixed pressures to shape Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer at the conglomerate. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associates in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no identifies 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 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 horrible. 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 layouts. 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 cruises, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I realized that a same strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I recognized a constrict patch between two sheds on the waterfront. I made the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and roles for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 projection, described 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 convene 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal rendition. At my own expense, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a place of driving moves from a company that could acquire the glass. Inside, we established a gaming neighbourhood on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and missile cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s prowes 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 spot brought back some extraordinary storages. Olsen certainly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial strife. Four years ago, my wife organised a bombshell party for my 80 th birthday and I determined myself sit next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t construct more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: improving parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss village 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 manner week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original supermarket prototype, 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 designing magnitude see- 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 displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, investigated 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 firstly proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically recall: well, there is a window; what shall I introduce behind it? But I’ve always detected it interesting to try to take a step further back. I pondered maybe I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to form 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 idea to Mary, thoughts she would say no. Everyone who visualized the intention thought it would be impossible 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 extending our minuscule budget to get this thing improved. 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 designing wasn’t really available. I must be given to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 representation that we then scaled up manually, use vast expanses of graph paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on interpret 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 prevailed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] accolade that time. I remember sitting on a bus listening to parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is would prefer it or not. It drew wall street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 people is currently working on 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 thought to installing. 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 millions 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 commissioning instruct me the quality of just retaining 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 employed 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 recommended I study building, which was a somewhat advanced posture for a being of his generation. After the second world war, he thoughts a department in a Scottish house organisation; he was committed to providing decent house for everyone, a sentiment we shared.

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

After graduation, I wreaked abroad – first in Poland, then in numerous designers’ powers in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of optimism. When I came back, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I recognized 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 start by doing private mansions, but I met it as much more challenging to design a community. I read there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide dwelling. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a errand in the department of architecture and projecting at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal website in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic rally 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 website- the colossal scenes to north and south and the extremely unstable ground status. At the edges, the ziggurats tumble from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, showing the encircling magnitude of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and panicking. 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 people on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I organized a organization that enabled one-, two- and three-bedroom dwellings to share the same access. My theory was that a mix of different family sizes, living next door to one another, would have been able to more capacity to help each other out with babysitting or shopping. 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 pieces must be given 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 stage. The center space remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the bordering arena come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest building 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 financing, 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 upkeep. Looking back, I feel exceedingly grateful that my profession encompassed 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 time at structure institution, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy kit 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 remembered: this might be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone in the gathering 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 chip 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 acquired me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new locate on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a white van full of cater material. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking point on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I got out of the van, my dreams fell down a puncture. It was a grey, stormy date 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 shanty that served fish and microchips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid grown up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a construct that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when states are unfriendly. I accompanied likeness of agricultural organizations, doll’s mansions, sash windows and the colouring blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we installed a light-colored carve 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 learnt me one of the biggest readings of my vocation: 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 duty, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on various boards to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on projections across the world: designing the new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and plan 6.5 km of marching 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 lieu. I’ve fasten myself to these plazas 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 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 academies across north London, but you are never actually 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 renovated three houses and managed to accrue enough fund to invest in this project- something most inventors simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first owned rate merely PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect 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 self-assured 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 adored that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most inventors “ve got an idea” of what their own residence will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful gardens. But from our first call, I realised this wasn’t the website for that. I craved the house to retain the review 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 cartel 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 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 clients.

We designed the opening with two believes in intellect: 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 house.( Our daughter was born in the chamber of representatives .) We used inexpensive brick and invested 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 invited me over several times, but I made up self-justifications. I only didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to designing a studio in the garden-variety. Of track, I had to go back, even if they are I knew the space 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 substances: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private live , Richmond, London, 1990

Architect
David Chipperfield at the dwelling 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 fashion photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They is now in a postwar home that Nick’s father had constructed. Nick missed a studio upstairs and more cavity 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 as part of the house. Most of Nick’s neighbours spent a great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We generated a large concrete chassis that increased out from the side of the chamber of representatives, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise meant that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting pillar, framing a panorama into the garden, creating an outside cavity that feels 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 people across the road prevented their curtains outlined 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 lives 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 house lives for parties is a delicate process, which is why I exclusively take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a lane of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central feeling to my job- the idea of creating an expansive panorama 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 patch to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in book, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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