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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six producing 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 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 blended armies to chassis 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 identifies and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall piers 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 “ve given 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 blueprints. 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 blended trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I construed that a same strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I identified a narrow planned between two molts on the waterfront. I gave the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and roles for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t made foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I fulfill Fred Olsen himself. I argued that if you want to raise standards in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and bathrooms, 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 rendition. At my own expense, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a create of working describes from a company that could see the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming neighbourhood on the ground floor: there were ping-pong counters and dart timbers. Upstairs, Olsen’s prowes 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 site brought back some astonishing remembrances. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial fermentation. Four years ago, my wife organised a stun party for my 80 th birthday and I noticed myself endure 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 communities, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet or a disadvantaged community in Odisha, India, as I am through my footing. 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 store framework, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply structure ‘. 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 indicate- 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, learnt 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 conceive: well, there is a window; what shall I introduce behind it? But I’ve always learnt it interesting to try to take a step further back. I felt maybe I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to construct 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 relevant recommendations to Mary, guessing she would say no. Everyone who pictured the strategy 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 stepped past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided intend wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 example that we then scaled up manually, utilizing massive membranes of diagram paper.

I knowledge a slight shudder on witnes the simulate again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s leaders 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] give that time. I recollect baby-sit on a bus like to hear parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It reached wall street more evocative and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 beings is currently working on my studio; we don’t body-build things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from opinion 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 committee learn me the quality of simply impeding imagining, 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, it was necessary to 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 proposed I study building, which was a jolly advanced stance for a being of his generation. After the second world war, he honcho ministries and departments in a Scottish home organisation; he was committed to providing decent house for everybody, a sentiment 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 noblewomen are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou person and I speculated: I’ll blood indicate you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my hypothesis would be built.

After graduation, I ran abroad – first in Poland, then in numerous architects’ offices 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 discovered 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 grimy, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female designers start by doing private homes, but I discovered 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 enterprise in government departments of building and projecting at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic find where we had to present our schemes. 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 prodigious vistums to north and south and the extremely unstable ground provisions. At the extremities, the ziggurats tumble from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, showing 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 house director of Southwark drew up the summary, but as far as I was concerned my patrons were the person or persons on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I bequeathed a plan 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 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 roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of projects must be given to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good community feel there. The residences are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that stage. The center opening remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by residents that children from the encircling locality 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 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 has invested in its upkeep. Looking back, I feel exceedingly delighted to see that my career covered 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 school, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy gear I had designed and installed 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 contemplated: this are likely to 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 manufactured me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new place on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing big sunglasses and driving a white-hot van full of cater gear. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive 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, stormy daylight 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 shanty that served fish and microchips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid grown up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with an idea for a house that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when plights are unfriendly. I fetched epitomes of agricultural designs, doll’s homes, waistband windows and the emblazon blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we set a dawn figure I had designed. Jane viewed 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 greatest exercises of my job: 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 employment, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on various commissions 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; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and designing 6.5 km of sauntering roadways and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this wander, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve bandaged myself to these neighbourhoods 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 adored 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 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 fund to invest in this project- something most architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first owned rate merely PS60, 000.) We were friends with an designer “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 assured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous building- 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 have an idea of what their own room will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful plots. But from our first visit, I realised this wasn’t the website for that. I craved the house to retain the looking 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 career: 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 patrons.

We designed the opening with two dreams in sentiment: to live in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or proselytize it if we wanted to expand our household.( 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 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 invited me over several times, but I made up pretexts. I precisely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to design a studio in the garden-variety. Of route, 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 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 substances: brick, glass and oak. I got this strong sense that I had designed something that could 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the pattern photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar mansion that Nick’s father had constructed. Nick missed 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 firstly building.

I was elicited about everything I was seeing in Japan at the time: they tend to treat the plot as part of the house. Most of Nick’s neighbours wasted a lot of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We were focused on how the house and garden could connect. We generated a large concrete chassis that spread out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It also meant that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting tower, framing a consider into the garden, creating an outside opening that may seem like an indoor one.

We purposed 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 saved their curtains 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 front 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 build lives for people 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 lane of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

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

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