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

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 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 combined powers to chassis Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered inventor at the firm. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associate in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no accompanies 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 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 come up with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

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

Olsen’s carries mixed trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I accompanied that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I determined a restricted scheme between two sheds on the waterfront. I put the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and bureaux for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t introduced foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I fill 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 lavatories, 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-pitched thermal act. At my own payment, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a set of cultivating pumps from a company that could attain the glass. Inside, we inserted a gaming orbit on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and projectile boards. Upstairs, Olsen’s skill collection 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 locating brought back some remarkable recognitions. Olsen certainly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discontent. Four years ago, my wife organised a amaze defendant for my 80 th birthday and I knew myself suffer next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t develop more projects together.

I am still doing 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 organization. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London mode week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation modeling, 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 layout magnitude indicate- a gazebo made from birch ply- for his back garden. He then asked a question to design an interior display for the Conran Shop, so I made a layered organize from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, verified 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 make: well, there is a window; what shall I throw behind it? But I’ve always acquired 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 stir something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, speculating she would say no. Everyone who recognized the hope 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 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 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 designing wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 pattern that we then scaled up manually, employing big sheets of diagram paper.

I knowledge a slight thrill on see the prototype again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s chiefs 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 triumphed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] gift that year. I remember sitting on a bus like to hear people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It reached wall street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 people 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 suggestion to installing. Right now, we are designing a brand-new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will take 10 years 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 instruct me the qualifications of precisely retaining belief, 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 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 indicated I study architecture, which was a somewhat advanced stance for a humanity of his generation. After the second world war, he headed a department in a Scottish housing organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everybody, a impression 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 abysmally practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn party and I belief: I’ll viciou depict you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I drove abroad – first in Poland, then in numerous architects’ offices in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole climate 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 watched 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 grimy, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female architects begin by doing private houses, but I experienced it as much more challenging to design a community. I met there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a profession in the department of building and projecting at Southwark council and, to my gigantic good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal locate in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat tumultuous gather 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 careened ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the website- the stupendous views to north and south and the extremely unstable ground provisions. At the edges, the ziggurats sink from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, reflecting the encircling proportion of suburban villas.

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

I devised a method 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 been able to more capacity to help each other out with babysitting or shopping. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in a number of cases, two. On site, I remember nearly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of duties had 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 degree. The central room remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by residents that children from the surrounding area 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 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 maintenance. Looking back, I feel vastly delighted to see that my vocation encompassed 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 year at structure academy, I completed 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 put 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 person 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 cafe on the site of a fish and chipping 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 be completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new locate on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the terminal wearing large-scale sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking spot on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell down a loophole. It was a grey, windy 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 shack or a shack that served fish and chips and local 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 problems are hostile. I brought personas of agricultural arrangements, doll’s homes, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we set a light-colored statue I had designed. Jane find 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 exercises 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 drive, 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 campaigns all over the world: designing the new Museum of London; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and contrive 6.5 km of stepping routes and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this wander, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a target. I’ve fasten myself to these regions just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my boys 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, 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 certainly 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 revamped 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 dimension rate only 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 fastened a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous construct- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. Initially, 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 live 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 website for that. I required the house to retain the review and feel of the site. It was surrounded by brick walls and consumed by vegetation, so we designed a house in a same 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 client “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my precede vocation: 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 purchasers.

We designed the room with two considers in thought: to live in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or alter it if we wanted to expand our lineage.( 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 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 forgives. I simply didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint a studio in the plot. Of trend, I had to go back, although there is 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 building 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 materials: brick, glass and oak. I got this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private room , 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 fad photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar room that Nick’s father had constructed. Nick craved a studio upstairs and more opening 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 evoked 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 wasted a great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We were focused on how the house and garden could connect. We developed 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 reces of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting column, framing a look into the garden, creating an outside opening that feels like an indoor one.

We culminated up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The beings across the road kept their screens reaped for a couple of years in objection. 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 front didn’t look like the other mansions 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 build homes for parties is a delicate process, which is why I simply take over 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 center project to my work- the idea of creating an expansive look 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, 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 piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in photograph, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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