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

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 on well and combined pressures to formation Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered architect at the conglomerate. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Accompanied 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 docks in east London, called 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 “ve given 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 patterns. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire enterprise labor. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s ships compounded trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I assured that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I determined a restricted patch between two molts on the waterfront. I gave the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and offices for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

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

” You can’t put foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I converge 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 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 thermal performance. At my own expense, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a prepare of running moves from a company that could stimulate the glass. Inside, we established a gaming neighborhood on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and projectile cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s art 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 location brought back some amazing recalls. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial dissatisfaction. Four years ago, my wife organised a surprise defendant for my 80 th birthday and I felt myself tolerate next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: building parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet or a disadvantaged community in Odisha, India, as I am through my foundation. 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 accumulation framework, 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 pattern position picture- 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, met 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 first proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically belief: well, there is a window; what shall I throw behind it? But I’ve always located it interesting to try to take a step further back. I made perhaps I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to see 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, reputing she would say no. Everyone who looked the proposal 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 elongating 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 blueprint wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 modeling that we then scaled up manually, applying huge membranes of diagram paper.

I knew a slight thrill on visualize the representation again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s managers 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] honor that year. I remember sitting on a bus listening to beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It became the street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 beings working at my studio; we don’t build 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 installing. Right now, we are designing a brand-new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will 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 board instruct me a better quality of precisely continuing speculating, 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 gave 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 architecture, which was a fairly advanced stance for a humankind of his generation. After the second world war, he honcho a department in a Scottish housing organisation; he was committed to providing decent house for everybody, a impression we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a lecturer 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 tenaciou party and I guessed: I’ll brutal demo you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my hypothesis would be built.

After graduation, I toiled abroad – first in Poland, then in various inventors’ parts in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole climate in Europe was one of optimism. When I came back, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I examined that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I was the most 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 designers start by doing private lives, but I witnessed it as much more challenging to design a community. I verified there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide dwelling. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a occupation in the department of architecture and contriving at Southwark council and, to my gargantuan good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal locate in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat 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 careened ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the place- the stupendous attitudes to north and south and the extremely unstable ground provisions. At the members, the ziggurats sink from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the surrounding scale 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 patrons were the person or persons on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I bequeathed a organisation 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 more ability 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 roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of drives 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 grade. The central infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by inhabitants that children from the encircling orbit come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest constructing 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 financing, including a restriction on their right to raise payments; 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 delighted to see that my profession spanned 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 teenagers there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at architecture academy, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy equipment 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 placed 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 audience who “ve been told” I must speak to Jane Wood, a property developer 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 chipping 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 obligated 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 station wearing large-scale sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering gear. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable point on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I get out of the van, my dreams fell into a opening. It was a grey, windy day 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 growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a build that opens up to take in the climate and closes down when states are hostile. I made likeness of agricultural arrangements, doll’s lives, waistband windows and the colour blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we invested a illuminate statue I had designed. Jane realized 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 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 production, 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 projections across the world: designing the new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and make 6.5 km of marching roads and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this reach, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve fix myself to these regions just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids each year: the cafe continues unabated 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, 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 actually in complete control of a pattern 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 coin to invest in this project- something most architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first property expenditure exclusively PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect 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 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 razed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I affection 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 garden-varieties. But from our first inspect, I realised this wasn’t the website 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 same brick. I’ve learned to rely 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 subsequent vocation: the fact 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 buyers.

We designed the infinite with two remembers 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 house .) We used inexpensive brick and spent 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 apologies. I only didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint 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 materials: 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 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 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 live that Nick’s father had improved. Nick required 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 firstly building.

I was aroused 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 spent a lot of coin on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We composed 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 means that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a judgment into the garden, creating an outside opening that may seem 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 beings across the road saved their curtains described for a couple of years in rally. 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 houses 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 building rooms for parties is a delicate process, which is why I only take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a path 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 live 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 portion to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s characters page in periodical, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for booklet ).

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