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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six contributing inventors 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 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 combined thrusts to formation 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 Associates 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 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 be accomplished with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were frightening. 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 designs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire action labor. 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 passengers and freight in the same vessel. I find that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I linked a restricted planned between two sheds on the waterfront. I threw 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 campaign, attracted on a lamp-post for photographer Michael Franke

” You can’t threw 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 toilets, 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 , 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 wielding sucks from a company that could form the glass. Inside, we innovated a gaming place on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and missile 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 place brought back some astonishing recalls. Olsen really was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial dissension. Four years ago, my spouse organised a bombshell defendant for my 80 th birthday and I noted myself bear next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still doing versions of the same thing: improving parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet 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 style week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation framework, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation ‘. 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 magnitude demonstrate- 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 formation from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, witnessed 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 anticipate: well, there is a window; what shall I give behind it? But I’ve always met it interesting to try to take a step further back. I contemplated maybe I could do something more engaging, more 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 design that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, reckoning she would say no. Everyone who considered the strategy 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 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 walked past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided design wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 simulation that we then scaled up manually, employing big membranes of graph paper.

I knew a slight chill on construe 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 psyches 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 won a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] honor that time. I recollect sitting on a bus like to hear people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It induced the street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 beings is currently working on my studio; we don’t structure things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from feeling to installation. Right now, we are designing a 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 teach me the quality of merely preserving accepting, 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 threw 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 building, which was a moderately advanced position for a male of his generation. After the second world war, he pate a department in a Scottish housing organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everyone, a ideology we shared.

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

After graduation, I laboured abroad – first in Poland, then in many inventors’ bureaux 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 heard 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 start by doing private lives, but I saw it as much more challenging to design a community. I envisioned there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide home. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a task in government departments of architecture and contriving at Southwark council and, to my gigantic good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal place in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat tumultuous join 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 area- the stupendous looks to north and south and the extremely unstable ground status. At the members, the ziggurats descend from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, showing the circumventing scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and scaring. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The housing 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 bequeathed a system 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 browsing. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in a number of cases, two. On site, I remember practically 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 homes 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 circumventing arena 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 invests in its maintenance. Looking back, I feel vastly delighted to see that my busines 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 kids there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

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

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the audience 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 microchip 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 made me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new website on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing big sunglasses and driving a white-hot van full of cater equipment. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking orientation 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 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 hut or a shack that served fish and microchips and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing 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 hostile. I returned portraits of agricultural organizes, doll’s residences, waistband windows and the colouring blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we set a ignite carve I had designed. Jane encountered 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 schooled me one of the most important lessons 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 design, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on various committees to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on jobs all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and plan 6.5 km of ambling routes and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this assortment, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a target. I’ve oblige myself to these places just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my girls every 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, 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 certainly in complete control of a intend 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 designers simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first belonging payment simply PS60, 000.) We were friends with an designer 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 procured 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. 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 architects “ve got 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 stay, I realised this wasn’t the locate for that. I required the house to retain the examination and feel of the site. It was surrounded by brick walls and consumed by vegetation, we are therefore designed a house in a same 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 client “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my subsequent 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 enabled to empathise with patrons.

We designed the seat with two conceives in subconsciou: 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 wasted 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-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 invited me over several times, but I made up condones. I just didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to pattern a studio in the garden. Of trend, I had to go back, even though I knew the room 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 cloths: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private house , 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 fashion photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar residence that Nick’s father had constructed. Nick required a studio upstairs and more infinite 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 agitated 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 lot of fund on their facades; we did the opposite. We is focused on how the house and garden could connect. We developed a large concrete frame that widened out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It also means that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting tower, framing a position into the garden, creating an outside infinite 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 prevented their screens 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 mansions 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 houses 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 space of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

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

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