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

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 to get well and combined pushes to species 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 Associates in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no associates 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 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 gave me three weeks to be accomplished with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were terrifying. 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 designings. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire enterprise laboured. 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 witnessed that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I distinguished a restrict patch between two sheds on the waterfront. I introduced the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and parts for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t employed 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 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 , no one in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal performance. At my own overhead, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a located of running traces from a company that could see the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming field on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and missile committees. 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 recognitions. Olsen certainly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial fermentation. Four years ago, my wife organised a surprise party for my 80 th birthday and I noticed myself bear next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t erect more projects together.

I am still do 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 foot. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London pattern week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original supermarket simulation, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization ‘. 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 design magnitude show- 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 exposed 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 feel: well, there is a window; what shall I give behind it? But I’ve always discovered it interesting to try to take a step further back. I supposed perhaps I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to acquire 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, speculating she would say no. Everyone who encountered the programme 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 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 marched past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided design wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 framework that we then scaled up manually, using gigantic sheets of graph paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on regard the framework 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] gift 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 would prefer it or not. It established the street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 parties is currently working on my studio; we don’t erect things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from impression to facility. 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 learn me a better quality of just saving conceiving, like a long-distance runner. It is easy for special things not to happen, but, rarely, some of them do. And in order for them to happen, it was necessary to made 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 moderately advanced stance for a guy of his generation. After the second world war, he manager a department in a Scottish casing organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everybody, a idea 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 dames are not awfully practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn being and I guessed: I’ll viciou evidence you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I cultivated abroad – first in Poland, then in many inventors’ powers in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole mood in Europe was one of optimism. When I came back, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I considered 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 grime, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female inventors start by doing private mansions, but I insured it as much more challenging to design a community. I ascertained there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide house. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a occupation in the department of structure and strategy at Southwark council and, to my gigantic good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious website in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat chaotic join 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 prodigious views to north and south and the extremely unstable ground conditions. At the members, the ziggurats tumble from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, showing the bordering scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and terrifying. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The home director 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 organized a method 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 capability 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 recollect virtually losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of wields 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 tier. The central infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the encircling area come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest building I’ve designed. It concluded 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 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 upkeep. Looking back, I feel immensely delighted to see that my occupation spanned 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 girls there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at building school, I accomplished a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy paraphernalium 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 envisioned: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the gathering who told me 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 back and forth for a year; during that time, I became a father. It constituted me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a new site on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing large-scale sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of cater paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive spot on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a hole. It was a grey, windy period 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 chips and neighbourhood 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 climate and closes down when problems are hostile. I introduced personas of agricultural arrangements, doll’s houses, waistband windows and the emblazon blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we invested a sun sculpture I had designed. Jane interpreted 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 biggest assignments of my job: 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 duty, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several 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 new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intention 6.5 km of sauntering itineraries and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this range, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a place. I’ve attach myself to these situates just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my teenagers each year: the coffeehouse 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 marriage, 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 really in complete control of a motif 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 architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first belonging rate 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 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 building- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I desired that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most inventors “ve got an idea” of what their own house will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful garden-varieties. But from our first call, I realised this wasn’t the area for that. I craved the house to retain the search 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 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 career: the fact that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, ultimately, the decision-maker. As such, I am now able to empathise with patrons.

We designed the cavity with two envisages in brain: lives 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 pedigree.( 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-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 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 client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to layout a studio in the plot. 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 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 information: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private home , 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the pattern photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They is now in a postwar room that Nick’s father had improved. Nick missed 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 first building.

I was evoked about everything I was seeing in Japan at the time: they tend to treat the garden-variety as part of the house. Most of Nick’s neighbours invested a lot of fund on their facades; we did the opposite. We is focused on how the house and garden could connect. We formed a large concrete chassis that widened out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It also meant that the reces of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a idea into the garden, creating an outside space 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 remained their curtains gleaned for a couple of years in assert. 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 figurehead didn’t look like the other residences 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 beings is a delicate process, which is why I only take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a mode of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central theme 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 house 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 bit to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s characters page in print, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for book ).

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