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

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 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 compounded violences to way 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 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 docks 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 “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 designs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire procedure drove. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries compounded trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I recognized that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I linked a restrict story between two sheds on the waterfront. I placed the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and places for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t gave 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 lavatories, 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 achievement. At my own payment, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a situate of running makes from a company that could become the glass. Inside, we initiated a gaming neighbourhood on the ground floor: there were ping-pong counters and projectile committees. Upstairs, Olsen’s art collect 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 spot brought back some extraordinary recognitions. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial turmoil. Four years ago, my wife organised a surprise defendant for my 80 th birthday and I found myself bear next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t erect more projects together.

I am still doing 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 way week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original store prototype, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply structure ‘. Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

I met Terence Conran in my final year at the Royal College of Art, in 1994. He had come to give a talk and decided to buy a piece from my layout stage evidence- 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, examined 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 firstly proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically believe: well, there is a window; what shall I put behind it? But I’ve always found it interesting to try to take a step further back. I considered maybe I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to make 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, guessing she would say no. Everyone who interpreted 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 straining our minuscule budget to get this thing improved. 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 went past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided motif wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 model that we then scaled up manually, exploiting immense membranes of diagram paper.

I knew a slight thrill on realise 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 premiers 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] apportion that time. I remember sitting on a bus listening to people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It made the street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 parties working at 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 opinion to facility. Right now, we are designing a brand-new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that are able to take 10 years 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 fee taught me the quality of exactly retaining believing, 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 put 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 structure, which was a pretty advanced attitude for a humankind of his generation. After the second world war, he leader ministries and departments in a Scottish casing organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everyone, a belief 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 dames are not awfully practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn person and I visualized: I’ll blood see you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I ran abroad – first in Poland, then in many architects’ roles 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 realise that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I was the most 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 inventors begin by doing private houses, but I discovered it as much more challenging to design a community. I determined there was huge pressure on London’s parishes to provide house. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a undertaking in government departments of architecture and scheduling at Southwark council and, to my prodigiou good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal locate in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat chaotic session 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 place- the stupendous views to north and south and the extremely unstable ground status. At the edges, the ziggurats pitch from their maximum height of 12 storeys to four, reflecting the bordering proportion of suburban villas.

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

I devised a arrangement 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 more capability to help each other out with babysitting or patronizing. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in a number of cases, two. On site, I recollect nearly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of undertakings 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 tier. The central room remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the circumventing country 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 leases; 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 profession encompassed 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 children there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final year at building institution, I completed a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy kit 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 placed a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I anticipated: 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 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 backward and forward for a year; during that time, I became a father. It drew me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new place on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a white van full of cater equipment. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking place on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell down a gap. It was a grey, breezy date 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 chips and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

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

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we installed a lighter statue I had designed. Jane assured 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 biggest exercises of my occupation: 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 wield, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several fees 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; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intent 6.5 km of strolling itineraries and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this series, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a residence. I’ve oblige myself to these regions just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my boys each 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 cherished 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 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 property cost only PS60, 000.) We were friends with an designer who 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 fastened 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 demolished. 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 designers “ve got an idea” of what their own room will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful garden-varieties. But from our first visit, I realised this wasn’t the locate for that. I craved 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 similar 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 customers “. 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, eventually, the decision-maker. As such, I am now enabled to empathise with clients.

We designed the infinite with two concludes in psyche: lives in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or convert it if we wanted to expand our kinfolk.( Our daughter was born in the house .) 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 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 design a studio in the garden-variety. Of course, I had to go back, even if they are I knew the cavity 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 get this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private room , 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 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 home that Nick’s father had improved. 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 first building.

I was stimulated 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 expended a lot of money 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 provided 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 pillar, framing a deem into the garden, creating an outside infinite that feels like an indoor one.

We resolved up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The people across the road remained their screens drawn for a couple of years in declaration. 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 figurehead 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 lives for people 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 road of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central impression to my work- the idea of creating an expansive thought 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 part to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s characters page in print, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for pamphlet ).

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