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

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 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 blended pushes to shape Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered architect 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 associates 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 gave me three weeks to come up with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were grisly. 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 layouts. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire procedure operated. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries combined trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I checked that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I identified a narrow scheme between two sheds on the waterfront. I employed the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and roles for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

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

” You can’t set foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I congregate 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 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 rendition. At my own expenditure, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a set of cultivating traces from a company that could construct the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming province on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and dart timbers. Upstairs, Olsen’s skill accumulation 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 astonishing retentions. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial upheaval. Four years ago, my wife organised a astound party for my 80 th birthday and I met myself digest 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: improving communities, whether I am designing for a Swiss village or a disadvantaged parish in Odisha, India, as I am through my foundation. 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 storage prototype, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply arrangement ‘. 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 designing grade indicate- 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 organization from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, understood 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 make: well, there is a window; what shall I introduce behind it? But I’ve always obtained it interesting to try to take a step further back. I supposed perhaps I could do something more engaging, most 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 arrangement that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, concluding she would say no. Everyone who learnt 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 pulling 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 sauntered 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 simulate that we then scaled up manually, use gigantic sheets of diagram paper.

I knew a slight thrill on attend the pattern again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s fronts 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 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 wall street more evocative and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 parties is currently working on my studio; we don’t develop things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from idea to facility. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will 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 commission taught me a better quality of exactly impeding accepting, 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 placed 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 intimated I study building, which was a moderately advanced posture for a husband of his generation. After the second world war, he thoughts a department in a Scottish dwelling organisation; he was committed to providing decent casing for everybody, a belief 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 females are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn being and I considered: I’ll blood depict you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I made abroad – first in Poland, then in many architects’ roles in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole mood 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 insured 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 architects start by doing private rooms, but I interpreted it as much more challenging to design a community. I ascertained there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide home. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a chore in the department of architecture and proposing at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal locate in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat tumultuous fit where we had to present our strategies. 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 floundered ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the place- the stupendous sentiments to north and south and the extremely unstable ground positions. At the edges, the ziggurats tumble from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the bordering proportion of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and panicking. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The house director of Southwark drew up the summary, 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 organized a arrangement that enabled one-, two- and three-bedroom residences 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 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 recollect roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of operates 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 degree. The center cavity remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the encircling sphere come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest improving 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 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 terribly grateful that my busines covered 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 building academy, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy kit 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 made a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I made: this might be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone in the audience who told me 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 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 obliged me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new site 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 impressive spot on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I got out of the van, my dreams fell down a loophole. It was a grey, breezy epoch 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 cabin that served fish and microchips and local 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 condition and closes down when states are unfriendly. I wreaked personas of agricultural organizations, doll’s houses, waistband windows and the colour blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we set a dawn carve I had designed. Jane ascertained 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 taught me one of the biggest assignments of my busines: 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 commissionings to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on activities all over the world: designing the new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intent 6.5 km of stepping streets and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this stray, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a situate. I’ve bound myself to these situates just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my children 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 loved 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 blueprint 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 owned expense simply PS60, 000.) We were friends with an inventor 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 secured 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 bulldozed. Originally, 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 plots. But from our first trip, I realised this wasn’t the area for that. I required the house to retain the watch 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, because we 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 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 infinite with two contemplates in intellect: to live 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 pedigree.( Our daughter was born in the house .) We used inexpensive brick and spent 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 condones. I merely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to pattern a studio in the plot. Of track, I had to go back, even though 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 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 cloths: brick, glass and oak. I get this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private home , 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 manner 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 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 aroused 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 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 spread out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It also meant that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting article, framing a deem into the garden, creating an outside opening that feels like an indoor one.

We terminated 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 prevented their draperies drawn for a couple of years in protest. 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 houses 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 only take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a route of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central theme to my work- the idea of creating an expansive panorama 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, yet he is dedicated to his family. I like to think the house has played a role.

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