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

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 centre 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 mixed pressures to way 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 accompanies 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 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 be accomplished 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 designings. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire activity operated. 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 fares and freight in the same vessel. I visualized that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I recognized a restrict scheme between two molts on the waterfront. I placed the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and places for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

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

” You can’t made foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I gratify 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-pitched thermal accomplishment. At my own overhead, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a organize of acting drawings from a company that could establish the glass. Inside, we initiated a gaming neighbourhood on the first floor: there were ping-pong counters and dart committees. 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 point brought back some astonishing remembers. Olsen certainly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial strife. Four years ago, my partner organised a surprise party for my 80 th birthday and I knew myself put next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t construct more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: constructing 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 fad week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original storage simulation, 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 design position appearance- 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, visualized 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 contemplate: well, there is a window; what shall I make behind it? But I’ve always determined it interesting to try to take a step further back. I reputed maybe I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to prepare 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, speculating she would say no. Everyone who received the design 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 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 designing wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 pattern that we then scaled up manually, using immense expanses of graph paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on examine the example again after 22 times. 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 triumphed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] bestow that year. I remember sitting on a bus like to hear beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It built wall street more evocative 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 hypothesi to facility. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that are able to 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 commission taught me the quality of only 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 advocated I study structure, which was a jolly advanced position for a gentleman of his generation. After the second world war, he manager ministries and departments in a Scottish house organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everybody, a faith 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 madams are not abysmally practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou party and I conceived: I’ll viciou establish you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my hypothesis would be built.

After graduation, I operated abroad – first in Poland, then in many architects’ offices in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of optimism. When I came back, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, working 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 are essential in order to get my boots grime, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female designers start by doing private homes, but I envisioned it as much more challenging to design a community. I saw there was huge pressure on London’s parishes to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a responsibility in government departments of building and scheduling at Southwark council and, to my gargantuan good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal website in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic convene 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 locate- the prodigious views to north and south and the extremely unstable ground ailments. At the members, the ziggurats sink from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the bordering magnitude of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and scaring. 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 purchasers were the people on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I devised a structure 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 been able to more capacity 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 employments 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 center infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the circumventing neighbourhood 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 starved of funding, including a restriction on their right to raise rents; 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 terribly delighted to see that my occupation 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 teenagers there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at architecture institution, I ended 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 set 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 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 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 stimulated me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new area on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing large-scale sunglasses and driving a white van full of cater paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking locating on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I get out of the van, my dreams fell down a flaw. It was a grey, breezy daylight 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 chippings and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a construct that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when modes are hostile. I produced epitomes of agricultural formations, doll’s houses, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we installed a sunlight figure I had designed. Jane identified 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 most important exercises 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 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 projects 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 moving directions and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this array, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a home. I’ve fixed myself to these plazas just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my girls every 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 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 collaborator, 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 truly 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 renewed three houses and managed to accrue enough coin to invest in this project- something most inventors simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first owned expense merely 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 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 construct- a plaster mould workshop- had been dismantled. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I loved that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most architects “ve got an idea” of what their own residence 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 area for that. I craved the house to retain the seem 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 customers “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my precede occupation: 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 clients.

We designed the seat with two recalls in psyche: 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 house.( 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-colored 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 forgives. I simply didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to designing a studio in the plot. Of trend, 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 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 fabrics: 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 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 is now in a postwar room that Nick’s father had constructed. Nick craved a studio upstairs and more seat 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 stimulated 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 wasted a lot of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We developed a large concrete frame that spread out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too meant that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a consider into the garden, creating an outside space that may seem like an indoor one.

We objective 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 deterred their screens drawn for a couple of years in dissent. 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 homes 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 construct homes for people is a delicate process, which is why I merely take over 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 central mind 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 home 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 article to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in periodical, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for book ).

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