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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six preceding 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 combined powers to pattern 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 identifies and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall wharves 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 “ve given me” three weeks to be accomplished with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

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

Olsen’s carries mixed trade with holiday cruises, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I experienced that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I determined a narrow plan between two sheds on the waterfront. I set the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and parts for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t placed foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I convene 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 recital. At my own expense, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a start of labouring drags from a company that could draw the glass. Inside, we established a gaming locality 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 extraordinary memories. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discontent. Four years ago, my bride organised a stun defendant for my 80 th birthday and I spotted myself sit next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t structure more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: constructing parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss village 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 store model, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation ‘. 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 grade display- 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 design from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, realise 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 firstly proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically guess: well, there is a window; what shall I introduce behind it? But I’ve always determined it interesting to try to take a step further back. I saw maybe I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to become 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 idea to Mary, pondering she would say no. Everyone who viewed the propose 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 extending 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 ambled 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, employing vast membranes of diagram paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on construe the pattern again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s managers 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 prevailed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] bestow that year. I remember sitting on a bus listening to parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone would prefer it or not. It attained the street more colors 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 theme to facility. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that are able to take 10 years to complete. It involves billions 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 instruct me the quality of merely continuing belief, 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, 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 suggested I study structure, which was a moderately advanced attitude for a being of his generation. After the second world war, he manager a department in a Scottish home organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everyone, a creed we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a instructor taking me to one side and saying:” Young girls are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou party and I thought: I’ll murderou picture you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I laboured abroad – first in Poland, then in many inventors’ offices 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 learnt that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I is more 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 designers begin by doing private homes, but I experienced it as much more challenging to design a community. I witnessed there was huge pressure on London’s parishes to provide house. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a job in government departments of architecture and scheduling 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 see 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 floundered ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the area- the stupendous scenes to north and south and the extremely unstable ground maladies. At the boundaries, the ziggurats pitch from their peak height of 12 storeys to four, reflecting the circumventing proportion of suburban villas.

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

I designed a organisation 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 capacity to help each other out with babysitting or shopping. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in some cases, two. On site, I recollect roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of employments had 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 height. The center space remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by inhabitants that children from the surrounding country 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 upkeep. Looking back, I feel immensely grateful that my career covered 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 year at building academy, I accomplished a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy gear 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 gave a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I thoughts: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the gathering 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 coffeehouse 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 backward and forward for a year; during that time, I became a father. It realized me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-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 catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable location on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I get out of the van, my dreams fell into a pit. It was a grey, breezy 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 shanty 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 house that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when maladies are hostile. I created images of agricultural structures, doll’s homes, waistband windows and the colouring blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we installed a light statue I had designed. Jane saw 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 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 task, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several commissions to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on activities across the world: designing the new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intend 6.5 km of walking roadways and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this series, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a place. I’ve obliged myself to these places 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 desired 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 spouse, 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 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 renovated 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 dimension expenditure simply 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 construct- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I affection that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most inventors have an idea of what their own live will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful garden-varieties. But from our first inspect, I realised this wasn’t the website 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 profession: the fact that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, eventually, the decision-maker. As such, I am now able to empathise with purchasers.

We designed the cavity with two ponders in thinker: to live 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 household.( Our daughter was born in the chamber of representatives .) We used inexpensive brick and expended 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 invited me over several times, but I made up self-justifications. I only didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to design a studio in the garden-variety. Of direction, I had to go back, even if they are 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 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 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 style photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They is now in a postwar home that Nick’s father had constructed. 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 firstly building.

I was elicited 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 wasted a lot of coin on their facades; we did the opposite. We is focused on how the house and garden could connect. We developed a large concrete chassis that extended out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It also meant that the area of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a scene into the garden, creating an outside seat that may seem 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 parties across the road saved their curtains outlined 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 front didn’t look like the other rooms 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 structure homes for beings is a delicate process, which is why I merely take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a room of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central project to my job- the idea of creating an expansive sentiment in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The residence 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 segment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s characters page in book, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

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