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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six resulting 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 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 to get well and mixed armies to structure Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered inventor at the conglomerate. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Accompanied in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no accompanieds 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 was put forward 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 blueprints. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire activity made. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries combined trade with holiday cruises, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I viewed that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I identified a constrict plot between two molts on the waterfront. I set the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and places for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

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

” You can’t threw 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 thermal recital. At my own overhead, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a located of cultivating depicts from a company that could move the glass. Inside, we innovated a gaming expanse on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and missile cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s art 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 amazing recalls. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial dissension. Four years ago, my bride organised a bombshell party for my 80 th birthday and I received myself digest next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still doing 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 foundation. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London manner week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation representation, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation ‘. 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 motif degree depict- 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, examined it and would like to know 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 remember: well, there is a window; what shall I set behind it? But I’ve always experienced it interesting to try to take a step further back. I contemplated perhaps I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to oblige 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 idea to Mary, contemplating she would say no. Everyone who identified 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 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 enormous studio in east London, including a couple of stone carvers from St Paul’s cathedral and a DJ who moved past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided motif wasn’t really available. I must be given to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 representation that we then scaled up manually, exploiting gigantic membranes of diagram paper.

I suffered a slight chill on control the modeling again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s honchoes 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] accolade that year. I recollect baby-sit on a bus listening to people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone would prefer it or not. It shaped wall street more evocative and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 people working at my studio; we don’t body-build 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 installation. Right now, we are designing a 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 commission learn me the qualifications of merely hindering speculating, 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, you must 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 suggested I study architecture, which was a fairly advanced position for a human of his generation. After world war ii, he manager ministries and departments in a Scottish casing organisation; he was committed to providing decent house for everybody, a creed 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 girls are not awfully practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn party and I thoughts: I’ll bloody display you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I worked abroad – first in Poland, then in many designers’ roles in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of confidence. When I came back, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I watched 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 unclean, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female inventors begin by doing private houses, but I interpreted it as much more challenging to design a community. I encountered there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a responsibility in the department of architecture 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 somewhat tumultuous convene 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 careened ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the website- the prodigious vistums to north and south and the extremely unstable ground conditions. At the edges, the ziggurats tumble from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, indicating the circumventing magnitude 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 patrons were the people on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I bequeathed a plan 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 patronizing. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in some cases, two. On site, I remember roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of tasks 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 level. The central cavity remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the circumventing domain 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 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 vastly grateful that my career spanned 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 girls there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final year at architecture school, I completed 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 considered: perhaps it is my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the audience who “ve been told” 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 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 did me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new locate on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the terminal wearing big sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering material. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking spot on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell down a gap. It was a grey, stormy 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 hut 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 an idea for a construct that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when ailments are unfriendly. I introduced likeness of agricultural arrangements, doll’s houses, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we invested a light-headed sculpture I had designed. Jane met 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 most prominent readings 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 boards 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; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and conceive 6.5 km of moving roads and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this assortment, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve fix myself to these situates just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my girls 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 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, 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 institutions across north London, but you are never actually 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 revamped three houses and managed to accrue enough money to invest in this project- something most architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first dimension cost exclusively PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect “whos 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 build- a plaster mould workshop- had been bulldozed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I cherished that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most architects have an idea of what their own residence will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful plots. But from our first stay, I realised this wasn’t the locate for that. I missed the house to retain the looking 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 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 patrons.

We designed the room with two guess in subconsciou: lives 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 lineage.( 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-footed 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 excuses. I simply didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint a studio in the garden. Of course, I had to go back, even though 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 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 textiles: 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 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 fad photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar live 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 firstly building.

I was agitated 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 spent a lot of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We caused a large concrete frame that increased out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise meant that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a attitude into the garden, creating an outside seat that feels like an indoor one.

We aimed 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 draperies sucked for a couple of years in objection. 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 front didn’t look like the other lives 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 construct homes for beings is a delicate process, which is why I only take over one or two at a time. Success depends much needed on how you develop a practice of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central project 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 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.

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