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

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 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 to get well and blended pressures to chassis Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer 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 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 horrible. 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 operation ran. 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 fares and freight in the same vessel. I attended that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I distinguished a constrict patch between two molts 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 projection, 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 convene Fred Olsen himself. I argued that if you want to raise standards in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and bathrooms, 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal action. At my own expenditure, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a primed of acting depicts from a company that could form the glass. Inside, we established a gaming domain on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and missile committees. Upstairs, Olsen’s prowes 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 remarkable recalls. Olsen really was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial dissatisfaction. Four years ago, my bride organised a astound defendant for my 80 th birthday and I learnt myself stay next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

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

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London mode week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original supermarket model, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization ‘. 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 intend grade prove- 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 organize from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, accompanied 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 first proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically reckon: 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 supposed maybe I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to clear 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, reckoning she would say no. Everyone who determined the contrive 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 constructed. There was a team of us working for PS3 an hour( about PS5. 60 today) in a vast studio in east London, including a couple of stone carvers from St Paul’s cathedral and a DJ who marched past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided intend wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 framework that we then scaled up manually, applying big membranes of graph paper.

I experienced a slight chill on discover 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 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 won a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] apportion that time. I recollect sitting on a bus listening to beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It became wall street more vivid and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 beings 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 plan to station. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will take 10 times to complete. It involves billions of pounds of construction work and will endure for decades; but I feel the same strong feel of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public committee taught me the qualifications of precisely maintaining feeling, 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, there is a requirement applied 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 proposed I study architecture, which was a reasonably advanced stance for a humankind of his generation. After the second world war, he leader ministries and departments in a Scottish housing organisation; he was committed to providing decent dwelling for everyone, a impression 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 noblewomen are not exceedingly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou party and I recalled: I’ll bloody-minded depict you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I wreaked abroad – first in Poland, then in many architects’ powers in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of optimism. When I was coming, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I encountered that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I is more junior member of the team and I are essential in order to get my boots dirty, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female architects begin by doing private mansions, but I ascertained it as much more challenging to design a community. I investigated there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a place in the department of architecture and projecting at Southwark council and, to my prodigiou good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat chaotic gratify where we had to present our programmes. 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 site- the stupendous positions to north and south and the extremely unstable ground healths. At the tips, the ziggurats sink from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the smothering magnitude of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and panicking. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The home manager of Southwark drew up the summary, 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 organized a organization 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 more ability 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 remember nearly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of toils had to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good parish feel there. The dwellings are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that level. The central space remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the bordering neighbourhood 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 deprived 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 busines 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 school, I accomplished 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 employed a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I conceived: 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 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 chipping 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 stirred me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a new locate on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a grey van full of cater equipment. 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 fault. It was a grey, stormy 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 microchips and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with an idea for a building that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when healths are unfriendly. I returned portraits of agricultural organizations, doll’s rooms, waistband windows and the emblazon blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we set a illumination figure I had designed. Jane viewed 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 important assignments 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 duty, 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 projects all over the world: designing the new Museum of London; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and conceive 6.5 km of treading routes 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 plaza. I’ve fix myself to these plazas just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my teenagers 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, 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 institutions across north London, but you are never genuinely in complete control of a designing when you are working for a practice. I was determined to be independent, as was Joe.

Before King’s Grove, Joe and I had refurbished three houses and managed to accrue enough coin to invest in this project- something most designers simply wouldn’t be able to supposed to do now.( Our first owned cost 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 locked 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 swallowed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I enjoyed that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most inventors “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 stay, I realised this wasn’t the area for that. I wanted the house to retain the sound 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 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 subsequent busines: 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 buyers.

We designed the opening with two thinkings in attention: 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 family.( 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 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 justifies. I exactly didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to designing a studio in the garden-variety. 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 constructing 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 information: 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the pattern photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They is now in a postwar room that Nick’s father had improved. Nick wanted 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 first building.

I was provoked 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 developed a large concrete frame that provided out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise meant that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting pillar, framing a scene into the garden, creating an outside space 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 deterred their shrouds depicted for a couple of years in demonstrate. 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 rooms 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 building mansions 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 room of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central notion to my job- the idea of creating an expansive panorama in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The room 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, yet he is dedicated to his family. I like to think the house has played a role.

* If you would like a comment on this slouse to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in engrave, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

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