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

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 compounded powers to anatomy Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer at the house. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associates 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 frightful. 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 patterns. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire operation drove. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries blended trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I envisioned that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I related a restricted plan between two molts on the waterfront. I made the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and bureaux for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

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

” You can’t put foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I fill 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal act. At my own payment, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a change of making depicts from a company that could represent the glass. Inside, we initiated a gaming field on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and missile boards. Upstairs, Olsen’s artistry 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 remembers. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discord. Four year ago, my bride organised a astonish defendant for my 80 th birthday and I obtained myself stay next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t build more projects together.

I am still do 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 footing. 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 accumulate representation, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organize ‘. 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 stage picture- 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 formation from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, insured 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 feel: well, there is a window; what shall I introduce behind it? But I’ve always acquired it interesting to try to take a step further back. I anticipated perhaps I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to build something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply design that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the idea to Mary, pondering she would say no. Everyone who verified the design thought it is not feasible 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 straining 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 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 motif wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 simulation that we then scaled up manually, expending massive expanses of diagram paper.

I knowledge a slight thrill on see the prototype again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s brains 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] give that year. I recollect 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 manufactured the street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are 200 parties is currently working on my studio; we don’t construct things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from mind 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 feel of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public commissioning instruct me the qualifications of simply saving believing, 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, there is a requirement 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 advocated I study structure, which was a jolly advanced attitude for a soldier of his generation. After the second world war, he honcho a department in a Scottish casing organisation; he was committed to providing decent house for everybody, a sentiment we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a educator 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 being and I recalled: I’ll bloody-minded demo 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’ agencies in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole humor in Europe was one of optimism. When I was coming, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I realise 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 start by doing private mansions, but I investigated it as much more challenging to design a community. I attended there was huge pressure on London’s parishes to provide home. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a position in the department of architecture and proposing 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 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 overwhelmed ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the website- the stupendous attitudes to north and south and the extremely unstable ground predicaments. At the tips, the ziggurats tumble from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, indicating the encircling magnitude of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and scaring. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The home manager 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 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 more ability 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 remember virtually losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of wields 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 rank. The center cavity remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by residents that children from the encircling orbit 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 funding, including a restriction on their right to raise payments; 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 delighted to see that my vocation 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 teenagers there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final year at structure school, I accomplished 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 applied a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I contemplated: this are likely to be 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 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 moved me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new site on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing big-hearted 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 got out of the van, my dreams fell down a hole. It was a grey, windy day 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 shanty that served fish and microchips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid grown up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with an idea for a house that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when plights are hostile. I brought images of agricultural structures, doll’s houses, waistband windows and the quality blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we invested a light-footed statue I had designed. Jane realise 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 schooled me one of the most important assignments of my profession: 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 various commissions to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on projections all over the world: designing the new Museum of London; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and contrive 6.5 km of moving streets and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this wander, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve obliged myself to these residences just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids every 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 enjoyed 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 marriage, Joe Morris. I had worked for Gollifer Langston Architects for five years, overseeing the build of seven schools across north London, but you are never certainly in complete control of a pattern 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 designers simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first owned payment merely PS60, 000.) We were friends with an designer “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 procured 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 demolished. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I loved 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 gardens. But from our first inspect, I realised this wasn’t the area for that. I wanted the house to retain the examine 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, since we are knew what we wanted; after all, we were also ” the client “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my subsequent job: 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 clients.

We designed the space with two imagines in knowledge: 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 house.( 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-colored 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 apologizes. I merely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a purchaser, who commissioned me in late 2018 to pattern a studio in the garden. Of trend, I had to go back, even if they are 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 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 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 fairly inexperienced, I was approached by the way photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar residence that Nick’s father had improved. Nick craved a studio upstairs and more space 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 evoked 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 invested a great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We generated a large concrete chassis that spread out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too meant that the reces of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting pillar, framing a thought into the garden, creating an outside cavity 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 parties across the road impeded their shrouds outlined for a couple of years in affirm. 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 houses 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 house lives for parties is a delicate process, which is why I simply take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a space of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central thought to my job- the idea of creating an expansive belief 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, 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 portion to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in magazine, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for booklet ).

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