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

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 core 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 compounded coerces to sort Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer at the conglomerate. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associates 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, called 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 Foster at Millwall Docks:’ The dock manager had never met an architect before. He “ve given me” three weeks to come up with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were frightening. 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 intends. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire functioning wreaked. 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 insured that a same strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I related a restricted planned between two molts on the waterfront. I introduced the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and roles for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

A Foster sketch of his 1969 assignment, reaped 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 congregate Fred Olsen himself. I argued that if you want to raise standards in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and toilets, 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 , no one in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high thermal achievement. At my own cost, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a situated of labor portrayals from a company that could reach the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming country on the first floor: there were ping-pong tables and dart boards. Upstairs, Olsen’s skill 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 locating brought back some amazing retentions. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial unrest. Four year ago, my partner organised a surprise party for my 80 th birthday and I found myself endure next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: constructing parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet or a disadvantaged parish in Odisha, India, as I am through my organization. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London manner week window displays, 1997

Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation example, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization ‘. 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 blueprint degree 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 formation from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, recognized 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 remember: well, there is a window; what shall I put behind it? But I’ve always felt it interesting to try to take a step further back. I recollected maybe I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to form something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the idea to Mary, reckoning she would say no. Everyone who appreciated the proposal 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 straining 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 moved past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided layout wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 modeling that we then scaled up manually, using massive sheets of diagram paper.

I suffered a slight chill on realize the model again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s tops 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] gift that time. I remember sitting on a bus like to hear parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is would prefer it or not. It made the street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 beings 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 intuition to installing. Right now, we are designing a brand-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 sense of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public fee taught me the quality of just maintaining 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, there is a requirement employed everything of yourself into them.

Kate Macintosh

Dawson’s Heights, Dulwich, London, 1972

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 quite advanced stance for a husband of his generation. After world war ii, he foreman a department in a Scottish casing organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everybody, a belief 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 females are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn party and I pondered: I’ll viciou reveal you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I toiled abroad – first in Poland, then in many inventors’ offices in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole climate in Europe was one of optimism. When I was coming, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I considered 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 dirty, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female inventors start by doing private mansions, but I viewed it as much more challenging to design a community. I learnt there was huge pressure on London’s parishes to provide housing. In 1965, at persons under the age of 27, I took a undertaking in the department of architecture and scheming at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious place in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly tumultuous gratify 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 overwhelmed ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the locate- the colossal deems to north and south and the extremely unstable ground maladies. At the extremities, the ziggurats condescend from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, indicating the circumventing scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and frightening. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The home director of Southwark drew up the summary, 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 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 been able to more capacity to help each other out with babysitting or patronizing. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in a number of cases, two. On site, I recollect virtually losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of handiworks must be given to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good parish feel there. The homes are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that tier. The center infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the smothering arena come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest building I’ve designed. It was finalized 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 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 exceptionally delighted to see that my occupation spanned what was a golden age for the public sector.

Asif Khan

West Beach cafe, Littlehampton, 2008

Asif Khan at West Beach cafe:’ I take my children there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at structure school, I accomplished a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy equipment 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 guessed: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone 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 prepared me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new area on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a white van full of catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable spot on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell down a puncture. It was a grey, breezy era 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 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 build that opens up to take in the climate and closes down when status are hostile. I returned personas of agricultural organizes, doll’s houses, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we invested a flare 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 taught me one of the most important exercises of my job: 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 drive, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on various commissionings to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on jobs across the world: designing the new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and aim 6.5 km of treading directions 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 home. I’ve obliged myself to these targets just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my minors each year: the coffeehouse is still there and it feels like home.

Mary Duggan

King’s Grove, Peckham, London, 2008

Mary Duggan at King’s Grove:’ I cherished 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 partner, 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 really 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 renewed three houses and managed to accrue enough money to invest in this project- something most inventors simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first belonging expense simply PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect 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 build- a plaster mould workshop- had been swallowed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I cherished that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most designers have an idea of what their own room will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful plots. But from our first visit, I realised this wasn’t the site for that. I craved the house to retain the examine 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 cartel 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 subsequent busines: the facts of the case 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 buyers.

We designed the room with two reckons in judgment: 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 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-footed 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 justifies. I precisely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to intend a studio in the plot. Of track, I had to go back, even if they are I knew the cavity 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 information: brick, glass and oak. I got this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private live , Richmond, London, 1990

David Chipperfield at the home 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 style photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar home that Nick’s father had built. Nick missed a studio upstairs and more cavity 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 elicited 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 great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We created 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 look into the garden, creating an outside infinite that feels like an indoor one.

We culminated 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 kept their curtains depicted for a couple of years in affirm. 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 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 build rooms for people is a delicate process, which is why I only take over 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 meaning to my job- the idea of creating an expansive view 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 part to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in publication, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

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