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‘It didn’t matter if someone liked it or not’: six preceding 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 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 thrusts to way 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 Identify 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 wharves 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
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 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 designs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire busines ran. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s ships blended trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I determined that a same strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I recognized a restricted scheme between two molts on the waterfront. I placed the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and roles for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t made foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I encounter 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 , no one in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high-pitched thermal recital. At my own rate, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a determine of making moves from a company that could establish the glass. Inside, we introduced a gaming domain on the first floor: there were ping-pong tables and dart timbers. 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 orientation brought back some amazing remembers. Olsen truly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial unrest. Four years ago, my partner organised a amaze defendant for my 80 th birthday and I procured myself stay next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t construct more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: building parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet 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 pattern week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original storage model, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply structure ‘. 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 magnitude substantiate- 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 structure from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, identified it and would like to know whether 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 believe: well, there is a window; what shall I apply behind it? But I’ve always noticed 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 prepare something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organize that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the idea to Mary, conceiving she would say no. Everyone who construed the intention 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 elongating 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 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 had to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 prototype that we then scaled up manually, using gigantic expanses of diagram paper.

I experienced a slight shudder on envision the framework again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s chiefs 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] bestow that time. I remember sitting on a bus like to hear parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It shaped wall street more colors and engaging.

Today, there are 200 beings is currently working on my studio; we don’t build things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from idea 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 learn me the qualifications of merely stopping conceiving, 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 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 hinted I study structure, which was a pretty advanced position for a man of his generation. After world war ii, he manager ministries and departments in a Scottish dwelling organisation; he was committed to providing decent casing for everybody, a impression 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 maids are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn person and I visualized: I’ll murderou depict you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I laboured abroad – first in Poland, then in various inventors’ powers 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, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I witnessed that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I was the most junior member of the team and I are essential in order to get my boots grime, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female designers begin by doing private houses, but I pictured it as much more challenging to design a community. I realise there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a position in the department of architecture and contriving at Southwark council and, to my prodigiou good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious place in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic session 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 prodigious looks to north and south and the extremely unstable ground preconditions. At the boundaries, the ziggurats tumble from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, indicating the surrounding scale of suburban villas.

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

I bequeathed 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 capability to help each other out with babysitting or browsing. 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 works must be given to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good community feel there. The dwellings are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that level. The central opening remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by residents that children from the surrounding sphere 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 has invested in its upkeep. Looking back, I feel terribly delighted to see that my job 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 minors there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final year at building institution, 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 employed a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I supposed: this might be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the audience who told me 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 chipping kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach coffeehouse. 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 manufactured me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new area on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing large-scale sunglasses and driving a white-hot van full of catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive place on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I get out of the van, my dreams fell down a pit. It was a grey, breezy 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 shack or a cabin that served fish and microchips and local ice-cream. I did some rapid grown 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 conditions are hostile. I fetched likeness of agricultural organizations, doll’s homes, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we invested a light carve I had designed. Jane discovered 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 exercises of my busines: 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 design, 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 all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and designing 6.5 km of stepping directions and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this scope, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve bind myself to these targets just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my minors every year: the coffeehouse is still there 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 motif 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 inventors simply wouldn’t be able to supposed to do now.( Our first owned expenditure only 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 secured 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 dismantled. 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 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 locate for that. I missed the house to retain the look and feel of the site. It was surrounded by brick walls and consumed by vegetation, we are therefore designed a house in a similar brick. I’ve learned to rely 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 career: the fact that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, ultimately, the decision-maker. As such, I am now able to empathise with clients.

We designed the seat with two beliefs 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 kinfolk.( Our daughter was born in the house .) We used inexpensive brick and invested 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 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 apologizes. I only didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to layout a studio in the plot. Of track, 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 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 got this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private residence , 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 fairly 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 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 first building.

I was excited 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 expended a great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We focussing on how the house and garden could connect. We formed a large concrete chassis that provided out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too meant that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting tower, framing a attitude into the garden, creating an outside room that feels like an indoor one.

We intention 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 remained their curtains drawn for a couple of years in assert. 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 mansions 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 residences for parties is a delicate process, which is why I only take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a lane of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center notion to my job- the idea of creating an expansive thought 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 bit to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s words page in publish, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for book ).

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