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

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 on well and blended troops to formation Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered inventor 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 accompanieds and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall piers 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 gave me three weeks to come up with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were horrific. 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 cultivated. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries mixed trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I construed that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I recognized a constrict story between two sheds on the waterfront. I put the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and places for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

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

” You can’t employed 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 criteria 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-pitched thermal achievement. At my own cost, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a establish of making draws from a company that could obligate the glass. Inside, we initiated a gaming sphere on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and projectile committees. Upstairs, Olsen’s art 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 place brought back some amazing recalls. Olsen truly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial rebellion. Four years ago, my partner organised a surprise defendant for my 80 th birthday and I located myself digest next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t erect more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: building parishes, 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 fashion week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation framework, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organize ‘. 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 intend stage see- 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, construed 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 envisage: well, there is a window; what shall I throw behind it? But I’ve always determined it interesting to try to take a step further back. I felt maybe I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to induce 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 relevant recommendations to Mary, envisioning she would say no. Everyone who ensure the proposal 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 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 strolled 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 pattern that we then scaled up manually, applying massive membranes of diagram paper.

I experienced a slight thrill on realise the model again after 22 times. 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 prevailed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] apportion that time. I recollect sitting on a bus listening to people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is would prefer it or not. It manufactured the street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are still 200 beings is currently working on 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 station. Right now, we are designing a brand-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 sense of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public board learn me the quality of simply obstructing imagining, 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 showed I study building, which was a quite advanced stance for a boy of his generation. After world war ii, he manager individual departments in a Scottish dwelling organisation; he was committed to providing decent home for everyone, a impression 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 ladies are not awfully practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou being and I envisaged: I’ll bloody-minded substantiate you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I acted abroad – first in Poland, then in various designers’ powers in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole mood in Europe was one of confidence. When I came home, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I investigated 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 grime, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female architects begin by doing private rooms, but I visualized it as much more challenging to design a community. I insured there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a undertaking in the department of architecture and planning at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious locate in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic fulfill 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 floundered ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the area- the stupendous opinions to north and south and the extremely unstable ground ailments. At the tips, the ziggurats sink from their peak height of 12 storeys to four, showing the circumventing magnitude of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and startling. 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 bequeathed a plan 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 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 projects must be given to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good community feel there. The homes are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that tier. The central seat remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the smothering country 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 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 exceptionally grateful that my busines encompassed 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 kids there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at structure school, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy gear 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 remembered: this might be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the gathering who was just telling 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 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 constituted me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was being completed, Jane invited me to look at a new place on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing big sunglasses and driving a white van full of cater equipment. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking locating on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a pit. It was a grey, breezy daytime 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 shanty that served fish and chippings and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a structure that opens up to take in the climate and closes down when preconditions are hostile. I accompanied epitomes of agricultural formations, doll’s homes, sash windows and the colouring blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we installed a dawn figure I had designed. Jane learnt 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 assignments of my career: 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 work, 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 projects all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and make 6.5 km of walking itineraries and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this compas, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a plaza. I’ve attached myself to these lieu just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids 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, a practice 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 academies 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 renovated three houses and managed to accrue enough coin to invest in this project- something most architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first property rate exclusively 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 secured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous structure- a plaster mould workshop- had been dismantled. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I enjoyed that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most designers have an idea of what their own live will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful garden-varieties. But from our first trip, I realised this wasn’t the place for that. I required the house to retain the seem 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, 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 precede profession: 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 purchasers.

We designed the room with two guess in thought: to live 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 pedigree.( 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 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 extended an invitation over several times, but I made up self-justifications. I simply 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 course, I had to go back, even though 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 fabrics: 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 live , Richmond, London, 1990

Architect
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 mode photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar room that Nick’s father had improved. Nick wanted a studio upstairs and more infinite 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 roused 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 lot of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We were focused on how the house and garden could connect. We caused a large concrete chassis that spread out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It too meant that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a scene into the garden, creating an outside cavity that feels like an indoor one.

We intent 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 obstructed their draperies sucked for a couple of years in dissent. 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 front didn’t look like the other residences 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 people is a delicate process, which is why I exclusively take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a mode of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central intuition to my work- the idea of creating an expansive belief in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The house 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 part to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in photograph, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for book ).

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