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

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 mixed troops to pattern Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered architect at the house. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associate 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 docks in east London, announced 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 blueprints. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire procedure toiled. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries compounded trade with holiday cruises, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I encountered that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I determined a constrict plan between two sheds on the waterfront. I employed the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and agencies for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

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

” You can’t applied foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I satisfy 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 performance. At my own overhead, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a situate of cultivating derives from a company that could become the glass. Inside, we inserted a gaming country on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and projectile committees. Upstairs, Olsen’s artwork 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 site brought back some amazing remembrances. Olsen certainly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discontent. Four years ago, my wife organised a astound party for my 80 th birthday and I encountered myself suffer 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: constructing parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet 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 style week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulate modeling, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation ‘. 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 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 structure from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, heard 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 recollect: well, there is a window; what shall I apply behind it? But I’ve always seen it interesting to try to take a step further back. I envisioned perhaps I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to constitute 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, believing she would say no. Everyone who discovered the contrive thought it would be impossible to get the permissions. But Mary was up for it. I soon discovered 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 designing wasn’t really available. I had to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 representation that we then scaled up manually, employing huge sheets of diagram paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on control 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 leaders 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] gift that time. I recollect sitting on a bus like to hear parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone would prefer it or not. It cleared wall street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are still 200 people working at 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 thought to installation. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will take 10 times 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 commission learn me the qualifications of the only hindering feeling, 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, you must gave 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 architecture, which was a somewhat advanced posture for a husband of his generation. After world war ii, he manager individual departments in a Scottish home organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everyone, a sentiment we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a lecturer taking me to one side and saying:” Young maidens are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn party and I remembered: I’ll murderou indicate you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my hypothesis would be built.

After graduation, I acted abroad – first in Poland, then in various designers’ parts in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of optimism. When I came back, I have a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I realise 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 grimy, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female architects begin by doing private residences, but I accompanied it as much more challenging to design a community. I heard there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide house. In 1965, at persons under the age of 27, I took a activity in the department of architecture and proposing at Southwark council and, to my gargantuan good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat chaotic fit 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 place- the colossal looks to north and south and the extremely unstable ground provisions. At the edges, the ziggurats descend from their maximum height of 12 storeys to four, indicating the smothering scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and panicking. 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 buyers were the people on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I devised a structure that enabled one-, two- and three-bedroom dwellings to share the same access. My theory was that a mix of different family sizes, living next door to one another, would have more capacity 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 roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a salesclerk of undertakings must be given 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 grade. The center infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by residents 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 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 has invested in its upkeep. Looking back, I feel terribly grateful that my profession 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 children there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

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

Afterwards, I got an email from someone 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 cafe on the site of a fish and microchip kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach cafe. 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 nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new place on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing large-scale sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive orientation on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell down a pit. It was a grey, stormy 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 hut or a cabin that served fish and chips and neighbourhood 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 maladies are hostile. I delivered likeness of agricultural organizations, doll’s lives, waistband windows and the emblazon blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we set a sunlight figure I had designed. Jane checked 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 biggest readings of my vocation: 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 act, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several boards 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; altering a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and make 6.5 km of strolling directions and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this wander, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a region. I’ve attach myself to these regions just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my girls each 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 schools across north London, but you are never really in complete control of a intend 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 money to invest in this project- something most inventors simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first dimension rate 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 procured 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 swallowed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I adoration that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most architects have an idea of what their own room 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 required the house to retain the gaze and feel of the site. It was surrounded by brick walls and consumed by vegetation, so we designed a house in a same brick. I’ve learned to cartel 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 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 clients.

We designed the room with two thinks in memory: lives in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or alter it if we wanted to expand our lineage.( Our daughter was born in members of this house .) We used inexpensive brick and wasted 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 extended an invitation over several times, but I made up excuses. I merely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint a studio in the garden-variety. Of trend, I had to go back, even though I knew the seat 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 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 pattern photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar residence that Nick’s father had built. Nick required 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 firstly building.

I was agitated 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 expended a lot of fund on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We generated a large concrete frame that provided out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise means that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting pillar, framing a judgment into the garden, creating an outside opening that may seem like an indoor one.

We pointed 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 shrouds described for a couple of years in demonstration. 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 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 houses 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 acces 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 residence 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 article to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s words page in publication, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for brochure ).

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