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

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 way Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered inventor at the conglomerate. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Accompanied 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 piers in east London, called 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 “ve given 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 designs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire operation wreaked. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries combined trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I experienced that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I determined a narrow patch between two sheds on the waterfront. I employed the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and roles for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 activity, drawn 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 fill Fred Olsen himself. I are of the view that if you want to raise standards in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and toilets, 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high-pitched thermal accomplishment. At my own cost, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a situated of wielding portrayals from a company that could constitute the glass. Inside, we inserted a gaming locality on the first floor: there were ping-pong tables and projectile cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s artistry collecting 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 location brought back some astonishing recognitions. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial unease. Four year ago, my partner organised a surprise defendant for my 80 th birthday and I noted myself sit next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still do 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 supermarket 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 motif degree evidence- 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 organization from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, determined 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 recall: well, there is a window; what shall I throw behind it? But I’ve always detected it interesting to try to take a step further back. I thought perhaps I could do something more engaging, more 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 structure that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the relevant recommendations to Mary, feeling she would say no. Everyone who ascertained the scheme 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 vast studio in east London, including a couple of stone carvers from St Paul’s cathedral and a DJ who trod past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided motif wasn’t really available. I must be given to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 representation that we then scaled up manually, applying big membranes of graph paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on see the simulate again after 22 years. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s fronts 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] accolade that year. I recollect sitting on a bus listening to people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It induced wall street more evocative and engaging.

Today, there are still 200 people is currently working on my studio; we don’t structure 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 facility. 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 qualifications of the only maintaining 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, it was necessary to 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 indicated I study architecture, which was a jolly advanced attitude for a guy of his generation. After world war ii, he leader a department in a Scottish house 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 noblewomen are not exceedingly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn person and I anticipated: I’ll bloody-minded picture you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my hypothesis would be built.

After graduation, I made abroad – first in Poland, then in various inventors’ places in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of optimism. When I came back, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I met 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 grimy, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

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

There was a somewhat tumultuous rally where we had to present our programmes. 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 positions to north and south and the extremely unstable ground problems. At the tips, the ziggurats condescend from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the smothering magnitude of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and panicking. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The casing administrator 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 devised a method 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, ought to have been 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 nearly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of labors had to heave me out.

Today, there still seems to be a good parish feel there. The residences are 30% leaseholder-owned and I would like it to stay at that tier. The central room remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the circumventing place 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 financing, 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 maintenance. Looking back, I feel immensely grateful that my vocation 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 kids there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final year at architecture institution, I accomplished 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 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 someone in the audience 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 chip 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 coffeehouse was being completed, Jane invited me to look at a new place on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the terminal wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a white van full of catering gear. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive orientation on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I got out of the van, my dreams fell down a fault. It was a grey, stormy 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 shack that served fish and microchips and neighbourhood 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 condition and closes down when situations are unfriendly. I created portraits of agricultural formations, doll’s houses, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we invested a illuminate statue I had designed. Jane read 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 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 undertaking, 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 campaigns across the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and contrive 6.5 km of marching roads and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this range, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a region. I’ve bind myself to these situates just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my boys 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 adoration 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 collaborator, 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 actually in complete control of a layout 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 inventors simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first dimension rate simply PS60, 000.) We were friends with an inventor who the hell is 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 construct- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I desired that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most architects have 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 see, I realised this wasn’t the area for that. I missed the house to retain the sound 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, 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 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 enabled to empathise with patrons.

We designed the cavity with two imagines in head: to live 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 household.( 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-colored 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 merely didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a purchaser, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint a studio in the plot. Of course, I had to go back, although there is I knew the space 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 substances: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private mansion , 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 home that Nick’s father had improved. Nick craved a studio upstairs and more seat 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 aroused 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 established a large concrete frame that provided out from the side of the house, which had the effect of partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It too means that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting column, framing a thought into the garden, creating an outside cavity that may seem like an indoor one.

We resolved up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The beings across the road maintained their draperies sucked 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 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 structure houses for beings 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 room of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central impression to my work- the idea of creating an expansive sentiment 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 fragment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s words page in etch, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for book ).

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