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

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 troops to kind Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer 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 affiliates 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 gave me three weeks to be drawn up with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were grisly. 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 designings. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire procedure cultivated. 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 read that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I distinguished a constrict plan between two molts on the waterfront. I placed the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and parts for administrative staff and management on the floor above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 assignment, described 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 fulfill 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 , nobody in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high-pitched thermal performance. At my own rate, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a make of operating attracts from a company that could form the glass. Inside, we interposed a gaming country on the first floor: there were ping-pong tables and missile committees. Upstairs, Olsen’s artwork 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 point brought back some extraordinary recollections. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discontent. Four year ago, my spouse organised a amaze defendant for my 80 th birthday and I ascertained myself tolerate next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t body-build more projects together.

I am still do versions of the same thing: constructing communities, whether I am designing for a Swiss village or a disadvantaged community in Odisha, India, as I am through my foot. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London fad week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulation representation, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation ‘. 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 pattern position establish- 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 arrangement from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, received 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 envisage: well, there is a window; what shall I put behind it? But I’ve always noticed it interesting to try to take a step further back. I envisioned maybe I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to stir something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply arrangement that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the idea to Mary, anticipating she would say no. Everyone who checked the hope 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 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 strolled past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided motif wasn’t really available. I must be given to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 simulate that we then scaled up manually, exploiting immense membranes of graph paper.

I suffered a slight chill on seeing the modeling again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s thoughts 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] honor 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 established wall street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are still 200 people working at 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 plan to station. Right now, we are designing a brand-new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will take 10 years 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 commission instruct me the qualifications of the merely continuing believing, 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, it was necessary to threw 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 intimated I study structure, which was a pretty advanced stance for a follower of his generation. After world war ii, he thoughts a department in a Scottish dwelling organisation; he was committed to providing decent casing for everybody, a faith we shared.

I studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1955 to 1961. I remember a mentor taking me to one side and saying:” Young maidens are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou person and I pondered: I’ll bloody demo you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my overtures would be built.

After graduation, I operated abroad – first in Poland, then in numerous inventors’ roles 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, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I identified 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 houses, but I considered it as much more challenging to design a community. I construed there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide dwelling. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a task in the department of architecture and contriving at Southwark council and, to my gigantic good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious area in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly tumultuous see 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 locate- the prodigious scenes to north and south and the extremely unstable ground problems. At the boundaries, the ziggurats descend from their peak height of 12 storeys to four, indicating the smothering proportion of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and terrifying. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The dwelling manager 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 devised a method that enabled one-, two- and three-bedroom homes 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 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 clerk of labours 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 rank. The central infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by residents 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 funding, including a restriction on their right to raise leases; 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 exceedingly grateful that my busines covered 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 children there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final year at structure institution, I ended 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 introduced a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I thoughts: 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 cafe on the site of a fish and chip kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach cafe. 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 built me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was being completed, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new website on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a grey van full of cater material. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking place on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I got out of the van, my dreams fell down a opening. It was a grey, stormy epoch 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 shanty or a shack that served fish and chippings and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with an idea for a structure that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when circumstances are unfriendly. I raised images of agricultural organizes, doll’s lives, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we installed a sun carve I had designed. Jane understood 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 learnt me one of the most important assignments 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 effort, 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 projects all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and make 6.5 km of ambling routes and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this straddle, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a region. I’ve fixed myself to these situates 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

Architect
Mary Duggan at King’s Grove:’ I adored 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 partner, 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 truly 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 refurbished 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 payment 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 assured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous building- a plaster mould workshop- had been dismantled. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I enjoyed that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most architects have an idea of what their own house will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful garden-varieties. But from our first inspect, I realised this wasn’t the website for that. I wanted the house to retain the sound 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 trust 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 fact 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 buyers.

We designed the space with two estimates in thinker: 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 pedigree.( Our daughter was born in members of this house .) We used inexpensive brick and spent a bit more money on joinery. The kitchen, which is appropriate to 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 front 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 justifies. I only didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a purchaser, who commissioned me in late 2018 to design a studio in the garden-variety. Of track, I had to go back, although there is I knew the infinite 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 got 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 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the fashion photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar room that Nick’s father had built. Nick required 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 elicited 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 coin 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 members of this house, which had the consequences of the partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It also means that the reces of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting article, framing a thought into the garden, creating an outside space that may seem like an indoor one.

We aimed 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 deterred their screens attracted for a couple of years in complain. 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 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 building residences for people is a delicate process, which is why I merely take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a behavior of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center feeling to my job- the idea of creating an expansive position in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The live 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 article to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in print, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for brochure ).

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