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

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 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 to get well and blended actions to organize Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered inventor at the firm. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associate 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 wharves in east London, announced 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 shocking. 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 running drove. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s ships blended trade with holiday cruises, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I construed that a same programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under the same roof. I distinguished a restricted plot between two sheds on the waterfront. I made 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 job, gleaned on a lamp-post for photographer Michael Franke

” You can’t gave foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I match 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 thermal recital. At my own expenditure, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a make of toiling pumps from a company that could represent the glass. Inside, we established a gaming locality on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and missile timbers. Upstairs, Olsen’s art 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 place brought back some amazing retentions. Olsen genuinely 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 knew myself stay next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t build 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 foot. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London manner 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 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 design from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, realise 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 firstly proper public project.

When you think of a window display, you automatically belief: well, there is a window; what shall I make behind it? But I’ve always known it interesting to try to take a step further back. I visualized maybe I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to realise 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 idea to Mary, reckoning she would say no. Everyone who ascertained the proposal thought it would be impossible 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 motif wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 simulate that we then scaled up manually, employing immense sheets of graph paper.

I suffered a slight chill on realize the representation again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s pates 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 triumphed a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] awarding that year. I recollect sitting on a bus listening to parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It shaped the street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are 200 parties working at my studio; we don’t improve things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from impression to station. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that are able to 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 commission taught me the quality of only keeping conceiving, 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 introduced 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 building, which was a jolly advanced outlook for a soul of his generation. After world war ii, he honcho ministries and departments in a Scottish house 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 mentor taking me to one side and saying:” Young girls are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a stubborn party and I made: I’ll murderou establish you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I made abroad – first in Poland, then in numerous designers’ offices in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole humor in Europe was one of confidence. When I was coming, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I insured 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 architects begin by doing private residences, but I experienced it as much more challenging to design a community. I ascertained there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a errand in the department of structure and strategy at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat chaotic session 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 overwhelmed ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the site- the prodigious positions to north and south and the extremely unstable ground positions. At the extremities, the ziggurats pitch from their peak high levels of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the encircling scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and frightening. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The dwelling director of Southwark drew up the summary, but as far as I was concerned my clients were the person or persons on Southwark’s housing list: those in most urgent need of homes.

I organized a organisation 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 been able to more capability to help each other out with babysitting or shopping. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in a number of cases, two. On site, I remember roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of wields had 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 degree. The central room remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the bordering country 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 financing, 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 exceptionally grateful that my vocation 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 year at architecture institution, I completed a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy equipment 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 placed 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 told 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 obliged me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was be completed, Jane invited me to look at a new locate on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot 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 locating on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a hole. 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 microchips and local ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a construct that opens up to take in the climate and closes down when ailments are hostile. I returned portraits of agricultural formations, doll’s rooms, sash windows and the colour blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we set a flare statue I had designed. Jane determined 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 readings 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 various commissionings to design experimental pavilions in Singapore, Russia and South Korea. That enabled me to grow the studio. Today, we are working on activities across the world: designing the new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and contrive 6.5 km of strolling directions and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this assortment, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a neighbourhood. I’ve fix myself to these regions 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 desired 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 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 pattern when you are working for a practice. I was determined to be independent, as was Joe.

Before King’s Grove, Joe and I had renewed 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 owned expense exclusively PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect 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 fastened a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous house- a plaster mould workshop- had been razed. 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 inventors “ve got an idea” of what their own residence will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful gardens. But from our first trip, I realised this wasn’t the site for that. I required the house to retain the looking 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 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 subsequent vocation: the facts of the case that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, ultimately, the decision-maker. As such, I am now enabled to empathise with clients.

We designed the seat with two expects in subconsciou: to live in it as a generous two-bed and, down the line, to develop it for sale, or convert it if we wanted to expand our kinfolk.( Our daughter was born in the 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-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 extended an invitation over several times, but I made up pretexts. I just didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a patron, who commissioned me in late 2018 to blueprint a studio in the garden. Of direction, 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 building 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 information: 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 room , 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 way photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar room that Nick’s father had constructed. 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 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 money on their facades; we did the opposite. We were focused on how the house and garden could connect. We made a large concrete frame that spread out from the side of the chamber of representatives, 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 column, framing a view into the garden, creating an outside seat that feels 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 beings across the road impeded their curtains gleaned for a couple of years in objection. 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 houses 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 lives for people 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 path of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center theme to my work- the idea of creating an expansive consider in a suburban street- and it is a strategy I’ve lived by since. The mansion 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 portion to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s words page in book, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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