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

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 combined patrols to word Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer at the firm. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Accompanied in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no accompanies and no projects.

A part-time architecture student worked with us. His father worked for a shipping company in Millwall docks 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 “ve given 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 procedure ran. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s ships compounded trade with holiday sails, carrying fares and freight in the same vessel. I watched that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I distinguished a constrict scheme between two sheds on the waterfront. I put the dockers’ amenities on the first floor and parts for administrative staff and management on the storey above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 project, depicted 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 assemble Fred Olsen himself. I argued that if you want to raise standards 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 act. At my own payment, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a primed of labouring sucks from a company that could see the glass. Inside, we introduced a gaming area on the ground floor: there were ping-pong counters and dart cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s art collect 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 recognitions. Olsen certainly was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial turmoil. Four years ago, my spouse organised a bombshell party for my 80 th birthday and I knew myself standing next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still doing versions of the same thing: improving communities, whether I am designing for a Swiss hamlet or a disadvantaged parish in Odisha, India, as I am through my organization. That has remained a constant, since that very first commission.

Thomas Heatherwick

Harvey Nichols, London way week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulate simulate, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply arrangement ‘. 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 layout grade reveal- 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 organize from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, accompanied 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 suppose: well, there is a window; what shall I apply behind it? But I’ve always ascertained it interesting to try to take a step further back. I concluded maybe I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to manufacture something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply formation that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the idea to Mary, pondering she would say no. Everyone who witnessed the proposal 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 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 enormous 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 intend wasn’t really available. I had to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 prototype that we then scaled up manually, exploiting immense membranes of graph paper.

I experienced a slight shudder on attend 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 honchoes 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] gift that year. I recollect sitting on a bus like to hear people wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It represented wall street more evocative 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 suggestion to station. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that they are able to 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 committee teach me a better quality of only preserving believing, like a long-distance runner. It is easy for special things not to happen, but, rarely, some of them do. And in order for them to happen, you must set 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 suggested I study building, which was a pretty advanced posture for a humanity of his generation. After world war ii, he pate individual departments in a Scottish casing 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 lecturer taking me to one side and saying:” Young madams are not terribly practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou being and I conceived: I’ll murderou appearance you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I drove abroad – first in Poland, then in numerous inventors’ powers in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole feeling in Europe was one of confidence. When I was coming, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, “workin on” the National Theatre. After about a year, I witnessed that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I is more junior member of the team and I is necessary to get my boots grime, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female designers start by doing private homes, but I appreciated it as much more challenging to design a community. I interpreted there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide dwelling. In 1965, at persons under the age of 27, I took a profession in the department of architecture and projecting at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly chaotic meet 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 overwhelmed ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the site- the prodigious viewpoints to north and south and the extremely unstable ground positions. At the tips, the ziggurats condescend from their peak height of 12 storeys to four, showing the circumventing proportion of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and terrifying. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The dwelling administrator of Southwark drew up the summary, 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 designed 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, ought to have been more capacity 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 recollect virtually losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of studies must be given 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 level. The central space 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 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 has invested in its upkeep. Looking back, I feel exceptionally delighted to see that my profession 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 building school, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy kit 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 fantasized: this are likely to 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 microchip kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach coffeehouse. 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 stirred me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was being completed, Jane invited me to look at a new website on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the depot wearing big-hearted sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking location on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I got out of the van, my dreams fell into a pit. 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 shack or a shanty that served fish and chips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid grown 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 maladies are hostile. I returned likeness of agricultural designs, doll’s homes, sash windows and the quality blue.

The day before the cafe opened, we set a sunlight figure I had designed. Jane saw 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 schooled me one of the most prominent 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 cultivate, 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 projections all over the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intend 6.5 km of walking streets 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 target. I’ve attach myself to these situates just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my kids 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 cherished 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 marriage, 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 actually in complete control of a blueprint 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 dimension cost exclusively PS60, 000.) We were friends with an architect 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 locked 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 swallowed. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I cherished that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most designers have an idea of what their own room 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 area for that. I wanted the house to retain the examine 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, because we knew what we wanted; after all, we were also ” the customers “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my precede career: 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 patrons.

We designed the infinite with two considers in psyche: 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 lineage.( 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-footed 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 invited me over several times, but I made up condones. I merely 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 trend, I had to go back, even though 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 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 materials: brick, glass and oak. I got this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private house , 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 fashion photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They were living in a postwar home that Nick’s father had built. Nick craved 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 invested a great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We formed a large concrete chassis that increased out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of the partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It likewise meant that the area of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting column, framing a idea into the garden, creating an outside room that may seem like an indoor one.

We dissolved up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The people across the road preserved their curtains drawn for a couple of years in objection. 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 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 construct mansions for parties is a delicate process, which is why I simply take on one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a method of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a central theory to my work- the idea of creating an expansive vistum 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, hitherto he is dedicated to his family. I like to think the house has played a role.

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