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

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 passenger 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 compounded actions to organize Team 4, with Wendy Cheeseman and her sister Georgie Walton, who was the only registered designer at the conglomerate. Wendy and I married and, after four years, we set up Foster Associates in her bedsit. It was 1967: there were no associates 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 horrible. 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 operation drove. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s carries mixed trade with holiday sails, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I verified that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I related a narrow scheme between two molts on the waterfront. I gave 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, sucked 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 congregate 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 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 situated of cultivating pumps from a company that could induce the glass. Inside, we innovated a gaming province on the ground floor: there were ping-pong tables and dart cards. 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 spot brought back some remarkable rememberings. Olsen really was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial discontent. Four years ago, my partner organised a stun party for my 80 th birthday and I ascertained myself bear next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t improve more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: constructing parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss village or a disadvantaged community 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 storage prototype, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply structure ‘. 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 layout position prove- 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 formation from a kilometre of cardboard that displayed the thousands of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, examined 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 make: well, there is a window; what shall I apply behind it? But I’ve always known it interesting to try to take a step further back. I belief perhaps I could do something more engaging, most dynamic. I didn’t want to establish something that was imprisoned behind glass, so focused instead on the masonry between the windows and came up with this ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organization that weaved between the windows and the building.

I presented the idea to Mary, anticipating she would say no. Everyone who accompanied the intention 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 built. 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 moved past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided designing wasn’t really available. I had to carve this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 model that we then scaled up manually, exploiting huge membranes of diagram paper.

I suffered a slight chill on examine the prototype again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s brains 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] awarding that time. I recollect sitting on a bus like to hear beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone liked it or not. It moved wall street more vivid and engaging.

Today, there are still 200 people working at my studio; we don’t construct things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from mind to installing. Right now, we are designing a 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 appreciation of duty to the people who will experience it.

My first public committee instruct me a better quality of precisely continuing accepting, 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, there is a requirement 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 proposed I study building, which was a pretty advanced stance for a man of his generation. After the second world war, he headed individual departments in a Scottish home organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everybody, a notion 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 females are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou being and I conceived: I’ll bloody-minded establish you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I operated abroad – first in Poland, then in many designers’ bureaux in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole humor 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 saw 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 homes, but I identified it as much more challenging to design a community. I ascertained there was huge pressure on London’s boroughs to provide house. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a position in the department of architecture and planning at Southwark council and, to my gigantic good fortune, I was immediately presented with this prodigious site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly tumultuous fit where we had to present our schemes. 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 locate- the stupendous deems to north and south and the extremely unstable ground predicaments. At the edges, the ziggurats tumble from their peak height of 12 storeys to four, showing the encircling scale of suburban villas.

Getting started felt exhilarating and startling. When you are young, you feel you can take on the world. The casing 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 system 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, would have more ability 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 remember virtually losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of operates had 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 level. The central opening remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the smothering neighborhood come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest constructing 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 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 invests in its upkeep. Looking back, I feel immensely grateful that my career spanned 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 minors there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at structure academy, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy paraphernalium 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 believed: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from person in the audience who told me I must speak to Jane Wood, a property developer 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 cleared me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s cafe was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new area on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the terminal wearing large-hearted sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering equipment. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a striking site on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I got out of the van, my dreams fell down a loophole. It was a grey, windy era 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 grown up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with new ideas for a construct that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when positions are hostile. I wreaked likeness of agricultural organizations, doll’s lives, sash windows and the emblazon blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we installed a sun 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 greatest assignments of my busines: its own responsibilities 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 commissionings 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 new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intention 6.5 km of moving roadways and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this series, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a residence. I’ve fixed myself to these targets just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my teenagers each year: the cafe 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, business practices 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 institutions across north London, but you are never truly in complete control of a designing when you are working for a practice. I was determined to be independent, as was Joe.

Before King’s Grove, Joe and I had revamped three houses and managed to accrue enough coin to invest in this project- something most designers simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first property expenditure merely PS60, 000.) We were friends with an inventor “whos been” 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 building- a plaster mould workshop- had been demolished. Initially, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I desired 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 plots. But from our first trip, I realised this wasn’t the place for that. I missed the house to retain the watch 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 trust those first instincts.

The design process was quite easy, since we are knew what we wanted; after all, we were also ” the customer “. I think this aspect of the project has had the greatest resonance in my subsequent vocation: the fact that I was also the investor, the risk-taker, the brief-writer and, ultimately, the decision-maker. As such, I am now able to empathise with clients.

We designed the space with two conceptions in sentiment: 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 household.( Our daughter was born in the house .) We used inexpensive brick and wasted 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 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 apologizes. I just didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a buyer, who commissioned me in late 2018 to designing a studio in the plot. Of course, 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 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 materials: brick, glass and oak. I went this strong sense that I had designed something that could stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private home , 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 quite inexperienced, I was approached by the mode photographer Nick Knight and his wife, Charlotte, to expand their London home. They resided in a postwar home that Nick’s father had built. Nick craved a studio upstairs and more room 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 provoked 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 great deal of money on their facades; we did the opposite. We concentrated on how the house and garden could connect. We established a large concrete chassis that extended out from the side of the house, which had the consequences of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It also meant that the corner of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting pillar, framing a look into the garden, creating an outside infinite 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 obstructed their draperies outlined for a couple of years in affirm. 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 homes for people is a delicate process, which is why I exclusively take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a way of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This is the first occasion I had a central theory to my job- the idea of creating an expansive viewpoint 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.

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