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

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 to get well and blended troops to form 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 Accompanied 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, 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 be submitted with a proposal.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

The facilities at the Port of London were terrifying. 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 busines ran. 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 interpreted that a similar strategy could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I determined a restrict plan between two molts on the waterfront. I put the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and parts for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

A
A Foster sketch of his 1969 job, described on a lamp-post for photographer Michael Franke

” You can’t introduced foul-mouthed dockers next to secretaries ,” was the immediate response. I had shaken everything up to such an extent that it was suggested I converge Fred Olsen himself. I argued that if you want to raise standards in the workplace, you should go beyond providing showers and bathrooms, 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 action. At my own expense, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a establish of wreaking pumps from a company that could move the glass. Inside, we innovated a gaming place on the ground floor: there were ping-pong counters and dart cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s artistry 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 orientation brought back some amazing retentions. Olsen genuinely was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial fermentation. Four years ago, my partner organised a astound party for my 80 th birthday and I detected myself digest next to Fred Olsen. He said his only regret was that we didn’t body-build 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 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 fashion week window displays, 1997

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick with the original accumulate model, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply organize ‘. 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 blueprint position present- 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 displayed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, examined 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 recollect: well, there is a window; what shall I put behind it? But I’ve always received it interesting to try to take a step further back. I considered maybe I could do something more engaging, more dynamic. I didn’t want to form 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, belief she would say no. Everyone who verified the strategy 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 improved. 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 stepped past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided design wasn’t really available. I must be given to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 model that we then scaled up manually, using big sheets of graph paper.

I knowledge a slight thrill on look the example again after 22 times. It was the first time I had done something so public- and there it was, suspended above people’s headings 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] apportion that year. I recollect sitting on a bus like to hear beings wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter when a person is liked it or not. It constructed the street more colors and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 beings is currently working on my studio; we don’t build things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from intuition to installation. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that 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 commissioning taught me the quality of exactly saving conceiving, 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 put 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 recommended I study architecture, which was a somewhat advanced stance for a person of his generation. After the second world war, he thoughts ministries and departments in a Scottish dwelling organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everybody, a idea we shared.

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

After graduation, I made abroad – first in Poland, then in various architects’ agencies in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The whole climate in Europe was one of optimism. When I was coming, I got a job with Denys Lasdun, working on the National Theatre. After about a year, I realized that this huge project was going to take ages to get on site. I was “the worlds largest” junior member of the team and I are essential in order to get my boots dirty, sharpish, and take on a commission of my own.

A lot of female architects start by doing private homes, but I insured it as much more challenging to design a community. I watched there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide housing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a responsibility in government departments of architecture and planning at Southwark council and, to my gargantuan good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal site in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a slightly tumultuous gather 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 staggered ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the area- the colossal viewpoints to north and south and the extremely unstable ground healths. At the members, the ziggurats descend from their maximum height of 12 storeys to four, manifesting the bordering scale of suburban villas.

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

I bequeathed a arrangement 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 been able to 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 remember roughly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of projects must be given 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 height. The center opening remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by occupants that children from the circumventing neighbourhood come there to play.

Dawson’s Heights is still the largest building I’ve designed. It was completed 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 payments; 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 exceptionally delighted to see 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 teenagers there every year.’ Photograph: Michael Franke/ The Guardian

In my final time at structure institution, I ended a self-funded project in Brazil- a canopy gear 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 anticipated: 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 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 chipping 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 reached me feel that anything was possible. When Heatherwick’s coffeehouse was nearing completion, Jane invited me to look at a brand-new locate on the neighbouring west beach. She picked me up from the station wearing big sunglasses and driving a lily-white van full of catering paraphernalium. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a impressive site on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went 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 shack or a cabin that served fish and chips and neighbourhood ice-cream. I did some rapid growing up in those 30 minutes.

I went back with an idea for a build that opens up to take in the condition and closes down when ailments are unfriendly. I created epitomes of agricultural arrangements, doll’s lives, waistband windows and the quality blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we set a lamp figure I had designed. Jane encountered 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 important assignments of my busines: 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 labour, 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 jobs across the world: designing the brand-new Museum of London; converting a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and make 6.5 km of marching routes and roads for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this scope, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a lieu. I’ve obliged myself to these places just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my children each 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 affection 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 spouse, 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 certainly 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 renovated three houses and managed to accrue enough fund to invest in this project- something most architects simply wouldn’t be able to do now.( Our first property expenditure only 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 assured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous build- a plaster mould workshop- had been swallowed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I adored that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most inventors have an idea of what their own house 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 area for that. I wanted the house to retain the review 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 trust those first instincts.

The design process was quite easy, since we are 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 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 clients.

We designed the opening with two thinkings in memory: 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 house.( Our daughter was born in the chamber of representatives .) We used inexpensive brick and invested 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 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 self-justifications. I just didn’t want to go back. Then the house was sold again, to a client, who commissioned me in late 2018 to designing a studio in the garden. Of route, I had to go back, even though I knew the room 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 got this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private live , 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 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 house that Nick’s father had built. Nick craved 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 roused 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 spent a lot 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 chamber of representatives, which had the effect of partially enclosing a courtyard garden. It too means that the angle of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting line, framing a thought into the garden, creating an outside infinite that feels like an indoor one.

We purposed 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 obstructed their draperies outlined for a couple of years in assert. 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 residences 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 structure rooms for people 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 mode of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center meaning 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 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.

* If you would like a comment on this article to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s notes page in magazine, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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