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

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 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 on well and compounded powers to sort 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 Identify 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, 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 gave me three weeks to come 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 motifs. As the conversation went on, I began to raise questions- not just about the building, but about how the entire enterprise operated. In the end, he agreed to give me three weeks to come up with a proposal.

Olsen’s ships mixed trade with holiday cruises, carrying passengers and freight in the same vessel. I appreciated that a similar programme could be used to bring dock workers and managers together under one roof. I distinguished a narrow story between two sheds on the waterfront. I placed the dockers’ amenities on the ground floor and bureaux for administrative staff and management on the flooring above.

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

” You can’t employed 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 are of the view 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 , no one in the UK had the knowhow to produce a glass wall with high-pitched thermal execution. At my own payment, I flew to Pittsburgh to obtain a initiate of driving attractions from a company that could constitute the glass. Inside, we innovated a gaming domain on the first floor: there were ping-pong tables and projectile cards. Upstairs, Olsen’s prowes collection 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 locating brought back some amazing reminiscences. Olsen actually was a bastion of hope in a desert of industrial fermentation. Four year ago, my spouse organised a stun defendant for my 80 th birthday and I experienced myself tolerate next to Fred Olsen. He said his only repent was that we didn’t erect more projects together.

I am still make versions of the same thing: improving parishes, whether I am designing for a Swiss village or a disadvantaged parish in Odisha, India, as I am through my foundation. 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 accumulation framework, a’ ginormous polystyrene and aeroply design ‘. 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 stage 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 organize from a kilometre of cardboard that exposed hundreds of kitchen items. Mary Portas, who worked for Harvey Nichols at the time, envisioned 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 consider: well, there is a window; what shall I put behind it? But I’ve always found 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 constitute 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 relevant recommendations to Mary, anticipating she would say no. Everyone who encountered the intention 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 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 trod past and asked if he could help. It was 1997, so computer-aided intend wasn’t really available. I must be given to engrave this incredibly complex form into a 1:20 representation that we then scaled up manually, employing immense expanses of diagram paper.

I knowledge a slight chill on construe 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 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 won a D& AD[ Design and Art Direction] honor that time. I recollect sitting on a bus listening to parties wonder what it was about. For me, it didn’t matter if someone would prefer it or not. It obligated wall street more evocative and engaging.

Today, the authorities have 200 parties working at my studio; we don’t structure things ourselves any more, but we still try to inspire curiosity in the public. The Harvey Nichols window display took a year from theory to installing. Right now, we are designing a new terminal at Changi airport in Singapore that will take 10 years to complete. It involves millions 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 fee instruct me the quality of just stopping belief, 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 structure, which was a reasonably advanced stance for a soldier of his generation. After the second world war, he manager a department in a Scottish house organisation; he was committed to providing decent housing for everybody, a creed 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 maids are not atrociously practical. Have you thought of doing something like interior design ?” I am a tenaciou party and I belief: I’ll murderou substantiate you. Thereafter, I paid particular attention to how my propositions would be built.

After graduation, I wielded abroad – first in Poland, then in many inventors’ powers 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 met 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 designers start by doing private lives, but I attended it as much more challenging to design a community. I assured there was huge pressure on London’s districts to provide casing. In 1965, at the age of 27, I took a errand in government departments of architecture and planning at Southwark council and, to my immense good fortune, I was immediately presented with this phenomenal place in Dulwich: Dawson’s Hill.

There was a somewhat chaotic gather 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 floundered ziggurats. This was a response to the specific characteristics of the site- the prodigious looks to north and south and the extremely unstable ground ailments. At the members, the ziggurats sink from their maximum high levels of 12 storeys to four, showing the circumventing proportion of suburban villas.

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

I devised a organization 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 capability to help each other out with babysitting or shopping. All of the 296 maisonettes have a private balcony; in some cases, two. On site, I recollect nearly losing a boot in the sticky London clay: a clerk of undertakings 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 degree. The central infinite remains car-free and it still feels very safe. I’ve been told by tenants that children from the encircling locality 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 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 vastly grateful that my career covered what was a golden age for the public sector.

Asif Khan

West Beach cafe, 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 academy, I accomplished 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 put a lot of energy into that six-minute talk, because I was still a student and I was presenting alongside professionals. I belief: this are likely to be my big break.

Afterwards, I got an email from someone in the audience who “ve been told” 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 microchip kiosk on the seafront , now known as East Beach cafe. 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 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 grey van full of catering equipment. I had this idea that we were about to arrive at a remarkable orientation on an unspoilt beach backed by dunes. When I went out of the van, my dreams fell into a gap. It was a grey, windy daylight 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 an idea for a structure that opens up to take in the weather and closes down when healths are hostile. I made portraits of agricultural organizes, doll’s mansions, waistband windows and the emblazon blue.

The day before the coffeehouse opened, we installed a lighting carve I had designed. Jane appreciated 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 biggest readings of my profession: 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 project, to look for opportunities and, where there weren’t any, to create them. I took on several commissionings 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 new Museum of London; proselytizing a Soviet cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, into a centre for contemporary culture; and intention 6.5 km of stepping streets and roadways for Expo 2020 in Dubai. I want to keep this array, so we are continually forced to rethink what is best for a home. I’ve fasten myself to these plazas just as I did in Littlehampton, where I take my boys 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 adoration 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 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 truly in complete control of a intend 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 designers 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 self-assured a self-build mortgage. It was an interesting site reached via a long lane and sliced between 10 terraced back gardens. The previous structure- a plaster mould workshop- had been swallowed. Originally, it would have been a Victorian laundry or milk parlour. I adoration that it was a hidden space with a sense of history.

Most architects “ve got an idea” of what their own residence will look like. I was no different: a light-pink fairytale building surrounded by beautiful garden-varieties. But from our first trip, I realised this wasn’t the place 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, so we designed a house in a same brick. I’ve learned to rely those first instincts.

The design process was quite easy, because we 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 precede busines: 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 recalls in intellect: 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 clas.( Our daughter was born in the house .) 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 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 merely 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-variety. 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 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 information: brick, glass and oak. I get this strong sense that I had designed something that have been able to stand the test of time.

David Chipperfield

Private residence , 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 fad 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 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 firstly building.

I was excited 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 developed a large concrete frame that provided out from the side of the chamber of representatives, which had the consequences of the partly enclosing a courtyard garden. It also meant that the reces of the living room could be opened up, without a supporting column, framing a deem into the garden, creating an outside seat that may seem like an indoor one.

We terminated up with a fight on our hands. The whole street lobbied against it, writing to Prince Charles to try to have it stopped. The parties across the road preserved their curtains drawn for a couple of years in assert. 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 lives in the street. That was the worst part of the process for me. Once we started to build, it was easy by comparison.

Designing and building mansions for people is a delicate process, which is why I simply take over one or two at a time. Success depends very much on how you develop a channel of being personal and professional: that relationship is critical.

This was the first time I had a center notion 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 times 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 segment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s characters page in book, delight email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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