RICHARD ROGERS - ARCHITECT BY GORDON WEIR

Richard Rogers was born in Florence in 1933. Architecture was already prominent in this Anglo-Italian family, his father’s cousin being well-known Italian architect Ernesto Rogers, however, at an early age,  any aspirations the young Rogers may have had to follow in his father’s cousin’s footsteps seemed remote as he struggled at school, only learning to read at the age of eleven; a later diagnosis that he was in fact dyslexic explained why this was the case.

The family had returned to England in 1938, just before the outbreak of the war, and in 1949 Richard undertook his first hesitant steps to becoming an architect, enrolling to a foundation course at Epsom School of Art. National Service then followed between 1951 and 1953, and in 1954 he was able to continue his studies at The Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, graduating with an Associations Architecture Diploma in 1959. From London, Rogers then moved, by way of a scholarship, to The Yale School of Architecture in America where he completed his masters degree and met, for the first time, Norman Foster. The meeting with Foster resulted in the two young architects setting up business together on their return to London, alongside Rogers’s future wife, Su Brumwell, whom he met at Yale, and Foster’s future wife, Wendy Cheeseman. By the mid nineteen-sixties, both Foster and Rogers, had chosen to pursue separate careers, although both continued to pursue what had become known as High Technology Architecture and in 1968 Rogers completed the first of his glass cube, I-framed houses for Humphrey Spender in Essex before creating a similar house for his parents in Wimbledon. In both, cases structural simplicity and prefabrication methods were key – see image below – and, in a way, signalling Rogers ‘inside out’ approach that would come to characterise some of his best known future projects.

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And so to 1971, when Rogers reputation for ‘inside out’ designs was to come to the attention of architects, designers and the general public throughout the world as he, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini won the competition to design the new Pompidou Modern Art Centre in Paris. Common to Rogers’ late nineteen-sixties houses, and the Pompidou Centre, was the need to create open, often very large, uninterrupted interior spaces. Shifting escalators and normally interior services outside, as is the case with the Pompidou Centre (below),  was the obvious way to achieve this, leaving people who entered  a sense of being in a cathedral sized pantheon of art, but now modernised and brightly lit by a combination of natural and modern artificial light. The fact that as many people come to see the building, as the art inside, is further testament to Rogers’ and Piano’s pioneering and innovative work, in short, the building not only provides a fabulous space in which to view and enjoy modern art but it has also become a major Parisian landmark.

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With the success of the Pompidou Centre, Rogers’ reputation for innovation and modernist design was now at an all-time high and, with that, commissions followed from around the world, however, it was closer to home that his next large scale project was to take place. The insurance giant Lloyd’s of London, in desperate need of new headquarters, launched a competition in 1978 for architects to submit designs that would not only promote Lloyd’s as a successful, future looking company but also rival the nearby, still under-construction NatWest Tower (opened in 1981), which at 183m, was set to dominate the City of London business district. Roger’s company won the competition with construction starting soon after, however, unlike the Pompidou Centre, the design, for another large ‘ inside- out’ building was not welcomed by all, however, after almost eight years, it opened its doors to its first occupants in 1986 (see below). Small offices with only a few workers in each was now abandoned in favour or huge open plan spaces, where workers could look up and down at people on other floors. A huge atrium welcomed open-mouthed visitors into the building itself, only to be beaten, for a sense of futuristic living, by the thrill of riding in a glass elevator mounted on the exterior of the main building.

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In the next two decades, Rogers’ name was to become synonymous with two other major London landmarks – The Millenium Dome and, the so-called, ‘Cheesegrater’ Leadenhall Building. Further afield, notable designs include: The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France; 3 World Trade Centre in New York, USA; Senedd Building (Welsh Assembly) in Cardiff, Wales; Madrid Airport Terminal 4, Spain (see below).
In all of Rogers’ designs he has, without doubt, sought to change urban landscape for the better; in appearance as well as functionality. His buildings have also had a huge impact on designs across the globe by other architects, many of whom will now become his successors, building cityscapes which speak of the 21st century and continue Rogers’ philosophy of High Technology Architecture.
Richard Rogers died on the 18th of December 2021 at the age of 88.

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