Friday, December 1, 2017

Plans and people

Richard Rogers with Richard Brown, A Place for All People
Published by Canongate Books

My next pre-Christmas review is an account of life, works, and beliefs by one of our foremost architects...

We tend to think of famous architects in terms of their most high-profile projects. Richard Rogers, one of the pre-eminent architects of his generation, brings to mind instantly major buildings like the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyd’s Building in London. But there is much more to him than that, and this book – part memoir, part architectural inside story, part manifesto – tells the stories not just of these but also of many less well known designs, from his early houses to more recent social housing projects. All these have fascinating aspects, and it’s one of the pleasures of reading this book to discover more about familiar and unfamiliar buildings alike – what drove the designs, the thinking behind them, how they got built.

The book is revealing, as one would expect, on the architect’s formative experiences.His closeness to Italy is key – his Italian parents and cousin, the architect Ernesto Rogers, his admiration of Italian piazzas, his love of Florence, his work with Renzo Piano. There is also the formative influence of innovative architects in Britain, such as Peter Cook and Cedric Price, and in America, where his first experience of New York and his time at Yale are described. But history and historic architecture are important too, whether it’s the achingly beautiful piazza in Siena or the work of great Victorian engineers like Brunel or Paxton.

Then there’s the work. Rogers’ account of the various crises involved in getting the Pompidou Centre designed and built, and the controversies that surrounded Lloyd’s, are vividly told: it’s worth reading the book for these alone. A major theme is the development of adaptable buildings, and of lightweight structures, from the early Reliance Controls building near Swindon to the Millennium Dome, aka O2.

Another important leitmotif is public space. Rogers loves lively public spaces, especially those Italian squares. He not only promotes public space when he can, but actively encourages it and builds it into his plans – the piazza next to the Pompidou Centre is a key part of the design and Rogers and Piano’s was the only scheme for the site that provided this facility. He is exercised, quite rightly I think, by the poor provision of public space in some British cities and the erosion of this space as it gets sold off to private owners who let the public in on their own conditions. And he is particularly engaged by the spaces in capital cities. He believes that every Parliament should have a public space next to it for people to demonstrate ion, and finds it an embarrassment that Britain’s government sought to banish demonstrators from London’s Parliament Square.

A Place for All People, this book is called, and people are at its heart. Star that he is, Rogers is constantly at pains to credit his partners, co-designers, and engineers (he’s worked with some of the best of those), and to build up a picture of some of the ways in which a large architectural practice works. People’s importance to him is not just about socialising in the River Café or enjoying big family get-togethers in his enviable London house. People are at the core of what he does and understanding that offers a way of understanding Rogers and his remarkable buildings.

1 comment:

bazza said...

I like the photograph of Rogers on the cover. He always seems to have a sparkle in his eye. He doesn't look like an arrogant man but one who knows exactly what he wants. A bit of a hero really.....
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