Remembering Richard Rogers (1933 – 2021)
We celebrate the life and career of Richard Rogers, one of the most influential architects of our time and winner of the 2007 Pritzker Prize, who passed away on December 18, 2021 at the age of 88.
As one of the most influential architects of our time, Richard Rogers has had an immeasurable impact on the modern city. His studio has brought art and elegance to everything from factories and warehouses to office towers, transforming the literal building blocks of architecture into their main aesthetic expression. As a pioneering exhibitor of what has come to be known as “high-tech,” Rogers and his peers fulfilled the Machine Age dreams of early modern architects.
Born in Italy, Rogers studied at the Architectural Association and then at Yale, where he met Norman Foster and Su Bramwell, to later become his first wife and partner, with Foster and Wendy Cheesman, in Team 4 Architects, founded in 1963. After more than a decade of experimental and pioneering practice, working primarily in industrial architecture, the studio fragmented and the Richard Rogers Partnership was established in 1977. The studio’s first major work, the Center Pompidou in Paris, came to define an era. Designed in collaboration with another titan of new industrial architecture, the Italian Renzo Piano, the Pompidou was the most important of the five projects carried out by the partnership. Drawing inspiration from the minds of 1960s experimenters like Archigram, the arts center created huge floor plates of flexible exhibition space by pushing all of its services outward. The result was a puzzle of colorful pipes and escalators that contrasted starkly with the historic fabric of the city.
Piano then set up his own construction workshop in Genoa, but Rogers, it seems, was destined to move from one historic building to another. The next project on the drawing board was a new office for Lloyd’s of London. While Pompidou carried the ample freedom legacy of the ’60s into the’ 70s, Lloyd’s Building foreshadowed the somewhat narrower and more venal qualities of the ’80s. It was the corporate headquarters as a costume of power. , adopting the infamous “inside-outside” qualities of the Pompidou for the streets of the city, but with a sober denial of color; stainless steel and glass were the dominant materials. In the six years of construction, technology barely had time to catch up with the vision and it opened in 1984, over-budgeted and highly controversial, but also unmistakably brilliant. It was perhaps the first modern office building to capture in detail the joy that characterized the great municipal buildings of Soane or Lutyens, swapping decoration for a pleasure of technology.
Richard Rogers created the limited edition cover of the July 2013 issue of Wallpaper *, with a quote from the architect that appeared in AD magazine in the late 1970s following the completion of the Center Pompidou
In 1986, Rogers, alongside James Stirling and Foster, put on a landmark show at the Royal Academy. It was the architectural equivalent of Hugh Hudson’s cinematic war cry: “The British are coming!” “. High-tech architecture was seen as the true heir to the legacy of the country’s scorching technological revolution, a space-age affirmation of Dan Dare’s futurism that permeated the post-war era. Rogers, however, never quite subscribed to his former partner’s love for the machine. RRP’s work was supported by a long-standing obsession with town planning and a sense of social justice. Rogers’ commitment to big ‘m’ modernism was firmly rooted in the socialist origins of the movement. Rogers had architecture in his blood. His cousin, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, was one of Italy’s leading post-war architects and the designer of the 1958 Torre Velasca in Milan, along with his BBPR partners. There has always been a largely Mediterranean approach to the role of society, family, culture and space in the Rogers office. The firm’s self-designed studios in Hammersmith were known to be adjacent to the River Café – co-founded by Rogers’ second wife, Ruth. The practice itself limits its directors’ salaries to a proportion of the lowest salaries, and there are generous benefits that have helped maintain a long-standing and loyal team.
For a time, Lloyd’s industrial aesthetic led to a series of truly industrial projects, with urban design projects thwarted by funds or opposition. Massive complexity spawned specialization within the company, and decade-long projects became increasingly common as clients approached the Rogers team to unravel the intricate puzzles of town planning and design. infrastructure. At the same time, the company has developed a palette of materials, shapes and colors, refining standard components and developing their own tailor-made solutions for the services and structure that shaped their work. Art ‘exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1934, industrial objects like ball bearings and springs were placed on pedestals and celebrated as brilliant abstract sculptures. Perhaps this point of divergence – a path to rationalization and machine-made purity, a path to naked mechanical fascination – is what separates Rogers from Foster. One could say that the latter has more discipline, more desire to see the machine subsumed by the sculptural potential of a new material; but Rogers, on the other hand, finds not only aesthetic purity in the mechanical innards, but freedom of space and function.
Inevitably, success has meant an increase in scale. Since its inception, the Rogers Partnership has never shied away from major projects. This has sometimes meant hanging your head over the parapet and taking political criticism. It is widely believed that RRP’s Millennium Dome was the best thing to come out of the flawed Y2K celebrations, a vast structure that subsequently fulfilled its flexible mandate. Despite other high-profile feuds – particularly with the Prince of Wales – Rogers inevitably became an establishment figure, living in a grand Georgian conversion in the heart of Chelsea, receiving the title of knight in 1991 and sitting in the House of the Lords five years later. Riverside’s Baron Rogers can still piss off the industry, only these days is the company’s vast portfolio – ranging from the experimental Homeshell prefab housing unit to the most expensive apartment building in London to One Hyde Park – which is at times at odds with its social conscience.
The democratic structure of the practice is not weakened. In 2007 Ivan Harbor and Graham Stirk became primary partners and the name was changed to Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners. Rogers retired in September 2020 and his final project, the Chateau La Coste en Provence drawing gallery, was unveiled in the spring of 2021. A small but spectacular building in a motionless orange frame that rises door-to-door. false on a thick wooded ridge, the building offered a powerful summary of the life and work of a visionary architect.
Experimentation and innovation are at the heart of Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners’ priorities. Housed at 122 Leadenhall in the City of London – the company’s own cleverly designed office building, located above Lloyd’s Bespoke Perfectionism Road – upcoming projects include Terminal 4 at Shenzhen Bao Airport ‘an, a distillery for Horse Soldier Bourbon in Kentucky, the Hammersmith & Fulham Civic Campus in London, and H-Farm, a library and auditorium at the heart of a start-up education campus in Venice. Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners continues to deliver a bold architectural vision. §
Above: an architectural model of Rogers’ design for the drawing gallery at Chateau La Coste, Provence, France. Photography: Robin Friend. Below: the completed gallery, 24 meters long and anchored to a ridge by galvanized steel rods so as to appear to hover above the slope. Photography: James Reeve