Richard Rogers: an appreciation
A tribute to visionary architect Richard Rogers, who passed away on December 18, 2021, from former Wallpaper * editorial director Richard Cook
Richard Rogers’ buildings were the fruit of a truly singular talent. He was a talent that wasn’t afraid to flirt with the prospect of failure; which existed at the very border of the feasible and the limits of the constructible; and which will not only last, but will prevail. Architects generally work at the end of a rapid artistic tradition, closer to the mouth of this river than to its source. Not Rogers. He always seemed to be the first: he was always there at the start of something special.
Some architects find their style creeps into the syntax as the years go by and the rewards mount. May their youthful blossoms take on the weight of an intractable worldview, a weight for which they are not always prepared. The rewards were certainly piling up: ennobling, the Golden Lion, the Pritzker, among almost countless others, but in truth Rogers was never such an architect.
The fantastic creative impetus that the Center Pompidou was able to make succumb to a lesser talent, giving birth to projects that would lead, in the long term, to collapse, buried under the weight of theory and the constant need for innovate. Not Rogers.
Many architects leave their wildest flights unbuilt – faded sketches in the bottom drawer, or a dusty wooden model in a storage room somewhere, of a forgotten high-tech future that had long since passed it. Rogers can still be found in central Paris, an incredibly popular icon to be rediscovered every day by students and schoolchildren.
And though it’s tempting to imagine what London’s South Bank might have been like if it had ever been covered in its unfulfilled, typically ambitious giant wave of glass, two real buildings across the Thames tell the story of all he really became, with much more clarity.
Seen from the 14th floor of 122 Leadenhall (better known as the Cheesegrater, arguably the most beautiful and graceful of the signature skyscrapers that now tower over the City of London), the still surprisingly modern exo-skeleton Lloyd’s Building shyly shimmers next door behind gray Venetian blinds.
These were the mighty offices and the publicity for the mature work of Rogers, the architect responsible for both. The two buildings were constructed 25 years apart, but with equally astonishing skill and beauty, in the heart of a city that is every year more innocuous.
In the City of London and similar financial centers around the world, the same ideas seem to have migrated from architect to architect and from building to building, fluidly, promiscuous. Rogers stayed away from this process, doing his own thing. Surprisingly, for such a successful practitioner, it has even gone a little under the radar: Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners (RSHP) is a company of 160 people at a time when the largest companies employ 2,000.
This particularity extended to the organization of its practice. RSHP always had a written constitution to ensure that the commitment to a similar vision was shared equally. Notably, the remuneration of the partners was capped at a fixed multiple of the architect the least well paid. And everywhere, one felt that intellectual interrogation was not a necessary evil, but the vital element of the place.
But discussion and collaboration have always been guiding principles for Rogers. Born in Florence to English and Italian parents, he moved to the UK at the age of five and continued his studies at the Architectural Association in London. Arguably, however, it was a postgraduate fellowship stay at Yale, with his first wife and collaborator Su and future business partner Norman Foster, who located his artistic sensibility in the world of Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, these other European architects who migrated to the New World. Back in the UK, the two married couples of Foster and Rogers became Team 4. The success was rapid: the partnership with Foster was replaced by that of Renzo Piano in time to win an international competition for the Center. Pompidou and the international fame that will last. over 40 years.
This sole proprietorship, which even after the Pompidou’s success was managing one project at a time, had acquired two equal partners – Ivan Harbor and Graham Stirk – over 30 years old and had 55 projects underway at the time of Rogers’ death. . There will be a lot of Rogers legacy to admire in the years to come. But then there is so much to admire already.
Inaugurated in the spring of 2021, the Drawing Gallery at Château La Coste, Provence was the latest project in Richard Rogers’ long and distinguished career. Photograph: James Reeve, for the March 2021 issue of Wallpaper *