Richard Rogers RA: Legible Industrial Architecture

By Sophie Finney

One of the stalwarts of British architecture, Richard Rogers RA continues to be one of the most forward thinking pioneers of architectural practices. His buildings have become an iconic part of the London skyline, and across the globe his unique style is instantly recognisable. Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out will be running from the 18th of July to the 13th of October 2013 at the Royal Academy Burlington Gardens, revealing the man behind the pioneering ideas.

© Arpingstone, 2005

Born in Italy to British parents, Richard Rogers remembers a childhood spent building with Meccano and an unquenchable fascination with finding out how things work. He later went on to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, as well as obtaining a Master’s degree from Yale School of Architecture in 1962. Here he met another icon of British Architecture, Norman Foster, with whom he formed Team 4, alongside Su Brumwell and Wendy Cheeseman. Team 4 undertook a number of residential projects and were highly successful, before going their separate ways in 1967, Foster to pursue pure constructional logic and Rogers to work with Renzo Piano on a number of conceptual projects.

© JorgeRoyan, 2008

Roger’s career leapt forwards in 1971 when he and Piano won the competition to design the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. This transformed his practice and reputation, and set him firmly apart from other architects. Harking back to his early interest in the visibility of how things work, the style applied to the Centre Pompidou was initially, and rather unflatteringly, described as ‘Bowellism’ by some critics. Roger’s main agenda in the design of the Centre Pompidou was to create the greatest amount of floor space within the interior of the building, thus allowing for a greater flexibility of space. He therefore put all the services, from sewage pipes to lift shafts, on the exterior of the building, thus creating an inside out building. His intention was to readdress the way in which an art institution is perceived and used; by creating a greater flexibility of space he hoped to make art more accessible to the public, encouraging participation in cultural activities.

Following his success with the Centre Pompidou, Richard Rogers subsequently went on to design and build the Lloyd’s building from 1978 to 1986, which as of 2011 has been designated a Grade I listed building. Whilst much like the Centre Pompidou in its construction, with the services on the exterior of the building, the Lloyd’s building serves an entirely different purpose, which of course is the driving force behind the design. As well as externally contributing to the design of the surrounding cityscape, the Lloyd’s building has an open and adaptable interior, with easy access between floors. Paying homage to both Paxton’s Crystal Palace and Chareau’s Maison de Verre, the 84m high internal atrium is staggering in scale and uses opaque glass to allow natural light to filter through. Rogers stated that the Lloyd’s building ‘…is richly detailed and layered in section, offering a responsive, indeterminate architecture – a balance between permanence and transformation.’
This Humanist approach is one that has remained a constant in Rogers’ architectural practices, always concerned with how to create human environments within the changing scale of increasing population. For this reason, Rogers has always incorporated the latest technological advancements into his architectural design. By designing his buildings to the highest technological spec, Rogers pushes the language of ‘high tech’ to its rhetorical limits, creating new languages within the future of architecture. He believes that the architecture of a building should contribute to the surrounding area, and is a great advocate of sustainability in architectural practices, as well as urban regeneration.

© NEO Bankside

In this respect, Rogers stated that the NEO Bankside project, situated next to the Tate Modern, London, was one of the more difficult projects that he has worked on. Comprised of 217 residential units in four hexagonal pavilions ranging from 12 to 24 storeys, as well as a six-storey office block, NEO Bankside occupies a complex and irregular space between Southwark, Sumner and Holland Streets. There were a great number of urban constraints on the construction of this project ranging from the large size and height of the Tate Modern, to a series of adjacent, listed two-storey almshouses. Rogers’ aim was to create a site that blended with the surrounding area, as well as including elements that hark back to the area’s historical roots in industrial Britain. The overall design incorporates these factors perfectly; the pavilions are constructed from steel and glass, with red oxidised panels that lend themselves to the Bankside landscape whilst hinting at the industrial heritage of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Whether working on a public service space such as Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, or a cultural venue like the Millennium Dome, Richard Rogers never fails to create a certain legibility in his architecture. Always avoiding the notion of architecture as a whole and complete art form, Rogers instead subscribes to the idea that architects have a duty that reaches beyond the mere assemblage of industrial components. The industrial language that he has created is completely applicable to the modern cityscape in which nothing is really new; ideas can only be rethought and rebuilt to create a better environment for the future, and this is exactly what can be seen in Richard Rogers’ work.

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