By: Victoria Yates
Richard George Rogers was born on the 23rd of July 1933 in Florence to Anglo-Italian parents, Dr. Nino Rogers and his wife Dada, a potter. The family moved to England in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. At the time, Rogers spoke only Italian. Rogers struggled to adapt to the English public school system, an issue further exacerbated by his severe dyslexia.
The 1951 Festival of Britain initially roused his passion for architecture, but it was a meeting with his cousin, the famed Italian architect Ernesto Rogers, that convinced him to pursue it. After school, Rogers went on to study at the Architectural Association School in London. Despite receiving some negative reports for his elementary construction style, Rogers won the final year prize when he graduated with a Diploma of Architecture in 1959.
Entering into a difficult post-war economy, Rogers took his first job at the Middlesex County Council’s architecture department. 1960 was a big year for Rogers as he married Su Brumwell, a fellow architect, and won a scholarship to study for a Masters in architecture at Yale University.
In America the couple were exposed to the works of Louis Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as to the new wave of American optimism for progress and the future that was lacking back home. At Yale, Rogers became good friends with Norman Foster, a fellow-Englishman who had graduated from Manchester University.
Returning to England, Rogers and Brumwell set up practice as Team 4 with Norman Foster and his wife Wendy Cheeseman. Together, they built several houses, including one for Brumwell’s parents, but they were struggling. The group disbanded in 1967 after five years but by then Foster and Rogers were already developing a reputation for ‘high-tech design.’
Perhaps Rogers’ most seminal work, ‘Rogers House,’ was built in 1968. Created alongside Brumwell, the house was built for Rogers’ parents on a garden plot opposite Wimbledon Common. It is considered one of the most celebrated houses of the 20th century, and was given a Grade II listing by English Heritage. It represents a radical departure from past design, honing in on Rogers’ fascination with structural simplicity and prefabrication, and is constructed largely from steel and glass with a flexible internal living space.
In 1971, Rogers met the Italian architect Renzo Piano. The pair instantly clicked and started working together. Piano convinced Rogers’ that the pair should enter a competition for the Pompidou Centre shortly after. By this time, Rogers was married to his second wife Ruth, a burgeoning chef who went on to her own acclaim in the culinary world.
The building opened in 1977 and established Rogers’ architectural signature, his trademark style of exposing the utilities of a building on the outside (dubbed ‘Bowllism’ by some critics). The Pompidou Centre ventilation, pipework, and stairs are all on the exterior, leaving an uncluttered, open interior for exhibitions. Although it is widely admired today, the design initially drew a fair amount of criticism from the press and the public who saw it as overly industrial, but soon grew in popularity.
Despite this success, work was still scarce for Rogers. He and Piano parted ways shortly after. That same year, Rogers founded the Richard Rogers Partnership with Marco Goldschmied, John Young, and Mike Davies (the group became Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners in 2007).
He travelled back to America to teach for a while at UCLA and Yale, but a year of scarce commissions later, Rogers received a call from the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who had been in conversation with Lloyd’s of London about a new building.
Rogers was initially unsure about taking on the project, attached as it was to a long-established English institution. They proved, however, to be good partners, giving Rogers and his team time to think through each creative decision and problem. The end result was the Lloyd’s building, an iconic part of the City landscape, which opened in 1986 after an eight-year design and construction process. In 2011, it was listed Grade I, and has remained the subject of study for modern architects and historians alike.
After his newest landmark, Rogers finally found a steady stream of work. Throughout his career, Rogers had become increasingly vocal about issues of urbanism and sustainability. This reached a peak in 1995 when he was the first Architect to deliver a series of five talks at the BBC’s Reith Lectures. These speeches were transformed into a book ‘Cities for a Small Planet’ in 1997.
The following year, Rogers set up the Urban Task Force alongside the British government in order to look at tackling urban decline. The result was a paper with more than 100 recommendations for future city planners. He also served as the chief advisor on architecture and urbanism for Mayor of London Ken Livingstone between 2001 and 2008. Despite being asked to stay on by Livingstone’s successor Boris Johnson, Rogers resigned in 2009.
He has nevertheless continued to create iconic works including Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, Madrid’s Barajas Airport, the Antwerp Law Courts, the National Assembly for Wales, the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, and the Millenium Dome (to name but a few).
Throughout his storied career, Rogers has been the recipient of numerous prizes and awards on both sides of the Atlantic and, in 1985, was awarded a Knighthood for his contribution to architecture. In 1996, Rogers was also introduced into the House of Lords as Lord Rogers of Riverside.
Rogers continues to work on projects today, and is not without continued architectural scandal. The One Hyde Park project has been garnering him particular heat in recent years.
He remains one of the most important and influential modern architectural leaders, introducing new ideas and conceptions about urban space and city living as well as breathtaking and innovative designs.