Richard Rogers (1933–2021)

John Hill, Falk Jaeger
20. de desembre 2021
Richard Rogers was recipient of the 2019 AIA Gold Medal (Photo courtesy of AIA)

The buildings of Richard Rogers, especially those of his early creative period, were often hardly accepted at first — before eventually becoming landmarks of modern architecture. Rogers died at his home in London over the weekend at the age of 88.

A building is made up of structure, cladding, and utilities, just as the human body is made up of skin and bones, muscles, and veins. In the late 1960s, architects in the UK came up with the idea of revealing the parts of a building openly, even demonstratively, to the outside world. Architects used this construction method, whether consciously or unconsciously, as a stylistic device, so critics were soon looking for a suitable term. "High-tech" was the label Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin gave in 1978 to the style of furnishings that had become widespread in America, bringing a new aesthetic to living rooms with industrial light fixtures and metal shelving.

And "high-tech" was the name given shortly thereafter to buildings by Nicholas Grimshaw, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Michael Hopkins. The individual works of this British quartet were about letting the technology of buildings speak, of making the structure (steel skeletons for the most part) have an effect through design exaggeration but also bright colors. It was also about the further development of building technology, the clean separation of construction and finishing in terms of design and technology, industrialized building methods, prefabrication, and the rationalization and reduction of building costs.

Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1977 (Photo: RG72/Wikimedia Commons)

Richard George Rogers was born in Florence in 1933 into a family of doctors and dentists, with both British and Italian blood flowing through his veins. From 1939 onward he lived in England, but in the army after school he served in Italy, coming into contact with the famous architect Ernesto Rogers, a cousin who inspired Richard to become an architect. After studying at the Architectural Association in London and Yale University, where he met Norman Foster, and then working at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York City, Rogers started Team 4 in London in 1963, together with Foster and their respective wives, Wendy Foster and Su Rogers.

But Foster and Rogers could not have been of more different natures. One was cool, distinguished, and in control, the other was communicative, warm-hearted, and spirited. This could not go well, so Team 4 disbanded in 1967 and in 1969 Rogers teamed up Italian architect Renzo Piano. The duo won the competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1971, beating out 680 other entries; they realized the epoch-making over the next six years. A museum resembling an industrial plant, programmed like a cultural machine, and on a scale that went beyond all Parisian standards, the Pompidou was both an outrageous affront and a beacon pointing to the future. As with the Eiffel Tower, it took many years for Parisian society to accept the architectural alien. 

Rogers established the Richard Rogers Partnership in 1977, the same year as the Pompidou's grand opening, and two years later the firm started on the headquarters for Lloyd's of London. Another incunabulum of high-tech architecture, Lloyd's is a high-rise with external supply lines and cranes on the roof that looks like an oil refinery. This building also had problems gaining acceptance when it was completed in 1986, but now it is a Grade I-listed landmark in the City of London and often serves as a setting for films.

Lloyd’s of London, 1986 (Photo: Laurence Mackman/Wikimedia Commons)

Later buildings, such as the headquarters for Channel 4 in London (1994), are less provocative than Pompidou and Lloyd's, fitting more sensitively into their contexts. Likewise, his firm's buildings for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (1995) and the Bordeaux Law Courts (1998) are certainly contemporary in expression and technically advanced. Air travelers come and go in his terminals at London Heathrow and Madrid–Barajas. The huge, tent-like Millennium Dome (now O2 Arena) in Greenwich on the banks of the Thames was the venue for London's millennium celebrations.

Richard Rogers had an intimate enmity with Prince Charles, who is known for an embrace of traditional architecture and for leading a kind of crusade against contemporary modernism. He torpedoed Rogers' projects at Paternoster Square and for the Royal Opera House. When Charles also shot down a billion-dollar project on the site of the former Chelsea barracks in 2009 by intervening with the Qatar developer, Rogers complained fiercely in the Guardian that Prince Charles was not engaging in debate, saying it was undemocratic and unconstitutional. "I think he pursues these topics because he is looking for a job and in that sense I sympathize with him," was his assessment, "I don't think he is evil per se, he is just misled."

Terminal 4, Barajas Airport, Madrid, 2005 (Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Wikimedia Commons)

His involvement in the Solar City in Linz points to his ecological awareness, which increasingly determined his work as well as his teaching and lecturing activities. With the construction of Senedd Cymru, the Welsh Parliament, for example, he halved its energy consumption. Rogers, who was always concerned about people, put his social commitment into practice in his office: the directors in his firm earn at most six times the salary of the lowest-paid salaried architect.

Rogers received the RIBA Gold Medal in 1985. In 1991, the Queen knighted Rogers and even raised him to the peerage in 1996 as Baron Rogers of Riverside, with a seat in the House of Lords. He won the Praemium Imperiale in 2000, his firm won two RIBA Stirling Prizes (in 2006 for Barajas Airport Terminal 4 and in 2009 for Maggie's Centre), and in 2007 he received the prestigious Pritzker Prize, the same year he changed the name of his firm from Richard Rogers Partnership to Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. "Nobel Prize for Architecture. The AIA Gold Medal followed in 2019, and in 2020 Rogers retired from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. Rogers was recognizable for the green sweaters, read shirts, and colorful socks he continued to wear regardless of the accolades.

Richard Rogers died at his home in London on December 18, 2021, at the age of 88.

A version of the article originally appeared as "Technikfreak und Menschenfreund" on German-Architects.
Worth watching: Imagine Richard Rogers Inside Out, a one-hour BBC documentary made by James Nutt on the occasion of a major retrospective of Rogers at the Pompidou in 2007/08.

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