With the death of Richard Rogers, one of the architectural giants of the last half century disappears. An extraordinary destiny led him to be responsible for drastic architectural transformations, which have been applied to buildings and cities all over the planet.
The architecture of the future: never demolish, always transform
Over a long career, he has shared thought and action with two formidable talents like Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, Pritzker Prize winners before Rogers, but all three started from the same starting line, a radical rethinking of what. , and how, it must be a building.
The new thinking included ideas of sustainability, lightness, transparency and structural expression, which modified the traditional parameters of architecture. Although they were not concepts of his creation, he knew how to read industrial steel and glass constructions, and he continued the works of Pierre Chareau, Jean Prouvé, Alison and Peter Smithson, and Archigram’s utopias. During his studies at Yale, in the United States, he not only met another future architectural genius, Norman Foster, he also approached visionary creators working in America, the philosopher and engineer Buckminster Fuller, Richard Neutra, the Eames, and studied the innovative West Coast Case Study Houses.
Back in the UK, he had his first studio with his wife, Su Brumwell, and later, they joined Norman Foster and Wendy Cheeseman on Team 4. Their innovative projects to build with industrial materials and with lightweight structures found good welcomed in the environment of advanced British technology, and took off with the order of the Reliance Controls factory (1969) in Swindon, of an elegant simplicity and lightness, as economical in its essentiality as innovative in its fluid and shared spaces, without physical obstacles to the movement or visual connections.
Rogers, who was born in Florence in 1933, returned with his family to Great Britain when he was only five years old. In 1968 he built a simple house for his parents in Wimbledon, inspired by the American models he had met in California. He arranged an elementary composition, with a flexible distribution, made with innovative technology, achieving fully glazed facades and using bright colors in the interior walls. An advanced work that did not go unnoticed.
Knowing Richard Rogers’ ideas regarding a new way of doing architecture, it was the prestigious structural engineering company Ove Arup who had the initiative to invite him to join another Italian-born architect, Renzo Piano, to participate in the Center’s competition. National of Art and Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris. His proposal was so radically different from the bourgeois city environment in which it had to be inserted, that it seemed more like a provocation, or a utopian manifesto, than a design capable of being built institutionally.
Against all odds, the two young architects, in their thirties and with little experience, won the competition thanks to the support of two notable members of the jury, French engineer Jean Prouvé and American architect Philip Johnson. The juxtaposition between the Piano + Rogers building and its urban setting, nineteenth-century Paris, caused almost as much pushback when it opened as the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.
The Center Pompidou project lacked formal or conventional compositional elements. It was a puzzle of finalist spaces, rooms, auditoriums, offices, embedded in others of connection and movement. The supporting elements had to support the twin of pieces without interfering with their characteristics. In a way, many architectural qualities had been dispensed with, enhancing others. He avoided representation, solidity or decoration, and focused on the needs of light and movement of the human being, on the flexibility of the internal organization, and on the expression of the structure as the protagonist of the image.
The building, completed in 1977, does not hide anything. Its external appearance consists of a great variety of bars and tubes painted blue, green and yellow, corresponding to air conditioning, plumbing and electricity, in addition to the glazed sleeves of the escalators and the elevator towers that show the circulation of the visitors. The external metal structure gives the huge hulk the image of a spaceship from the future that had landed in the center of Paris. A prophetic metaphor.
The discomfort that the Pompidou’s neighborhood produced with the traditional city suggested that it was an anti-monumental building, but it turned out to be the apostle of a new monumentality. In fact, it is the only work of its time that competes in prestige with those of the past, and has been incorporated into all the histories of 20th century architecture.
It immediately became the icon of a new style called high tech, of high technology, whose development monopolized the most ambitious and expensive projects of the last quarter of the last century. The new forms demanded a sophisticated industry and could only cope with the most advanced countries, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan or the United States, which found new markets in the eastern countries with powerful emerging economies.
In 1986, Richard Rogers achieved another world-renowned masterpiece. The Lloyd’s building in London, would be its consecration as an emblem of a new way of conceiving architecture. The structure was made of concrete, but the facades were clad in stainless steel to achieve a hermetic and fragmented exterior image that contrasted with the spacious interior operating room, flooded with natural light.
The paradox that the largest insurance market in the world, Lloyd’s, in full city of the British capital, being located in a state-of-the-art building opened the door for financial institutions around the world to adopt the expensive and exclusive high tech as an emblem of his economic power, marking the path that would lead to the apotheosis of style.
Rogers’ work of plenitude manifested itself in the great architectural themes of the late 20th century, cultural centers, the headquarters of financial institutions, and airports. To this last group belongs Terminal 5 (1989-2008) of London Heathrow Airport, a laboratory in which he developed concepts such as the continuous floating deck over a unitary space, the clear circulations between the land side and the air side, the connection visual with the exterior and the use of long vertical voids to make natural light reach the depths of the building.
The same principles would also be applied in the project with which Terminal 4 of the Madrid-Barajas airport was built (2005), the largest European work at the time of its construction, which it shared with the Spanish study of Antonio and Carlos Lamela. The modular system combines elements of reinforced concrete that support the floors and serve as a base for the oblique metal props that rise, supporting a gently undulating roof, which seems to float like a flying carpet over the continuous space, lined inside with a lattice. made of bamboo, the most sustainable wood, to provide comfort and acoustic quality.
The prestige of the great works opens the doors to build all over the world. In Tokyo it erected the Kabuki-cho Tower (1993), in London the headquarters of the television channel Channel 4 (1994), in Strasbourg the European Court of Human Rights (1995), the Palace of Justice in Bordeaux (1998), and the Millennium Dome in London (2000). Later, when he signed works as notable as the oblique 50-story tower of The Leadenhall Building (2011) in London, the studio had grown considerably, had even changed the ownership scheme, to become a large architecture office with numerous works on several continents, whose qualities are more often found in the field of quality than in that of excellence.
In our country, Richard Rogers has left his name on various projects. In addition to the masterpiece of Terminal 4 in Madrid, in Barcelona he built the Hesperia Tower hotel (2006), with Alonso-Balaguer y Asociados, crowned with a profile capsule-restaurant flashgordonianAlthough less fortunate, the transformation of the Barcelona bullring of Las Arenas into a shopping center (2011) can be considered. Greater interest is treasured by the Sevillian Campus de Palmas Altas (2009), developed with Vidal y Asociados, defining a model of offices with high energy efficiency in a work conditioned by the climate. Another interesting intervention was carried out in the new facilities for Bodegas Protos in Peñafiel, Valladolid, located at the foot of the formidable castle.
Faced with the iconic strength of Pompidou, Lloyd’s, Heathrow Terminals 5 and Madrid-Barajas 4, or the Millennium Dome, Richard Rogers’ work in the field of urban planning is less spectacular, but no less relevant. His powerful ideas, presented in 1994 for the development of Shanghai’s Lujiazui District, proved highly influential after the city’s consultant competition before proceeding with the development of the new business center area on the banks of the Huangpu River.
Defender of a more compact and sustainable city model, he has signed the Barangaroo Masterplan in Sydney and, in Spain, the Valladolid High Speed Masterplan, which won the contest that failed in 2005. He has been an advisor on architecture issues to the mayor’s office of Barcelona with Pascual Maragall, and also advised that of London, for which it developed the Canary Wharf Riverside South, and recommended the collection of a fee for private vehicles entering the urban center.
The high level of industrial quality used in his main works has always had as a reference a deep collective humanism, an attempt for people to enjoy the brightness, space and order in their buildings. For this reason he rejected the term high tech, because it represented the means, but not the purpose of his work, which was to achieve better buildings and cities for the lives of the people. He always fought against oppressive architecture, hierarchical or discriminatory spaces, seeking transparency, natural light, accessibility, visual references for orientation, the maximum relationship with the natural environment and the use of technology to improve sustainability and reduce energy consumptions.
His most valuable works continue to breathe joy, vitality and nonconformity. Claude Pompidou, the widow of the promoter of the revolutionary Parisian cultural center, identified “passion, audacity and freedom” as the three forces deployed by her husband to create the center that bears his name. Richard Rogers used the same ingredients to bring to life the revolutionary work he created with Renzo Piano in Paris, which seems to have captured in its architecture the same rebellious, playful, youthful and optimistic spirit of May 68.