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Richard Rogers - An Obituary

Richard Rogers, Lord Rogers of Riverside – Architect

 Born July 23, 1933; died December 18, 2021 

 

Richard Rogers, who has died aged 88, was an architect of towering ambition, whose creations transformed urban landscapes in major cities across the world. His buildings include the Pompidou Centre in Paris, designed with Italian architect Renzo Piano, and which opened in 1977; the Lloyd’s of London building, completed in 1986; and the Millennium Dome, the symbol of New Labour triumphalism that opened to the public on New Year’s Day 2000, and which evolved into the O2 venue.

 

Other key buildings by Rogers included the Leadenhall Building (2013), situated across the street from Lloyd’s, and which became known as the Cheesegrater. He also designed the law courts in Bordeaux (1998) and Antwerp (2005), the National Assembly in Wales (2005), and Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport (2008). This was eventually built following a labyrinthine public inquiry and associated objections and protests, and took nineteen years to come to fruition.

 

Rogers also designed the first Maggie’s Centre for cancer care in London, which opened at Charing Cross hospital in 2009. The building won Rogers his second Stirling Prize for architectural excellence. The first was for Barajas Airport, Madrid, in 2006.

 

Rogers’s buildings used glass, steel and other industrial materials to create shiny structures that attempted to open up inner cities with space and light. At times there were contradictions in his vision. As an advocate of social housing and public space for all, he also created expensive apartment blocks and helped open the door to an era of regeneration that sometimes sidelined existing communities. The expansive scale of his creations nevertheless became symbols of upwardly mobile communion on a grand scale.

 

Richard George Rogers was born in Florence, Italy, to Nino, a doctor, and Dada (nee Geiringer) Rogers. His father was the son of a British émigré, and his artist 

mother was the daughter of an architect and engineer, and had once been taught by James Joyce. The family lived in an apartment that had a view of the Duomo, before fleeing to England in 1939 from rising fascism. They lived in one room in a Bayswater boarding house, where, as Rogers later put it, “life switched from colour to black and white”.

 

Rogers was sent to boarding school at Kingswood House in Epsom, where being bullied caused him to take up boxing. He went to St John’s school in Leatherhead, but left without A-levels. He later discovered he was dyslexic.

 

He did his national service in Trieste, and while on leave worked in the office of his cousin, Ernesto Rogers, who had designed the Torre Velasca building in Milan. Back in London, this inspired him to enrol as a student at the Architectural Association School. With his first wife, Su Brumwell, he went to Yale University on a Fulbright scholarship. While in America he met his contemporary, Norman Foster.

 

A brief period working in a San Francisco architects office made Rogers realise that working in someone else’s practice wasn’t for him. Collaboration became key to his ethos ever after. Returning to the UK, Rogers, Brumwell, Foster, and Foster’s wife Wendy Cheesman, set up the Team 4 practice.  

 

They began by designing Creek Vean, a house in Cornwall for Brumwell’s parents. Six years in the making, the experience was a baptism of fire, with Rogers and Foster  brought before the Architects Registration Council for practicing without a licence. Rogers learnt his lesson, even if his proposed ZipUp House, an affordable factory-assembled construction for modern living, never took off.

 

Winning the competition to design the Pompidou Centre put Rogers on the map, even if some of its more epic plans were scaled back in the face of budget cuts and public scepticism. In the end, the building was deemed a success, and was the beginning of Rogers’s reimagining of cities at a global level.

 

This was done primarily through the Richard Rogers Partnership, later Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, founded by Rogers in 1977. In the 1980s, Rogers became a public advocate of radical modernism in London and beyond, and clashed with Prince Charles’ sense of traditionalism, with the monarch in waiting describing Rogers’s proposed extension to the National Gallery in London as “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend.”

 

At the turn of the century, Rogers led the new Greater London Authority’s Architecture and Urbanism Unit, with support from the city’s first mayor, Ken Livingstone. Plans for more public spaces in London were quickly overturned by Livingstone’s successor, Boris Johnson.  

 

Rogers’s achievements were recognised both in the UK and Europe. In France, he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1966, and was knighted in 1991. Tony Blair made him made a Labour peer in 1996, and he became Lord Rogers of Riverside.

 

His autobiography, A Place for All People: Life, Architecture and Social Responsibility, was published in 2017 by Edinburgh based publishing house, Canongate. He retired from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in 2020, closing the door on more than half a century of his modernist vision being at the heart of city living around the world. 

 

He is survived by his second wife, Ruth Rogers, and five children; Ben, Dad and Ab, from his first marriage to Su Brumwell; and Roo to Rogers. Their youngest son, Bo, predeceased him in 2011. He is also survived by thirteen grandchildren, and his younger brother, Peter. 


The Herald, December 24th 2020

 

ends

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