Few architects can bear to be criticised, but why is Rogers so very thin-skinned?by Gavin Stamp / December 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
On the front cover of this autobiography-cum-polemic, Richard Rogers is depicted, arms folded, gazing out of the frame with half-closed eyes, looking visionary. “This is an essential book for anyone interested in our human future,” writes the sculptor Antony Gormley on the bright-pink back of the dust-jacket. Inside, many of the pages are bright yellow. Perhaps it is a mercy that the cover photograph is black and white, for the author is given to wearing trademark bright lime-green shirts enhanced by orange braces. “If a colour is beautiful,” he explains, “it will go with another beautiful colour.”
Rogers, elevated to Lord Rogers of Riverside in 1996, is perhaps the best known living British architect. Indeed, along with his former professional partner, Norman Foster, otherwise known as Baron Foster of Thames Bank, he was the first of the “starchitects,” the growth of the cult of celebrity coinciding with the huge success of their careers as creators of striking “high-tech” buildings. Along with Renzo Piano and a team of young and enthusiastic designers and engineers, Rogers won the competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1971. His practice went on to design the new building for Lloyd’s of London, which opened in 1986. Important recent commissions include those for the Bordeaux Law Courts, Terminal 4 at Barajas Airport in Madrid and Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The Richard Rogers Partnership is now Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and was responsible for, among other buildings, the excellent new cancer centre at Guy’s Hospital.
I approach anything to do with Rogers with a degree of caution, however. When Stewart Brand, in the original 1994 American edition of How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, alleged that Lloyd’s required “endless corrective surgery,” Rogers’s lawyers threatened to sue. Viking cancelled the proposed British edition, and in the book that eventually appeared all references to Rogers were omitted. When Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled, criticised a house by Rogers in the Architects’ Journal, the great man visited him in hospital to object. My own first (pseudonymous) article about Rogers appeared in Tatler in 1984, after it had been enhanced by Jonathan Meades, the commissioning editor, whose observations caused even more offence than mine. In consequence, the second Mrs (now Lady) Rogers angrily asked me to leave a party—one which they were not actually hosting.