This weekend we escaped from our den of shamefully unpacked boxes (only 4 more to go!), and ventured out into the real world to go to the last day of the Richard Rogers “Inside Out” exhibit in the Royal Academy.
If you’ve not heard of him before (I hadn’t!), Richard Rogers is the architect responsible for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Lloyds building in London, and the Millennium Dome. If you live in London, you’ll also be aware of his current project – the aptly nicknamed “cheesegrater” (actually “The Leadenhall Building”), which is currently creeping up into our skyline.
The exhibition was excellent – it really packed a lot in to a relatively small space, starting with details of Rogers’ ethos, and including interesting details such as books that had influenced him or personal mementoes such as a set of personalised coloured pencils gifted him by the architect Norman Foster for his 70th birthday, a previous work partner and great friend.
“In “open-minded” spaces we are readier to meet people’s gaze and participate. These spaces give us something in common, bring together diverse sections of society and breed a sense of tolerance, awareness, identity and mutual respect”
His work tends to create a lot of controversy – not everyone likes his industrial aesthetic. Including, it seems, Prince Charles, who said – referring to Rogers’ proposals to redevelop Paternoster Square, near St Pauls “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe – when it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.” I, however, am a fan of the National Theatre (designed by Sir Denys Lasdun), which according to Prince Charles is “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”, so I think I’m on the side of Rogers, rather than our future King. The Centre Pompidou is one of my favourite buildings in Paris – both for its brutal inside-out appearance, and the great social piazza that slopes gently down to the entrance. When I lived in Paris, I used to spend a lot of time studying in the library there (they also have TVs that show EastEnders – great for a homesick ex-pat), and I used to enjoy the fact that tourists were lining up at the front of the building to get to the galleries, whilst I queued up round the back with other locals to get in the library (that just goes to show how keen we all were – queueing up for a library!)
I really enjoyed seeing the models of his work – both the successful and unsuccessful projects. They really helped to bring his vision to life in a way that plans and drawings couldn’t do alone. And the model of the cheesegrater included a mini sushi restaurant, which for some reason really tickled us (it doesn’t take much to entertain us).
Just as we were leaving we noticed people starting to gather and sit around a big screen in the last room. After further investigation, we found out that Richard Rogers himself was about to give a talk about his inspiration, and career to date, and that it was free for anyone with an exhibition ticket – talk about good timing. Rogers was a very engaging speaker, and clearly passionate about his work and his legacy. He told a great anecdote about going along to the Centre Pompidou shortly after it was opened, and sheltering under the umbrella of a woman who was also visiting. She asked him what he thought of the building – and upon finding out he was the architect, gave him a big wallop over the head with her umbrella. I also appreciated his response to the question of how he can reconcile his work on One Hyde Park – and the multimillionaire absent flat owners – and his commitment to social equity. (His response? We give 20% of our profits to charity).
Doing a bit more internet research, I kept coming across more work by Richard Rogers that they didn’t have room to mention in the exhibition (or perhaps I just missed it because I was too busy playing with the models), such as the refurbishment of Old Billingsgate Market and Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, near where I live. To top it all off, his wife, Ruth Rogers, founded The River Café in London. How’s that for a high-achieving couple.
Today’s quote is a version of the Ephebic Oath – an oath sworn by young men of Classical Athens upon induction into the Ephebic College, graduation from which was required to attain status as citizens.