I met Richard Rogers several years ago for an interview. I always note how people dress even though I’ve never written on fashion, and I recall he was wearing a denim shirt, a yellow belt and orange shoes. The sky and the sun mixed together in one outfit. On anyone else the ensemble would have looked dreadful, but on him, it worked to perfection. No surprise then, that he was named one of the 50 best dressed British men by GQ this year. His Italian blood must have played a role in this.
He insisted on speaking Italian to me. He was born in Florence of half Italian parents, and is proud of his Italian heritage. Every year he spends a month in Tuscany with his cousins or sailing with his friend Renzo Piano. (‘nearly a brother to me’, he says).
For an architect, sun and light are extremely important, above all when the sun is a rarity, so he has to make the most of it. Think of the Beaubourg, the first important building Richard Rogers designed in partnership with Renzo Piano, when they were both 30 years old - can you imagine anything more colourful and vibrant in the middle of Paris, a city that certainly doesn’t enjoy that dazzling Mediterranean light?
Rogers (and Piano) wanted to design somewhere where every Parisian could meet, have fun and enjoy some culture - a mix between Time Square and the British Museum, the big piazza in front of the building being, for him, the best aspect of the whole construction. The sense of community is what Richard Rogers, a man whose eyes are always smiling, even when he is being serious, is the most important aspect of any project.
Although his efforts were not always initially rewarded (‘the press threw tomatoes at us when we announced the opening of the Pompidou Centre’), his works have received accolades from the world over. The Lloyds Building in London, the Madrid Barajas Airport, the European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg, the Millenium Dome, Heathrow Terminal 5, One Hyde Park, the Cheesegrater (opened at the end of 2014 at 122 Leadenhall street) have earned him numerous prizes. They include: the Stirling Prize, and the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for architecture. He was also knighted and made Baron Rogers of Riverside by the Queen. But, charmingly, he remains very attached to one of his earliest – and maybe more modest – achievements, the house he designed for his parents in Wimbledon.
Sustainability has always been an important issue to Rogers and one he holds dear, since the construction of the Millenium Dome, which he built using a range of low impact materials. Architecture, for him, must adapt itself to the changing needs of society and a building must have the flexibility to be able to change the way it’s used without compromising its structure.
His office is a case in point, the Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, in Hammersmith, an old converted factory by the River, awash with light, and a place from where he can enjoy river views and be able to wave to his wife Ruth, owner of the River Café Restaurant just opposite and where he has lunch every day.