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Richard Rogers' thrilling legacy

The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright assesses Richard Rogers Impact

Barajas International Airport in Madrid
Barajas International Airport in Madrid

"He may have hung up his pencil in 2020, but Richard Rogers was never the retiring type. The architect made his name with buildings that exploded their inner workings on to their outsides, dressing galleries and offices with rainbow symphonies of ducts and pipes. He became known for an equally colourful neon wardrobe, along with his love of public debate and bon viveur lifestyle. 

Not that the pencil was ever Rogers’ favoured tool. He had always been, by his own admission, a terrible draughtsman, and he was dyslexic. He preferred to talk, ideally over a glass of wine and good Italian food. A tutor’s report from 1958 concluded: “His designs will continue to suffer while his drawing is so bad, his method of work so chaotic and his critical judgment so inarticulate.” Yet in his four decades in practice, and as an advisor to government, Lord Rogers of Riverside probably influenced the face of urban Britain more than any other architect of the late 20th century.

He might be best known for his “inside-out” monuments to pipes: the magnificent Pompidou Centre in Paris and the still-thrilling Lloyd’s building in London. But his impact in the UK has been less about his own buildings and more to do with his influence on public policy, particularly under New Labour in the early 2000s. As chair of the Urban Task Force, he ushered in the era of regeneration that has seen UK cities adorned with canal-side apartments and cafe-lined squares, a vision of Barcelona street life transplanted to British shores, sometimes at a cost to existing communities. [...]

[...]Erupting like a psychedelic oil refinery in the middle of the Marais, the Pompidou Centre was a shock to Parisian tastes when it opened in 1977, and it is no less startling today. Designed with Italian architect Renzo Piano, it was conceived as a mechanical transformer of a building, a new kind of robotic architecture that would respond to changing needs, with plug-in components and moving floors.[...]

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