Few architects have revolutionized the world with their designs. Fewer have spent their 18th birthday in an Italian prison with charges of knocking out a man’s teeth and sexually assaulting the man’s wife. But Lord Richard Rogers ARC ’62 is an exception — he is a designer of radical buildings, such as the Center Pompidou, as well as a lifelong rebel.
Rogers and his former classmate Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62 have both been commissioned to design skyscrapers for the World Trade Center site in New York. The Ground Zero project marks the first time the pair has worked together since they undertook a short-lived collaboration immediately after graduation.
Rogers, a recent winner of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize, had architecture in his blood, as his cousin Ernesto Rogers was a famous Italian architect. Born in Florence, Italy, in 1933, Rogers’ early life was one of privilege and culture. His mother, nicknamed Dada, was a well-connected potter interested in the modern movement. His father was an established doctor.
“If you put art and medicine together, you get an architect,” Rogers said.
But the rise of fascism forced the Rogers family to flee their comfortable life in Italy for an uncertain future in England.
England was a shock for young Rogers. According to a 1983 biography of Rogers by Bryan Appleyard, he floundered through the English public school system due to his dyslexia. With no hope of attending college immediately, Rogers traveled to Italy, did a stint in the army, spent his 18th birthday in an Italian prison (the charges were later dropped) and fell in love with an Austrian woman. But something was missing: Rogers returned to England and, after a few remedial courses at the Epson College of Art, entered the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.
“How can we be expected to make an architect out of a man who cannot make two lines meet?” one of Rogers’ tutors complained to Rogers’ parents, according to the biography.
Rogers said architecture school was a challenge, but by the fifth year, his work had progressed enough to win the class prize. With his wife Su Brumwell, a fellow architect, he came to Yale on a Fulbright scholarship in 1961 to pursue a master’s degree in architecture, he said.
There was another young British architect bound for Yale that year: Norman Foster. Born to a working-class family in Manchester, Foster left school at the age of 16. After serving in the Royal Air Force, he worked his way through the Manchester University School of Architecture and City Planning by selling ice cream and working as a movie theater bouncer. Rogers said he and Foster first met at a Fulbright Scholar meeting in London.
“We started talking and became close friends,” Rogers said.
Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, the current dean of the Yale School of Architecture, said he remembers the duo well from their days at Yale.
“When they were here, they were like a blazing comet, bringing incredible energy and ideas to the school,” Stern said. “They were insatiable to learn about America … They thought of us as a New World.”
The master’s program was an intensive one-year study under Yale’s top architects, Stern said. Rogers summarized the experience in a phrase oft-used by Yalies.
“The most important thing I learned was to work hard,” he said.
Both Rogers and Foster were interested in Archigram, Rogers said, which was a British architectural movement influenced by Pop Art and characterized by radically non-traditional designs in steel, plastic and other modern materials. Rogers said as students, he and Foster designed an Archigram-style building consisting of a series of spine-like laboratories extending from a parking garage for the then-undeveloped Science Hill.
“Their scheme was brilliant, all the items of Archigram, brutalism, futurism,” Stern said. “In that scheme, you can see [Roger’s] Center Pompidou in Paris.”
Vincent Scully, Sterling professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture and a former teacher of Foster and Rogers, said the two were exposed to a multitude of architectural styles while at Yale.
“Yale architecture prides itself on its pluralism,” Scully said. “It regards itself in central position. It is a humanistic view of architecture.”
In addition to the rigorous studies they tackled in the master’s program, Rogers said, he and Foster undertook another mission — seeing as many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the United States as possible. With Brumwell and Carl Abbot, another architecture student, they traveled the Eastern United States, as Foster said in a September London Guardian article, “by thumb, by car and by Greyhound bus” to see Wright’s buildings.
After graduation, Foster and Rogers set up a practice, known as Team 4, with Brumwell and Foster’s first wife Wendy Cheesman, Rogers said. From 1963 to 1967, Team 4 designed two notable buildings — a house for Brumwell’s parents and the Reliance Controls building in Switzerland.
Built into a hill on the Cornwall coast, the house is “a marriage of landscape and architecture,” Stern said. In the Reliance Controls Building, which was Team 4’s last project, shared entrances and cafeterias eliminated the physical division between management and workers.
After Team 4, Rogers and Foster went on to equally illustrious careers in architecture. Foster, who had worked in several American architectural firms in 1962, developed a corporate Modernism with stripped-down spaces in glass and steel. Working with Renzo Piano, Rogers designed the Pompidou Center in Paris in the 1970s. Rogers and Piano put the internal structure of the building on the outside, where color-coded pipes and a steel frame wind around the building. The Pompidou Center, which houses a modern art museum, brought Rogers international fame.
Foster won the Pritzker Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of architecture, in 1999, and both Foster and Rogers were named lords in the late 1990s. Rogers currently serves as an architectural adviser to the mayor of London on urban and rural development. He also taught an Advanced Design studio at Yale last spring.
“Students in my class were extremely bright, very intelligent,” Rogers said. “A number of very good architectural designs [were produced].”
Critics agree that the two architects’ firms, Richard Rogers Partnership and Foster and Partners, have independently reshaped the skyline of London and the modern architectural zeitgeist.
While Scully said he thinks his former students’ styles have diverged since their time at Yale, Rogers said he sees similarities between his and Foster’s styles.
“[My] approach is more structure related,” he said. “His has more skin and form. We both use steel and glass. We both continue the British tradition of 19th century railroad stations and the Crystal Palace. Our styles are more alike than dislike.”
The designs for the World Trade Center site will highlight the differences and similarities between Rogers’ and Foster’s styles. In 2005, Larry Silverstein, a commercial real estate developer who owns the site where the Twin Towers stood, commissioned Lords Foster and Rogers, along with Fumihiko Maki, a Japanese architect, to build three abutting skyscrapers, which will overlook the September 11th Memorial Garden and will border Ground Zero. Rogers said he was delighted to be working with Foster again.
Foster’s tower, 200 Greenwich St., is a collection of four glass towers around a central core. Rogers designed his tower, 175 Greenwich St., with load-sharing diamond-shaped bracing to allow for column-free corners and 360-degree panoramic views of New York City.
The three towers are scheduled for completion in 2011 and 2012.