Perhaps most famous for designing the Lloyds of London building, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and the Millennium Dome, Richard Rogers is known for his modernist approach.
One of his trademarks was to make the structure of a building clearly visible on the outside and this often included pipework, lifts, and vents.
The term `high-tech architecture’ is often applied to Rogers, who designed a host of iconic buildings in British cities and around the world in this style.
He was awarded many honours over the course of his illustrious career and has had a major influence on modern architecture.
Let’s find out more about this ground-breaking architect, who died aged 88 in 2021, and look at some of his best designs.
Life and career key points
Richard George Rogers was born in Florence in 1933. His father, William Nino Rogers, was the son of an English dentist who settled in Italy, and his Italian mother was born in Trieste. One of his father’s cousins, Ernesto Rogers, was a leading Italian architect, and his mother encouraged Rogers’ interest in the visual arts.
As war approached, the Rogers family moved to England in 1939 where Richard attended school, but he struggled due to dyslexia. His interest in architecture was sparked at the time of the Festival of Britain in 1951, where modern architecture was exhibited and some temporary buildings in London caught his imagination.
However, National Service intervened for two years between 1951-53, when Rogers spent some time in Trieste learning from his cousin Ernesto. This led to his decision to attend the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where Rogers studied for a diploma from 1954-59.
Marriage and early career
In 1960 Richard Rogers married Su Brumwell and in 1961 the couple went to America to study at Yale on a Fulbright Scholarship. Rogers pursued a master’s degree in architecture, graduating in 1962, and his wife studied urban planning. Rogers was taught at Yale by Paul Rudolph and one of his fellow students was the architect, Norman Foster. Rogers became interested in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and with his wife and Foster, visited many of Wright’s buildings. After Yale, he secured a job at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York. On returning to the UK, Rogers, his wife, Foster and Wendy Cheesman formed their own architectural practice, called Team 4.
When this alliance broke up, Rogers and Foster each set up their own firms in 1967. Between 1967-69 notable commissions included Spender House and a house for Rogers’ parents in Wimbledon, both prototypes for a style of portable housing he called the Zip-Up House. Structurally simple, using prefabricated elements, the house known as Parkside Wimbledon was aimed at changing the way houses were built. While it didn’t achieve this ambition, the style continued to influence his later work; the house was awarded a grade II* listing in 2013.
New business partnerships
In 1971 Richard Rogers took on a new partner, Renzo Piano, and the practice became Piano + Rogers, which won the commission to design the Pompidou Centre in Paris in the same year. This project took six years and gave the practice a worldwide audience. Rogers separated from Piano in 1977, and set up another practice, Richard Rogers Partnership, renamed Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in 2007. Its first commission was The Lloyd’s of London building, which established him as an important figure in the world of architecture.
Rogers later married the former Ruth Elias and they had two sons. He had three sons from his first marriage. In 2012 he was one of the cultural icons chosen by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear on The Beatles’ `Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album cover, and in 2015 he was named one of the 50 best-dressed British men by GQ magazine.
Richard Rogers was interested in the changing needs of cities and urban regeneration. His vision was that cities of the future should not be `zoned’ into areas of separate activity; he believed that places for shopping, living, working, learning, and leisure should overlap to create sustainable cities linked by public transport.
As with many radical architects, Rogers’ high-tech approach has split opinions and attracted critics. The functionality of some of his buildings has been called into question, for instance, the Lloyds Building with its service pipes on the exterior, led to high maintenance costs due to weather damage.
He was criticised for advocating equality in building design while his practice designed some of the most luxurious apartment schemes ever built, such as One Hyde Park and Neo Bankside. Richard Rogers was a great influence on public policy, however, his belief in urban regeneration sometimes took place at the cost of existing communities.
Richard Rogers was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1991 and was created Baron Rogers of Riverside in 1996. He sat as a Labour peer in the House of Lords.
Lord Rogers was the first architect to be invited to give the annual BBC Reith Lectures in 1995 – the five talks, titled `Sustainable City’, were adapted into the book `Cities for a Small Planet.’ He talked about the threats of growing populations, diminishing resources, and environmental crises, and his belief that cities present an opportunity to improve the situation.
In 1998 Richard Rogers was appointed to chair the UK government’s Urban Task Force. From 2001-08 he was chief advisor on architecture and urbanism to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone who wanted to improve the safety and beauty of UK cities. In 2008, the new mayor, Boris Johnson, asked him to continue this role. He was also chair of the Greater London Authority’s Design for London Advisory Group.
In 2006, his practice was chosen as the architect of Tower 3 of the new World Trade Centre in New York, replacing the building destroyed in the September 11 attacks.
He also served as chairman of the Tate Gallery and deputy chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Rogers retired from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in 2020.
Lord Rogers changed the face of urban architecture in Britain and around the world perhaps more than any architect of his time.
Richard Rogers’ honours:
- The Praemium Imperiale in 2000
- The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal in 1999
- The Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize from the American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters in 1989
- The RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture in 1985
- The RIBA Stirling Prize (his practice won this award twice)
- The Minerva Medal
- The Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate 2007
- The Gold Medal for Architecture at the National Eisteddfod of Wales 2006, for his work on the Welsh parliament Senedd building
- He was honoured by France, as a Chevalier, L’Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur, later as an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1995
Here are 8 famous buildings designed by Richard Rogers
One of the most controversial projects carried out by his practice along with Buro Happold, the dome, officially called The O2, was completed in 1999. It was criticised for its cost – £43 million – and ridiculed for the contents of the exhibition it contained: the Millennium Experience. However, in later years it’s become a hugely successful performance venue. The design challenge was how to enclose as much space as possible given the site’s limitations on the Greenwich peninsula on the banks of the Thames in southeast London. The result saw 12 masts, each 100m tall, supporting a 50-metre polytetrafluoroethylene roof over an interior floor area of 861,000 square feet.
Centre Georges Pompidou
This building, designed in collaboration with Renzo Piano, firmly put Rogers on the map as a prominent modern architect. Designed to be a modular and flexible art centre, its colourful pipework façade marks the Centre Pompidou out as a striking feature of Parisian cultural life. It demonstrates his `inside-out’ style of architecture; exposing the steel structure and mechanical services on the exterior allowed for vast open spaces inside.
Lloyd’s of London Building
Rogers used ideas he learned from working on the Centre Pompidou to create this iconic piece of 1980s architecture, with its air circulation tubes on the outside to free up space inside. The 14-storey office block in central London was built around a central atrium and stairs, lifts, and toilet pods were also positioned on the outside. Lloyds wanted the building to be adaptable into the future and the open spaces created by having services on the outside helped achieve this. The Lloyd’s building is now grade I listed.
This building overlooking Cardiff Bay was designed to symbolise the new Welsh parliament’s ideals of openness and transparency and houses the Senedd’s debating chamber and committee rooms. Designed by Rogers and Ivan Harbour and opened on St David’s Day 2006, it has a 100-year design life and was built from hard-wearing materials such as Welsh slate, red cedar wood, steel, and concrete. It involves a wooden parasol over an open plaza, with thin columns supporting the roof which covers an 80-seat chamber inside a timber funnel that allows people to look down and see the government at work. Its sustainability credentials include a biomass boiler, a ground source heat pump, and a roof that collects rainwater to service the building.
The Leadenhall Building
One of central London’s iconic buildings, this 224m high skyscraper with its distinctive wedge shape is nicknamed `the cheese grater’. The Leadenhall Building is an imposing structure that stands on 30m legs, creating a public square beneath. In typical Rogers’ style, it has services and lifts on the exterior, and it tilts to one side to ensure that it doesn’t obstruct a protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The New Area Terminal 4 building won Rogers’ practice the Stirling Prize for the first time. It has an undulating, bamboo-clad roof, supported by brightly coloured central columns which mark different sections of the airport.
Heathrow Terminal 5
Rogers demonstrates his trademark skill in creating vast clear spaces at London’s Heathrow airport. This 396m long by 176m wide column-free area has freestanding structures which create departure and arrivals areas, check-in spaces, etc., which can be dismantled and reassembled as the building’s requirements change.
With its bright orange exterior, Maggie’s Centre at Charing Cross Hospital, Hammersmith in London, was designed to be an uplifting and welcoming place for cancer patients. Created for the cancer care charity Maggie’s, it won Rogers’ practice its second Stirling Prize.