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Mexican wave

people

Ricardo Legoretta has designed his first building in Europe - Zandra Rhodes' Fashion and Textile Museum - but low-cost housing is first on his list of concerns

Ricardo Legoretta, world-famous architect and designer of Zandra Rhodes' new Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, south London, is, before anything else, a delightful, humane man.

But he has deeply felt concerns. He worries about architecture's 'globalisation' and loss of local character; about architects neglecting low-cost housing; and about architects not doing enough about the 'amazing' amount of buildings that go up without their involvement: 'We all look for a doctor to cure us when we are ill - why do developers not turn to the architects? It's our fault.'

A lean, young-looking 72, Legoretta was born in Mexico City, the 'miracle' of a place where he still lives and works. Over here, he counts people like Lords Foster and Rogers as friends (he is due to have dinner with Ruth Rogers on the day we meet, though Richard is away in Italy). Through his work, he has picked up major prizes, including the UIA Gold Medal in 1999 for buildings such as the Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City, the Renault Factory in Torreon and the Main Library of San Antonio in Texas, many of them characterised by a bold use of colour, light and texture.

The Fashion Museum is his latest, and first work in Europe. 'It was a wonderful experience, ' he says. 'I went to see Zandra in California, we got together, felt good communications and so started work that way.

You need that kind of chemistry. If there is no chemistry, it doesn't work.'

Legoretta admires his client's 'great talent and very special sensitivity to architecture'.

She heeded 'function' and appreciated the sequences of spaces - a rare thing in his experience. Neither did she ask for alternatives: 'That's very difficult as an architect.

She just said, 'Let's go with it!'' The building lies 'like a little accident in a street' about 100 yards from Tower Bridge.

Legoretta incorporated Rhodes' textile designs into the side doors, and the scheme includes rooftop duplex flats with terrace views - Rhodes herself lives in-house.

But its most obvious feature is colour - mostly orange, and pink. This was not an intellectual pursuit, but purely emotional.

'Colour in my work is one of the results of spaces, emotions. It's a change of mood, ' says Legoretta.

But, surprisingly, he feels that the British are daring in this regard: 'You are really open-minded, much more than any other country - you like to experiment.' He tells a story of a student he met when he was designing a Chicago dorm, who happily reported that he would be amenable to getting some colour in the place. 'Yes', he said, 'I can take some greys.'

Colour is one thing, but architects forget function at their peril. 'Sometimes I don't think we are designing for the uses.We choose designs for our ego, or point of view, ' he says, adding that spaces must be 'human', and be places 'in which people feel and are happy'.

He talks proudly of the inspirations of Mexico - the pre-Colombian heritage, 'not only ample spaces but also the ruins' - and the Spanish and Islamic cultures. These 'bring all kinds of surprises, ' he says. 'You go to find a small door on to a huge courtyard or vice versa, and that has influenced me very much. I love to create very different proportions of rooms.' Vernacular has taught him 'freedom'.

'I've been criticised for it, but I also compare a building with a woman', he says. 'You have to keep discovering. A woman should be intelligent enough, if you want to call it that way, to keep you interested over the years. I think a building should be the same.

A building should hold for you hundreds of emotions - at different times of the day, at night, at certain times of the year.'

Neither of his friends, Foster and Rogers, fall down in another area of concern - the use of technology for technology's sake. 'I have nothing against it - it's an incredible tool, ' says Legoretta, 'but that's what it is, a tool. It's not the objective of architecture.'

With this in mind, he aims to see Swiss Re and the GLA, and raves about Rogers' 88 Wood Street for the way the elevators work, the way the floors can be used - a 'very beautiful building', which stirs up 'different emotions'.

'To me, that's the secret of architecture', he adds. 'It really represents a certain culture.

Sometimes I feel a bit uneasy about the globalisation of architecture. I wouldn't like to come to London to see the same things I see in Mexico. There's been that kind of tendency that everything should be the same.'

Yet the world scene still excites him: Portugal, where he sees 'uniform quality' thanks to a movement led by Siza; Spain, with Moneo forging a similar spate of 'very, very good buildings'; Japan, with driving forces Maki and Ando; the 'special case' of Finland;

and Brazil, where architects are responding to a 'marvellous country' of great scale with 'wild' and 'crazy' work. Further back, Legoretta's work is informed by Louis Kahn ('he has influenced all of us substantially'), Mies and Corb.

The biggest problem today, though, is low-cost housing. When Legoretta accepted his Gold Medal, he was asked what he would like to do next, and replied that this was the sector most in need. No one called from the US, or from Mexico. But Madrid's minister of housing did, and Legoretta has started work there.

The practice Legoretta runs with his 34year-old son, Victor, is also working on a hotel in Bilbao, near the Guggenheim.

Legoretta junior, one of six children - three girls, three boys - is learning from his father, though Legoretta himself is still '150 per cent active', and there is an unwritten rule that unless they agree on an issue, it's not developed. In this way, the succession is secure: 'I am proud to say that I have succeeded in moving from being a father to becoming a friend.'

This, and his work, have given Legoretta a 'wonderful life', but Mammon plays little part. 'I'm convinced that you have to start from the basis that architecture is not a good business, ' he says with another smile, before adding, 'satisfaction comes from other things.'

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