Picture the scene. Vittorio Radice, the dapper chief executive of Selfridges, is driving along on his way to what he proudly calls Oxford Street's 'cathedral of shopping' from Belsize Lane. He cruises past Lord's cricket ground, but can hardly keep his eyes on the road. Because Radice is immediately taken with a new building he spots, then under construction - the feted NatWest Media Centre.
'There was this thing, this mushroom coming up, 'he says. In the spirit of retail, he wanted one, or at least yearned to work with the architects who were building it. 'Not only was I impressed by Future Systems' work but by their personalities.
They're very, very interesting people - curious, and wanting to know about how our business is coming together.'
And so it came to pass that Amanda Levete, Jan Kaplicky et al found themselves being commissioned to design Selfridges' new, curvaceous, disc-clad department store in Birmingham. Just like a shopper choosing a Gucci shoe, he says, Radice believes he could instinctively see that Future Systems would provide him with the kind of 'strong statement'he wants to enliven Birmingham's Bull Ring.
'With Birmingham we wanted to create something which is different in shape and materials and proportion, 'he says.'I'm looking for a very strong point of view. People are using their instincts less and less and instead it should be more and more. Otherwise the outcome will be a very flat environment.'
Italian-born Radice was exposed to design from his early days. His father owned two 'massmarket' furniture stores and the young Vittorio realised quickly after studying farming, of all things, that it was not, pardon the pun, his field.So he joined the American-owned Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC) in Milan, a city where he was surrounded by a design community embracing fashion, product design and architecture. In 1991, having risen to become head of worldwide sourcing in home furnishings at AMC, he went to Habitat in the UK.Radice moved from buy ing director to managing director. Later, in 1996, another headhunter poached him to join Selfridges, as managing director.
The brief he gave to Future Systems for Birmingham was to do a little of a Bilbao (Radice marvels at the proof of markedly increased flights to the Basque city, post-Gehry) in terms of rejuvenating the 'depressed' area. 'We're going to change the habits of millions of people and convince them that the new shopping centre and Selfridges are worth a visit to the centre of Birmingham, ' he boasts.