Rogers, was nominated by more than 500 architects to receive the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession award next week
Sitting in his office under the clamour of the canteen at lunchtime, I asked Richard Rogers about the tension between architecture as a social profession, and the commercial business of architecture.
I often meet architects who seem torn between the two - the desire to serve society and the need to make money. It’s not uncommon to meet guilt-ridden architects who shamefacedly apologise for successful commercial projects while speaking enthusiastically about housing, schools, cultural or hospital work.
Rogers, who turns 80 this summer, and who was nominated by more than 500 architects to receive the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession award next week, is the kind of elder statesman who can help architects grapple with these questions.
‘We had a mission, and that has gone,’ Rogers said. ‘Making money has become much more important.
‘That has driven a wedge between those who still have a social responsibility, and others who go with the flow and think: as long as I’m making money and it pays well, I’m going to do it.’
Rogers admitted that it’s not always easy to navigate through issues of social responsibility in architecture.
‘You have to run a business,’ he said, but he added that social and commercial practice are not a contradiction. ‘I have created my own society here.’
His practice has a constitution, and is structured as a charitable trust. Rogers said: ‘Our constitution states certain things like, “we will not get involved in military buildings”. But we have not said that we will only do affordable housing. There must be questions about airports - I keep defending our involvement in airports by saying the problem is not the gas station, there should be a carbon tax.
‘And, in a sense, the problem is not luxury housing, there should be less disparity between the poor and the rich. We as architects can do very little about it but, as citizens, we have a responsibility. Everybody plays a little part.’ Each practice must find its own way through the social conundrum. Rogers’ way is, when working on luxury flats or city towers, to find a generosity in the project - something to give back, such as public space or an addition to the fabric of the city.
It can be discouraging when these are later stripped out, Rogers admits, as with the public ground floor at the Lloyd’s building, but that doesn’t stop him from trying again. It will be a stronger profession that can resolve its social roots with life in contemporary practice.
Happy birthday, Ian Martin!
Our treasured AJ stalwart Ian Martin turned 60 this week. Most of you will now know that Martin is more than just a long-running columnist for the AJ - he was a lead writer for hit comedy The Thick of It, and current HBO series VEEP.
We’re not the only one celebrating his birthday this week - Martin was on the front page of The Guardian’s G2, which featured his 60 thoughts on turning 60. His first thought: ‘People who “hate getting old” are idiots. Every year is a privilege. Let me tell you, callow miserabilists: getting to 60 feels like a triumph. I have no idea how I made it this far, but I am very grateful.’
Here’s to many more years in the recliner. Cheers, Ian.