Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners (RSHP) has paid tribute to Amo Kalsi, a long-standing director at the practice who played an influential role in Lloyd’s of London, the Millennium Dome and Heathrow Terminal 5.
Amarjit Kalsi, known as Amo to friends and colleagues, was an architect who enjoyed a distinguished 33-year career working with Richard Rogers. A rare talent, he became a director at Richard Rogers Partnership (RRP) in 1988 at the young age of 30, stepping down in 2011 to become a senior consultant. He died last month aged just 57.
Born in May 1957 in Nairobi, Kenya, Amo’s family moved to Britain when he was still a young boy, settling first in Forest Gate, East London and then later moving West across the capital. Amo attended the local State school in Plaistow where he demonstrated great passion and skill for technical drawing, a talent that singled him out amongst his peers and led to his enrolment at The Architectural Association (AA) in 1975. Having completed his Part 1 studies a year early, Amo’s exquisite drawing style caught the eye during a work placement at RRP under the guidance of Frank Peacock and John Young in the late 1970s, and having returned to his studies at The AA, he qualified with a diploma in 1981 and was offered a full-time role.
Over the course of more than three decades, Amo worked with Rogers and other key members of the practice on some of its most prestigious projects including the now grade I-listed Lloyd’s of London building in The City, the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, the European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg and the Stirling Prize-winning Barajas Airport in Madrid. At RRP, which became Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in 2007, Amo inspired awe and respect in generations of young architects, including current Partners Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour, proving to be an inspirational mentor who led by example and stirred the imagination of others. His guidance and creative mind will be forever evident at Heathrow Terminal 5 where his encouragement was not just restricted to his own practice but extended to every architect and engineer participating in the project.
He struck up a particularly successful partnership with desk-mate Ivan Harbour that would last some 27 years, together developing a lyrical architectural shorthand that has left its mark on cities across the Europe from London to Monte Carlo and Strasbourg to Bordeaux. Other notable projects included a series of bus shelters and street furniture for Adshel and Cemusa, and a design for a lighting system for the Italian company Reggiani. His most recent work included taking charge of two new subway stations in Naples, Italy: Capodichino at Naples Airport and Santa Maria Del Pianto, both designed as major transport hubs.
Amo possessed the all important ‘magic touch’
Aloof and confident, Amo possessed all the qualities of a great architect including the all important ‘magic touch’. His draughtsmanship was extraordinary, elevating technical drawing to an artform despite an unconventional habit of using only one thickness of ‘Rotring’ pen, which he argued lent clarity and simplicity to the representation. The result was always a thing of beauty that evoked feeling and imbued meaning as much as it informed. A man of few but always pertinent words, Amo had the ability to express the spirit of a building in a single sketch or drawing and even his signature, calligraphic and showman-like, encapsulated this coolness and command of architectural language and detail. His persistence with pen and parallel motion despite the rise and rise of computer-aided design has ensured a unique legacy of drawings as artworks that stand as testament to his enigmatic intellect and personality.
A romantic idealist at heart, Amo ‘the constant’ was never phased by the inevitable ups and downs of large scale architectural projects and his singular spirit, marked by an infectious enthusiasm for his work, permeated the studio. Unflappable, he always had a wry observation or commentary on the process, and was uniquely capable of offering both constructive critique and ingenious solutions to problems met along the way. As this reputation grew, Amo’s career saw him appointed as a judge for the 1998 RIBA Awards as jury chairman for the North and Yorkshire regions, and from the late 1990s onwards he appeared as a guest speaker at various events including the RIBA Architecture and Built Environment Lecture in Sheffield in 2008, the Corus Lecture in Liverpool in 2008 and annually at Pennsylvania University in the US.
Affable and fond of fine dining, Amo ‘the food snob’ was the one to ensure everyone enjoyed the very best Choucroute and Confit de Canard on work trips abroad. Back at base in London, the same foodie tendencies led him to determine where the practice ate out; be it the Haweli, the Lahori Karahi or elsewhere, there was only ever one restaurant of the moment good enough to be patronised by Amo and his dutiful followers.
Outside of his work, he was a keen supporter of the Indian Gymkhana cricket and football club in Osterley, West London, and always talked fondly and enthusiastically about his family. He is survived by his wife, Gurjeet, who he married in 1982, and by their four daughters.
Amarjit Kalsi, architect, was born on 30 May 1957. He died on 26 August 2014, aged 57.