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Norman Foster pays tribute to ‘truly exceptional’ Richard Horden

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Norman Foster remembers working with micro-architecture pioneer Richard Horden, who died earlier this month aged 73

I remember when Richard joined the office in 1975. He was a wide-eyed young architect, eager to make his mark in the world. He had already been afforded the opportunity to design a house for his parents in Poole – an elegant pavilion of glass and steel set within the landscape. I was struck by its parallels with the California Case Study Houses and suggested he visit California to see them first hand.

While working on several of the practice’s early projects, I was impressed by Richard’s tenacity and can-do spirit, always eager to learn. Working as part of a team of architects and engineers, he developed an innate understanding of integrated design – a theme that runs through his entire career.

Richard Horden's Wildwood on Western Avenue in Poole, Dorset

Richard Horden’s Wildwood on Western Avenue in Poole, Dorset

Source: John Donat / RIBA Collections

Richard Horden’s Wildwood on Western Avenue in Poole, Dorset - a house he designed for his parents

In fact, I was extremely humbled to learn that he once remarked: ‘The AA was not my schooling. My schooling was Foster Associates.’

Richard had a passion for flight, the influence of which can be seen in his work on projects such as the Ski Haus and the Astronaut Workstation on the International Space Station.

Ski haus at riba (1)

Ski haus at riba (1)

Richard Horden’s Ski Haus at the RIBA

He was inspired by the economy of space in aeroplanes and the way the interiors were spaces carved out from inside a metal tube.

It was this obsession with doing more with less that led him to develop his approach to what he called ‘micro-architecture’. Richard and his students at the Technical University of Munich devoted many hours of research to the efficiency of space and materials, ultimately resulting in the ‘m-ch Micro Compact home’. For him, it was not about the size but about a ‘focus on the product being more refined and intense in the experience it delivers’.

Micro compact home hcl

Micro compact home hcl

The Micro Compact Home

Last month, I wrote to Richard to remind him of the influence of a hospital unit at St Marks that he designed for the Sainsbury Foundation. I spent time in his project recovering from a cancer operation and it made a deep and positive impression on me.

It was uplifting to know that my recovery was undoubtedly helped by Richard’s design. I wanted him to know that it was an influence for positive good beyond St Marks because its lessons, freely acknowledged, were now helping to transform healthcare in the United States.

Richard was a keen sailor for most of his life, with an intuitive ability to combine different materials to create the most minimal structures, reflecting the elegance and functionality of a sailboat. Apart from being an extremely talented designer, his charming personality, genial nature and courage and optimism in the face of his diagnosis marked him out as a truly exceptional man.

He will be greatly missed by us all.


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