Any colour as long as it's red

He's one of the most respected – and recognisable – figures in architecture. But what inspired Mike Davies' curious obsession?

When the Lloyd's of London building celebrated its 25th anniversary this week, the architect to whom its groundbreaking design is ascribed was there to mark the occasion.

But as Lord Rogers rode one of the famous glass lifts that rise outside its 14 floors, he was briefly upstaged by his business partner, Mike Davies – or, more precisely, by his outfit. Rogers has a taste for lime green or magenta shirts, but Davies's personal style choices are more radical: he wears red, and only red. His shirts are red. His suits are red. His shoes are red. His belt, his watch, his mobile phone holster, even the elastic band he uses to tie his ponytail: all red.

He sketches his designs in red ink, with a red pen. He drives a 17-year-old red Jaguar, with customised red leather interior. An accomplished amateur astronomer, he owns more than 20 red telescopes. "I remember walking around Lloyd's when we were designing the building," he says, "and I must have cost them 20 or 30 grand every time I came through the office, because they all stopped trading to look at me! In fact, I was in the same outfit as they were: I had polished leather shoes, suit, tie, shirt. The only difference was 4,000 angstroms in the colour spectrum."

As a young man, Davies preferred purple, but when he joined Rogers to work on the design for the Pompidou Centre in Paris, he learned that it was the colour code for the Parisian gay community. His bottom was pinched on the Metro one too many times, so he switched. "It's simple," he says of his single-colour philosophy. "The complications of dress code, of matching everything in the morning, disappear completely." If he were to switch again, he would choose yellow. "But if I changed now, it would break me financially."

He may be an extreme case, but Davies is not the only architect with an idiosyncratic approach to fashion. Frank Lloyd Wright always sported a cape. Sir James Stirling, after whom the annual architecture prize is named, wore blue shirts, purple socks and Hush Puppies. Daniel Libeskind is never without his cowboy boots.

Davies was born in Wales, and decided to be an architect after seeing the Skylon at the Festival of Britain in 1951, when he was nine. He studied with Rogers at the Architectural Association in London during the 1960s. He recalls: "The last thing anyone wanted to design was a building. We were all into loose-fit, gypsy living."

Accordingly, he moved to California at the height of the hippie movement. An early convert to alternative energy, he built wind turbines and solar collectors when they were avant-garde. He co-founded Chrysalis, a multi-disciplinary practice dedicated to building lightweight structures, such as the Pepsi-Cola pavilion at Expo '70, which was then the biggest inflated mirror-dome in the world. He also ran a "video van" in the tough Watts district of LA. "We were teaching black kids to use video," he says, "which was almost unheard of."

After returning to Europe to work on the Pompidou Centre, in 1977 he helped to establish the Richard Rogers Partnership. Design expert Stephen Bayley says: "The four original partners were brilliantly complementary: Rogers, the suave, cosmopolitan frontman; Marco Goldschmied, who did the money; John Young, who was bonkers about detail and precision. Then there was Mike, who brought the Sixties California New Ageism; Mike was the visionary."

Davies was project director on two of the firm's most high-profile endeavours, Heathrow Terminal Five and the Millennium Dome. Like the Lloyd's building, both were controversial, but are now beloved. Davies says he's looking forward to watching international tennis at the O2, as the Dome is now known, next week. The practice was recently given planning approval to construct a "skywalk" over the top of the structure. "What drives the thinking on almost all our projects is flexibility, growth and change," Davies says. "Inherent flexibility is part of the formula. As Richard says, you could turn Lloyd's into a fishmarket without any problem."

The firm – now called Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners – is again working in Paris, on two grand-scale urban design projects. Rogers and Davies are the only remaining original partners, though they share responsibility with a further eight directors. The founding principles of teamwork remain intact. "Every Monday morning," says Davies, "we get together and work as a group, so that all the talents of the different directors are brought to bear."

The same mindset applies to Davies's red fixation. "I don't impose it on anybody else," he says. "Only on myself. It's a liberal, not a fascist decision. I don't have a red house and a red wife." His wife, as it happens, is a performance artist, and he also paints and sculpts. "I've become an art object," he says. "Wearing red challenges orthodoxies: our firm has never been orthodox, so it's in the spirit of what we do."

Status Symbol: How to wear it

From the cassocks of Catholic cardinals to the cape of Superman, red epitomises power. Put simply, it commands respect.

And, unlike other bold colours, it retains a sense of flamboyance, which goes some way to explaining why it proves popular with designers. At the autumn/winter menswear shows Raf Simons' red smock coat was nothing if not theatrical, while the red tailored suits at Dolce & Gabbana proved a master class in how to impress.

What about the rest of us who don't have the nerve to dress like Santa Claus? When adding colour to our daily wardrobe, the devil is in the detail. Stick to grey flannel suits but add a splash of red with a tie or a pocket square. Approach red jackets with trepidation, unless, of course, you're applying for a job at Butlins.

Lee Holmes

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

    £19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future