The architect Richard Rogers was born in Florence in 1933 and studied at the Architectural Association, London, and Yale University. He was catapulted to fame in 1977 with the opening of the controversial Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, co-designed with Renzo Piano. Subsequent high-profile projects have included the Lloyds Building in the City of London, a steel and glass structure which famously placed its auxiliary systems – lifts, air conditioning and energy conduits – on the outside, making it one of the first "intelligent" buildings to be built in the capital.
This was followed by the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, which established his reputation as a master of the high-tech style. Recent projects include the Millennium Dome (inset, below), as well as large-scale planning projects such as the Thames Strategy and Shanghai's business district.
Lord Rogers' work has often been hugely – and riskily – innovative. The Lloyds Building drew flack for the fact that its high-tech elements broke down too often. And yet, the Espresso Machine, as it was known to many brokers, remains one of the country's most brilliant architectural creations.
Current projects include the National Assembly for Wales, Law Courts in Antwerp and a hotel and conference complex in Barcelona. He was knighted in 1991 and made a life peer in 1996.
What bearing did your early life in Italy have on your career?
Nicholas E Gough, Swindon
In fact I was brought up in England, but have family in Italy – my cousin Ernesto was a prominent architect, perhaps best known for the Torre Velasca in Milan. The architecture of the Renaissance, and of Brunelleschi in particular, has been an enduring influence. His work made me appreciate the importance of light. I grew up in a family environment devoted to the aesthetic of the Bauhaus movement. In addition, my mother was a skilful potter – this is the cultural context within which my own tastes were formed.
Were you proud of the Dome? What would you like it to become now?
Clive Bridges, by e-mail
I am proud of the design itself and particularly of the teamwork that went into creating the Dome. We handed over a vast structure on time and under budget – what people fail to realise is that the envelope itself was extraordinarily cheap – far more economical than your average B&Q-style shed. As to its future use, I would hope that it will continue to serve as a public building, perhaps as a sports or performance venue.
What would it take for you to come round to my ex-local authority flat in Bethnal Green to give it a facelift?
Cybil Manners, by e-mail
Last year during Architecture Week we took part in a scheme called Architect in the House where several members of my staff offered their services and ideas for house extensions to members of the public for a nominal £15 fee which was donated to Shelter.
The chance to do individual houses is always a rarity but there are two of which I am particularly fond. One is my parents-in-laws' house Creek Vean in Feock, Cornwall, which I designed with Norman Foster and completed in 1967. The other is my parents' own house in Wimbledon, which I completed in 1969.
Which buildings, from any period, are the gems that you regard as either benchmarks or agents provocateurs that have driven you to your best work?
C W Monger, Littlehampton
Chareau's Maison de Verre in Paris has had a huge impact on me. It is surely one of the most extra-ordinary houses in the world – a technological leap in the dark. The walls were entirely structured from translucent glass lenses. External steel ladders doubled as lighting gantries which provided illumination from outside. Inside the house a breathtakingly thorough exploitation of mass-produced materials with mobile book racks and storage systems, five different types of skeletal stair case, pivoting closets and service ducts to free the walls of wires and pipes. The house was divided with mobile screens and closing sheets of glass at the bottom of the staircases. Everything in it was mobile. Another source of inspiration was the elegant and immensely flexible concept of the Case Study houses in California. The rational machine-made aesthetic of houses by architects including Pierre Koenig and Charles and Ray Eames offered an approach to fast- track construction by using mass-made components.
Why do you employ so many left-handed architects?
K Mervin, Cardiff
RRP (Richard Rogers Partnership) is an equal opportunities employer – selection of talented architects is not dependent on whether they are right- or left-handed. Being ambi-dextrous would be an advantage though, given our current workload.
Why the limited colour palette of blue and yellow in so many of your buildings?
Simon Mundy, London
If you look at the Beaubourg Centre, I'm not sure you could accuse us of a limited palette. In fact the RRP palette has always celebrated the use of primary colours as a means of coding the various functions of a building. Our new office development at Wood Street uses a wonderful canary yellow to identify the structure of the otherwise transparent circ-ulation towers, whilst ventilation funnels are highlighted in bright red and blue. The newly completed Designer Retail Outlet Centre at Ashford is a tented structure supported by vivid orange masts, while the services on our new building in Soho – Broadwick House – are painted in the trademark RRP livery – bright red and blue.
Isn't the tall buildings debate rather simplistic? Tall buildings are spoken of as singularities. But aren't they like eucalyptus: plant one in the wrong place and it will suck the ground around it dry?
Roger Shindler, London
It's true, the debate has been overly simplistic. The whole point is to identify key areas – typically transport hubs – that, due to their existing density, can sustain high-rise development. I feel that well-designed high-rise structures should be welcomed – especially in London where urban sprawl is threatening to engulf what little countryside remains in the South-east.
As far as I'm aware, the design for the Dome was a project from your unbuilt proposals, ie an old idea from the back catalogue (it appears in a couple projects for the Docklands). Why did your practice simply look to its own past to produce a building with such a keen eye to the future?
G Rasmussen, by e-mail
That's actually untrue – the Dome's design was entirely influenced by the need for a single and wholly flexible space. The brief called for an envelope that could house a series of exhibitions where the content at that stage remained unknown. The idea was to create a big top – a space that engendered a feeling of public pageant – in every respect the scheme differs wholly from our proposals for the Royal Docks. Other than geographical proximity I fail to see a connection.
What do you think of the Foster Reichstag in Berlin?
Maya Morrow, Hull
Norman's reworking of the old building is a triumph – the transparent cupola floating above the central chamber below is a stroke of genius – allowing light to flood into the centre of the building. Also the fact that the people can look down into the chamber is an important gesture towards public participation in Germany's political process. From that point of view, The scheme has huge symbolic importance.
Are you envious of any one particular building by a living architect? If so, which one?
Gareth Tomlinson, Hull
I've always loved the Sydney Opera House – a radical building with enormous flair.
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