Interview with Richard Rogers, the British architect who revolutionized the way buildings and cities were built.
Richard Rogers is a myth, a sacred cow of architecture. But above all, and despite his splendid 84 years, this Briton born in Florence is a revolutionary.
He already turned the world of architecture upside down when 40 years ago, being perfect strangers, he and Renzo Piano won the international competition to build the Georges Pompidou art center in the heart of Paris with an absolutely radical and innovative project, which ended imposed on the other 700 that were presented.
“A place for people, of all ages, all creeds, rich and poor,” underlined in its very first paragraph the proposal presented by Piano and Rogers.
Rogers, who in 2007 won the prestigious Pritzker Prize (a kind of Nobel in architecture), continues to keep those same principles alive, only now he is also wiser, more well versed.
In this conversation at the Hay Festival Segovia, he reflects on what architecture is for him.
People go to the cities to work and to find other people, for the pleasure of being with other people. And they will be more and more powerful, because more and more people move to the cities, so they will get bigger and bigger.
And how can one give a human dimension to these megacities?
It is not so much about stopping building skyscrapers, building up, but the key is in public spaces. And, of course, in the relationship between buildings and public spaces.
I love cities like New York, full of skyscrapers. Cities cannot give up expanding, above all.
The important thing is that this goes hand in hand with the creation of public spaces that allow a peaceful meeting between people, so that people do not have to sit down and talk on the steps of their house because they have no other place to do so, to create places, Let parks be made, trees be planted.
I believe, for example, that each person should have the right to see a tree from their home.
But why do cities attract more and more people? Today, with the internet, you can live in an isolated place and be in touch with the entire world through the web …
That is what we all thought when we entered the digital era: that, thanks to the internet allowing us a global connection, we could do without face-to-face contact, that from the top of a mountain a person would connect with another who lives in another Mountain and that digital contact would be enough.
But no, we are wrong: people want to be in physical contact with other people, to be able to speak them by looking them in the eye. And that is why cities are going to grow more and more.
And what are the main challenges that cities will have to face?
There are several problems. The first is that of inequality: 10% of the population has as much wealth as the remaining 90%. That in the cities is manifested in a handful of people who live in elegant neighborhoods, in conditions of absolute luxury, while the slums grow. That is something inadmissible with what we have to end, we must achieve more equality.
The second major problem of cities is climate change. Cities, being larger and larger, will need more and more energy, and we must find a way to produce it that is as respectful as possible to the environment, because climate change is a very serious threat.
In that sense, I bet on solar energy, which I think in the coming years will have a great development. It is a clean energy, it is the answer.
And, speaking of energy, here is another argument to defend skyscrapers: they consume less energy than horizontal constructions. Office skyscrapers are more energy efficient, so I don’t see anything wrong with them continuing to rise, as long as, as I said before, public spaces are taken into account.
And another challenge is that of transport. In cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, 50% of people already go to work by bicycle or walking. That is fantastic, but we also have to provide cities with a good metro and tram network.
You argue that one of the main objectives of cities should be to reduce social inequality, a statement with a strong political burden. Does the architecture have a political dimension?
Architecture is politics, doing architecture is making politics. Many of the orders we receive from architects come from governments and are public works, and that is political.
But, what is even more important, is that the work of architects has effects on society, and that gives our work a very important social and therefore political dimension.
I do not think that at this point anyone is able to doubt that living in a slum of favelas, in an area of high population density with poor infrastructure and poor quality hovels, bewitches, while living in a developed neighborhood, which You can build at low cost, it is something that humanizes.
So, indeed, architecture is very political, it has a deeply social component. In that sense, I think it is very important that architects do not work alone but in groups, in teams that also have engineers, sociologists, politicians …
And, on the other hand, it seems to me that all of us as citizens have a political dimension, not only the architects, but also the bakers, fruit orchards, those who repair cars … All.
In the exhibition dedicated to him by the Royal Academy of Arts in London, an oath could be read on a wall that the ancient Greeks who lived in Athens had to pronounce: “You must leave this prettier city on how you find it.” Is that what you mean?
Yes. That oath is a wonderful thing. And it is a commitment that we should all have as citizens.
Is taking care of the city the responsibility of all citizens?
Absolutely. And it doesn’t matter what you do. Everyone, from the baker to the mayor, is responsible for our city.
In recent years, architects have become superstars … Do you feel comfortable with that status?
I hate the word star, as much as I hate the word high-tech. Throughout history what has been is great architects whose work has been recognized.
I was born in Florence, a city where great architects worked. There are and have been good and bad architects, as in any profession. And I don’t think it’s bad that good professionals are recognized.
Another reason why it is important for architects to work as a team is that: it allows reducing damage.
We are in the Spanish city of Segovia, surrounded by churches that are centuries old. However, several buildings recently erected by renowned architects already have conservation problems …
That is bad architecture, bad construction. But we don’t have to obsess with the buildings last forever. There are different programs, different lines that can be followed.
If, for example, it is about giving a home to 25% of the world’s population that does not have a home, I believe that the construction of provisional housing is fully justified, I think it is more important to give those people a roof right now that what you build will be for history and posterity.
What I think is that the buildings must be built well, whatever they are regardless of whether they get up thinking about lasting in time or if they are temporary, even if it is a tent it has to be well done, as there has to be a town hall building.
You are an architect, but do you also consider yourself an urbanist? Do you think that architects should also have vision of urban planners?
Yes. Architects have a responsibility both with whom we are in charge of the construction of a building and with whom it will live or work in that building.
Of course, one has to take responsibility for the client, because otherwise it would not work. But, of course, also with whom he will use that building, with whom he simply passes by and sees it and with the city itself.
Can architecture make people happy?
I am convinced of that, architecture can make people happy. Right now I feel very happy talking here with you in this beautiful corner, next to a tree, sitting on this pleasant bench, in this magnificent city. That is something that makes me happy.
This article is part of the digital version of the Hay Festival Segovia, a meeting of writers and thinkers that took place in that Spanish city between September 22 and 24.
By: Irene Hernández Velasco