"We have a responsibility to society"
says Richard Rogers


News: on the eve of a major exhibition about his life, architect Richard Rogers has spoken of how architecture's civic responsibility has been eroded in "an age of greed". Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.

"In my generation the idea was you'd build for the future," Rogers told Dezeen. "We'd just had a horrible war and there was this very strong feeling that the state could be enriched by the way we played out our abilities."

He added: "This has gone. It's much more an age of greed. It's much more about dog eat dog and the acceptance that it doesn't matter what you earn, you have no duty to society."

Rogers, founder of architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, spoke to Dezeen as final preparations were underway for Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out, which opens to the public at the Royal Academy in London on Thursday 18 July.

"The real title  [of the exhibition] is Ethos," said Rogers, who celebrates his 80th birthday this month. "The idea is that we have a responsibility to society. That gives us a role as architects not just to the client but also to the passer-by and society as a whole."

The exhibition at the RA will explore the ideas and philosophies behind Rogers' work, exploring his social, political and cultural influences as well as the influence he has had on those spheres over a career spanning 50 years.

"On one wall [of the exhibition] it will say 'a place for all people, all ages, all creeds, the rich and the poor'," Rogers explains. "That was actually the first paragraph I wrote with Renzo [Piano] when we entered the Pompidou competition but it also explains the heart of the exhibition. That gave us the way of handling the Pompidou, not just as a building but as a place - which I'm much more interested in."

Rogers and Piano, then relatively unknown, entered the competition to design the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris against 700 other entrants with a design for a radical, flexible building with its service ducts on the outside and a large public square in front of it.  The building made both their reputations when it was completed in 1977.

Rogers continues: "On another wall there will be the Hellenic oath which states 'I will leave this city more beautiful than I entered it'. It was an oath that all citizens made and I would like to think it's an oath we are all required to make."

Rogers described how the social ethos of his generation led most of his contemporaries to spend time working on public projects. "I was at the Architectural Association in the 50s and then I went to Yale," Rogers said. "Everyone I was at school with went on to work for schools departments, hospital departments, housing departments, the local county council and so on. I worked on schools. I'd say 90% of students who were at the AA with me went on to work [in the public sector]."

However he added that, in some senses, there are greater opportunities for architects today. "Britain now has very good modern architects. You could argue that no nation has better. Political interest? There's never been much."

"But in some ways [things are] better. If you go to the City of London, it's pretty good. I was coming out the other day from the Design Museum on the other side of Tower Bridge and I thought I was in New York, with all the towers and lights. I'm not saying that it's good or bad but it's very exciting, it's very dynamic. It's something that was impossible before. It's a very exciting time."

He added: "I wouldn't say that things are uglier, but we need to be very wary of protecting the public domain."

Rogers won the Pritzker Prize in 2009 and was knighted in 1981 and made a lord in 1996. He has designed landmark buildings including Lloyds of London, Bordeaux Law Courts, Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arena).

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners won the Stirling Prize in 2009 for their Maggie's Centre in London. Their 225 metre Leadenhall Building is currently under construction in London.

Videos of our interview with Rogers will be published on Dezeen in the coming weeks. Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out is at the Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, London from 18 July to 13 October 2013.

See all our stories about Richard Rogers. The photo is copyright Dezeen Limited.

  • Angela

    Looking good for 80… he has mastered that too. Congratulations.

  • papou

    I like this architect.

  • Gregor

    A simple but clear and truthful message.

  • Lisbon

    Maybe he should consider lowering his outrageous commissions to design building if it all about not being greedy right? Also, why not take on building individual housing for ordinary people with no money who are not rich unlike the majority of his clients.

    Without any argument, Rogers is a great architect. But unfortunately he’s just adding on layers of theoretical nonsense to make it seem as if he is not part of an elite group who actually reject the very same thing he claims is troublesome in today’s society: “greed”.

    • Nick Simpson

      Rogers has carried out numerous pieces of work that fit with his humanist ideals. Not least his work with the Urban Task Force, which had a major impact on making British city centres much more attractive places to be.

      You can only work with the briefs and clients you’re given, but he’s done better than most. And for the record he’s right, the way architects think now has changed and sadly not for the better (speaking as someone working in architecture in the UK).

  • Yupz

    Huh, what happened? Thought socialism was the answer to “greed”… gotta love these rich architects. Like his projects, not the roderick.

  • beatrice

    “Rogers continues: “On another wall there will be the Hellenic oath which states ‘I will leave this city more beautiful than I entered it’. ”

    Except that the Pompidou is the ugliest building in Paris. Very few modern-day people dare to ever think about this. They have been spoon-fed an architectural style. The reality is that it looks like a giant filthy factory and the area would look far better if it were torn down. Consider this fact for just a moment.

    Consider why Rodgers won the competition. Consider how the local people must have felt as they realised that all the exposed tubes were to be left uncovered forever. Consider how those people who look at the the filthy filthy unmaintainable tubes feel every day, how they feel about the most disgusting public toilets in Paris or about the curved plastic around the escalators that is so scuffed worn and yellowed that you can no longer see out of it.

    I doubt many people think about the reality of this ugly building except those that have to live near it. I’d like it a lot more if it never came with the faux philosophy and pomp.

    • Olgiati

      Opinions about aesthetic are not facts. I believe the Pompidou to be the greatest building in Paris, and that’s in a city with several Le Corbusier houses. How you feel about something is not the truth. You seem quite angry about this, in some senses it’s quite wonderful to be so enthusiastically against something however given that 99% of new buildings are terrible should your ire be directed towards the Pompidou?

      Your criticism seems to be based on both its maintenance and its look. Should your version of how things look be the dominant one? I wonder what a city based on your dominant aesthetic look like?

      • beatrice

        You see, you are blinded by an idea, not the reality. He designed a building that is so expensive to keep clean, THEY NEVER CLEAN IT! Or do you find the sight of dirt ‘aesthetically pleasing’? Nonsense.

        There is a reason why complex networks of tubes are kept inside walls, inside hung ceilings, inside ducting – IT’S SO THAT THEY CAN BE KEPT OUT OF SIGHT! Wake up.

        • Olgiati

          Beatrice, I’m awake. That’s why I can think. Ruins can be pleasing. So can decay. These are matters of sensibility. Of course the Pompidou can be kept clean. Why are you shouting, does that make your argument more effective? As for your last comment it makes no sense, try and unpick it in a logical way if you are able.

          • beatrice

            “Ruins can be pleasing”

            MWA HA HA H AH AHAH HA HA HA… so you think it’s meant to be dirty? MWA HA HA HA HA HAH HA. What an excuse.

            Exactly. You had no idea it was dirty until I pointed it out. You have been spoon-fed the idea that this is good architecture without ever looking at the reality of it. IT IS FILTHY BECAUSE IT CANNOT BE CLEANED!

            So, now be honest then, if “Ruins can be pleasing”, do you mean that you like the dirtiness of the pipes?

            And, no, they cannot be kept clean because the complex network of pipes many floors up would have to have people crawling through them to clean them. It’s too expensive. You can bury your head in the sand like a design zombie, but at some point you should acknowledge that this is BAD DESIGN!

          • Man

            Haters gonna hate. It’s colourful, only uses half the site (the only team in the competition to do so) to create a ground for the people (Rogers’ love of piazzas), turned a run-down district of Paris into a vibrant gathering ground.

            By the way, it’s also the most visited building in Europe. 7 million people a year go to it, that’s more than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre combined.

            Here you are, all angry and worried that it’s not clean enough. You don’t like how it looks, alright. Please.

    • Getoverit

      I wonder how the residents feel now that the once run down Marais is one of the most expensive quarters in all of Paris with residential prices that are hard to match even in London. Thanks to the centre by the way, a terrible building indeed.

      • beatrice


        • vatefairefoutre

          This is one of the most vacuous exchanges I’ve ever had the misfortune of finding. First of all, you are straw-manning like crazy — I don’t know what you were seeing when you were there (and I’m not entirely convinced you were), but I will never forget the stunning view of Paris the first time I made my way up the escalators. I’ve lived in Paris for over a year now and it’s always a pleasure to experience. The tubes are not made of perfectly clear crystal, but they certainly don’t resemble some sort of post-apocalyptic fascist building, as you’ve described.

          If the Pompidou is “dirty”, by your standards, I can’t imagine you thought much of the rest of the city. I understand your distaste for the architectural canon, but this has nothing to do with some sort of predilection for the Pompidou, and everything to do with my appreciating a building that’s a joy to be around (apart from whatever annoying humans may be around it).

          And for the record, Le Marais is not the ritzy area you think it is. Every weekend morning, people from around the city descend upon it — the fashion demigods and the working-class families alike. The rent is high, but that doesn’t mean it’s become some sort of wealth orgy. Arguments about gentrification are fine, but I think there are areas that are far more pronounced than Le Marais (Williamsburg, anyone?).

          Furthermore, if your reason for mentioning this supposed “issue,” was to paint the Pompidou as an instrument of gentrification, you are quite wrong. The area directly around the museum is one of the grittiest, least desirable areas in central Paris. It’s at the fringe of Le Marais, true, but that hardly makes a difference.

          • beatrice

            “And for the record, Le Marais is not the ritzy area you think it is. Every weekend morning, people from around the city descend upon it — the fashion demigods and the working-class families alike. The rent is high, but that doesn’t mean it’s become some sort of wealth orgy.”

            That is such a stupid statement I don’t think I can bother challenging it. Do you know what the average rent for an apartment in Le Marais is? Go on. Either you do and you’re lying in the statement above, or you don’t and you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • guest

    Seems a weird thing to say for the architect that did One Hyde Park in London, the world’s most expensive residential building.

    • Getoverit

      Is jealousy the only thing that the left has to offer?

      Do you know anything about the affordable housing projects Rogers worked on?Apparently not because all you can focus on is your disgust for rich people.

  • )eroen

    It’s not the brief that determines the values that you add as an architect. Adding broader social and cultural value to a hard-line commercial project is as hard as adding broader social value to a low budget housing project.

    Centre Pompidou was an expensive show off project, still Richard and Renzo have managed to give this project a significance that goes well beyond serving a limited group of art lovers.

    And good on him for charging enough commission to pay his staff properly.

  • brononamous

    I think you will find that Rogers practice is a registered charity, all profits being split between employes equally and the rest going to charities of their choosing. Please do some research before jumping to conclusions, this man really does practice what he preaches.

    I find it hard to understand why when someone in the creative industry starts to make money that makes them greedy. Rogers is one of the most highly regarded architects in the world today, why shouldn’t he charge for it? He has worked extremely hard.

    Maybe everyone calling him greedy for making money while calling for social change should get off Dezeen, start doing some work, then maybe one day you can charge for your dumb opinions.

  • Nick Simpson

    If you really want to know more about Rogers and his way of thinking, why not ask him a question here? http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/jul/1

  • Daniel Brown

    He’s going to slap me next time we’re in the same room, but he’s totally starting to look like Ken Livingstone hey? Can’t wait to see the show though!

  • Elizabeth Marmolejos

    I wish developers would be honest when building low-income condominiums. My life has been a “hell hole” due to dishonest and greedy developers using cheap materials. I haven’t had a decent night’s rest because of the high noise level inside and outside my unit. I can’t even sell it to move out into a more quite home.