Architects should try to "leave the city more beautiful than when we entered" says Richard Rogers

Following the death of Richard Rogers last month, we're republishing a series of exclusive interviews we filmed with the British architect in 2013. In the first, Rogers spoke about architects' responsibility to society and his work process.

Rogers, who passed away on 18 December aged 88, spoke to Dezeen to coincide with a retrospective of his work at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Rogers was one of the world's best-known architects and famous for his pioneering high-tech architecture.

Among his most recognisable work is the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which he designed together with Renzo Piano, and the Lloyd's building in London.

In this interview, filmed at the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners office in Hammersmith, west London, he discussed how architecture is dependant on teamwork and how the final design can change direction during its development.

Read on for a transcript of the interview below:


"I'm Richard Rogers, an architect. I live nearby here, I cycle every day. And I have been in this office for over 30 years."

"The Royal Academy has asked whether I would like to do an exhibition about my life, not specifically about my work – I've had a touring exhibition for the last 10 years about work – but more about the thinking, and a section through eight years of life."

"We've decided to call the exhibition Inside Out, partly to do with how I often put structure and ducts on the outside of buildings for functional as well as aesthetic reasons."

We have a responsibility to society, we have a social responsibility

"But the real title is Ethos. And the idea is that we have a responsibility to society, we have a social responsibility. And that gives us a role as architects, which is more than just answering how a role may do to the client but also to answer the passer-by and society as a whole."

"On one wall, it will say: 'A place for all people, all ages, all creeds, the rich and the poor.' That was actually the first paragraph that I wrote with Renzo when we entered the Pompidou competition and several hundred people competed for it."

"But it also shows the heart of this exhibition, because that gave us the way of handling the Pompidou not just as a building, but a place, which I'm much more interested in."

"Then on another wall, there will be the Hellenic oath, which is: 'I will leave the city more beautiful than I entered'.

"It's an oath that each citizen made and it's an oath, which I would like to think we are all trying to do and using beauty in a very broad, shall we say, Greek way, democratic and intellectual. So not just purely aesthetic."

"I work very much with colleagues, with friends. Architecture is about teams. The idea that you suddenly wake up and do a sketch is not true – the only time when I do that, I usually wake up with a hangover the next morning, because it never works. You do it piece by piece."

"When the chairman, the lawyers at the end of doing the building, they say, well, why didn't you tell me what it looked like? I say to them: 'because I didn't know.'"

"It's probably like any work, whether it's a film or book. It has its own inertia, it changes directions. Now obviously you have to do, working with drawings, you can't change it easily."

"And also the scale changes. I mean, the scale in your mind, the scaling models, slowly gets more and more attuned to what you're actually doing and has in itself a reaction to what you're doing."

"Because that's how it works. Because you can't see – any more than you could imagine 500 pages, you can't imagine a building as a complete [building]."

I enjoyed myself much one the last third of my life that I have in my first third

"In this room, there's also a very important moment which is a film. It's a film that tries to say what ethos is. It's based, funnily enough, on my mother's watch, which I always wear which is a Bulova, which has beautiful workings in it, some 50 years old now."

"And it sort of explains my work through it, through that watch. And then it has all the people I've worked with, which are hundreds, and I have had amazing colleagues."

"I was appalling as a student all my life. In fact, I often say I enjoyed myself much one the last third of my life that I have in my first third."

"My first third was hell, as an Italian arriving in 1939 in England; that was a bad move to start with. Everybody said I was stupid. And then I found out that actually, I had learning difficulties."

"So maybe it sort of gave me a lot of problems for the first 30 years, but the last 30 have been fantastic."