British modernist wins Pritzker Architecture Prize

Richard Rogers is known for his grand projects, including the upcoming Tower 3 on the site of New York's World Trade Center.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Britain's Richard Rogers is the winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize for 2007, the Nobel Prize of the architectural world. Noted for his modern, innovative designs, Mr. Rogers's high-tech approach will be saluted June 4 at a ceremony in London. Thomas J. Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, will present Rogers with a bronze medallion and a check for $100,000.

In his 45-year career, the unabashed modernist architect has built projects all over the world and been showered with awards. Among his best-known commissions are the Centre Pompidou in Paris (with Renzo Piano, completed in 1981), the headquarters for Lloyd's of London (1986), Nippon Television Tower in Tokyo (2003), and Terminal 4 of Madrid's Barajas Airport (with Antonio Lamela, 2006). He is now working on two prominent commissions in New York: the expansion and renovation of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Tower 3, the 2.1-million-square-foot, 71-story office building on the site of the World Trade Center.

As Mr. Pritzker describes him, "Richard Rogers is a champion of urban life, a believer in the potential of the city to be a catalyst for social change. One can see why he won architecture's most coveted honor."

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Rogers is the fourth architect from Britain to win the award since it was established in 1979. He is well known for embracing modernism in architecture, using new technology, and making urban areas more livable. Energy conservation is another concern. He is chair of the British government's Urban Task Force, chief adviser to the mayor of London (they consult weekly), and was recently appointed chair of the Greater London Authority's Design for London Advisory Group.

When I spoke with him in his home in London, he was planning a family celebration prior to the Pritzker ceremony. His wife, Ruth, an American from Providence, R.I., was making plans to include his five sons (none architects) and nine grandchildren.

Asked to name his most satisfying project, Rogers instantly replies, "I have three. The first is a house I built in Wimbledon" in 1967.

Rogers is not known for building individual homes, but for far grander projects like the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (1984), the Millennium Dome in London (1999), and Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport (due to be completed next year).

"The Wimbledon house was for my parents," Rogers says. "It was early in my work.... It was an example of the more portable housing of its day. Since everything had more than one function, and it was so compact, we dubbed it the 'zip-up house.'

"The second project I'll always remember," Rogers continues, "is the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It took five years to complete. Renzo Piano was my partner, and today ... we are like brothers, or best friends. Winning the Pompidou Competition was very important to us. When finished, it was the talk of Paris."

"It was a big hit with the younger set, for it was like nothing else. Some of the press described it as the 'inside outside' museum. Of course, they were referring to the inner functions – like moving stairways, heating, and air conditioning – that were positioned at the outer sides of the building, leaving great space on the inside to feature the modern art."

No. 3 on Rogers's list is Terminal 4 of the Barajas Airport in Madrid. "I found the climate, the people, their joy, so relaxing. I believe it will be one of our most important cities. With that in mind, I designed the airport with a wavy roof, almost a mile long. The roof was wood with bamboo underneath. It seems to tilt forward like the movement of water. I wanted it to capture the spirit of travel."

Rogers recalls how thrilled he was by Victorian-era railroad stations as a child. "They were so grand; they made travel exciting to a little boy. Being in Paris station, and hearing that – after thousands of miles – you would arrive in Moscow seemed like a tremendous adventure."

Although he was designing a modern airport, he says, he "wanted to capture that feeling of awe and wonder" he'd felt as a child in a train station.

"The roof was painted shades of the rainbow. Inside columns were in these same colors. Not only was it beautiful, but the shades of the columns helped the passenger identify certain areas." (When Rogers was at the Madrid airport recently, he was gratified to overhear a mother say to her little son, "Look at the blue section: That's where papa will meet us." Rogers then knew the rainbow colors were having the intended effect.)

Today, the theme of Rogers's work remains what it was when he and Mr. Piano were at work on the groundbreaking Pompidou Centre: "Our mantra was to build for all people, all ages, and all creeds. It is something I never stop striving for."

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