A place for all people
Life, Architecture and the Fair Society
A few thoughts about Richard Rogers’s autobiography
richard rogers un posto per tutti
Ph. © Nicola-Matteo Munari
richard rogers un posto per tutti
Ph. © Nicola-Matteo Munari
I’ve just finished reading ‘A Place for All People. Life, Architecture, and the Fair Society’ (published in Italy by Johan & Levi, 2018). It’s the autobiography of renowned architect Richard Rogers. A very well written book, printed on a beautiful paper in a compact, comfortable size (23×15.5 cm).

When I first saw the book in the shop it was the title to engage my attention. The words ‘architecture’, ‘society’ and the concept of fairness (or better justness, in the Italian translation) clearly match my own ideas about the purpose and significance of architecture. Then I thought, “Finally a book about architecture giving more relevance to the thoughts than the images.”

Then, another thing that made me buy the book, even if I understood it only later, was the beautiful black and white portrait reproduced on the cover, elegantly framed by a white border. In the portrait Rogers seems to be imbued with a heroic aura — the face is marked by time, the arms are firmly crossed, the sleeves of the shirt are rolled up, and the pupils are white instead of black, illuminated by a light that wisely builds the image of a ‘just man’. Ideally, it seems that is the light of justice to illuminate him — a suggestion that certainly wouldn’t be possible if the photo had been in colour, letting us discover that Rogers’s Korean shirt is probably of a very bright fuchsia.
richard rogers stirk harbour partners logo pentagram marina willer
Logo of the firm RSH+P. Designed by Marina Willer (Pentagram), 2015.

2015 © Pentagram
richard rogers steve double
Ph. © Steve Double
richard rogers steve double
Ph. © Steve Double
Searching the portrait on the internet, I discovered that the cover image has been mirrored and I think the choice is just perfect. In this way, the light comes from the right and Rogers looks in the same direction. In the West we read from left to right and the same direction is subconsciously applied also when we visually read an image. In this way, the left ends up to ideally represent the past and what is known and closer to us — having already lived it — while the right ends up representing the future, the unknown, and what is far away. (It’s not by chance that in signage pictograms the airplanes arrive by going down to the left and leave by going up to the right.) Then by mirroring the photo, the impression is that Rogers is not at the end of a journey but at the beginning of it, projects towards the light. It’s a beautiful image.
richard rogers lloyds london
Lloyd’s of London, UK, 1978-86. Designed with M. Davies, J. Young, M. Goldschmied.

Ph. © RSH+P
richard rogers southbank masterplan
South Bank Arts Centre (masterplan), 1994.

Ph. © RSH+P
richard rogers southbank masterplan
South Bank Arts Centre (masterplan), 1994.

Ph. © RSH+P
The book is full of relevant thoughts about architecture as an activity related to building construction, but there are even more thoughts about the reason to be and the human value of architecture. Paradoxically for a book on architecture, the sentence that I most share and believe is most important is this one: ‘There is no more important task in society than teaching children.’ A sentence that seems to have nothing to do with architecture, but only if we conceive it as something absolute and in self-referential terms — as something unrelated to the society we live in and for which architecture should be designed.

The main quality of the book is in fact the effectiveness in communicating the necessary connection between architecture — the design of the world that we want to live in — and the society that is both source and reflection of the architecture itself. It’s a connection implying the understanding of the problems that architecture is called to face and also the responsibility in having to face them with judgment.
richard rogers reliance controls
Reliance Controls Ltd., Swindon, UK, 1967. Designed with Sir Norman Foster.

Ph. © RSH+P
richard rogers reliance controls
Reliance Controls Ltd., Swindon, UK, 1967. Designed with Sir Norman Foster.

Ph. © RSH+P
richard rogers fleetguard
Fleetguard International, Quimper/Kemper, France, 1979-81.

Ph. © RSH+P
Rogers, who indeed appreciates and cultivates beauty, deals with the question of architecture with great responsibility by publishing a book that has nothing to do with those glossy volumes crowding bookshops, all dedicated to aesthetic celebrations of buildings that can’t go beyond their appearance, thus neglecting the fact that a conception of architecture as an aesthetic object only — and not as a social object — makes no sense; if architecture neglects people, we might as well make buildings-sculptures in which it’s not even possible to enter.

The book strongly reflects my own vision of architecture, conceived as a social discipline and the expression of human’s civic will. By civic will I mean the will to build a world representing one’s own vision. In fact, civic isn’t only a duty to be fulfilled, but also and above all a will driving us to propose that same duty as a goal to reach by establishing an order allowing human beings to administrate common living on Earth.

By expressing a vision of the world, architecture always expresses the social aspirations of the people, and that’s also true when we simply think about the house, both the building and the way we furnish it in order to be a place representing our wish to live a place in happiness.
richard rogers house wimbledon
Dr and Mrs Rogers House,
London, UK, 1968-69.
Designed with Su Rogers.

Ph. © Archiproducts
richard rogers house wimbledon
Rogers House, London, UK, 1968-69. View from the garden.

Ph. © Iwan Baan
richard rogers house wimbledon
Rogers House, London, UK, 1968-69. View from the garden.

Ph. © Iwan Baan
I am convinced that architecture makes sense only in relation to the living of people. And the organisation of a society’s living can’t in any way disregard its administration. Architecture and government are inextricably linked and this isn’t only evident from the substantial regulations relating to the construction of buildings, but also from the fact that governments are instinctively admired for the construction of important architectural works or condemned for neglecting them — just yesterday the Ponte Morandi in Genoa collapsed.

I believe that architecture expresses the will of the people to build a ‘social order’ for themselves, that is a place representing one’s own vision of the world, even when it’s simply a vision of one’s own future — the idea of a pleasant place where to be happy to live, sleep, eat, work, and spend time on Earth.

The book of Rogers, that stimulates all these and many other thoughts, is a beautiful reading.
© Nicola-Matteo Munari

Originally written, August 2018