Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out

Richard Rogers is best known as one of the architects behind the Pompidou Centre – the modern art museum in Paris, wrapped in the colourful pipes of its own air conditioning and escalator systems. However, the Royal Academy’s current retrospective of Rogers’ work is a useful reminder of the great influence he has had on London, through iconic structures such as the Lloyd’s building and the Millennium Dome.

Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out makes it clear that the Pompidou Centre, commissioned in 1971, is the expression of a core set of beliefs – architectural, political and ethical – that have been present in Rogers’ work ever since.

In a city famed for its nineteenth-century architecture, the Pompidou is remarkable for its use of colourful, modern materials and the way all of the mandatory infrastructure of the building, including the water, heating and ventilation systems, are hung from the exterior, leaving large open spaces for exhibitions inside. The architectural drawings, models and photos in the exhibition show how Rogers applied these ideas to the more sober environment of an insurance company’s headquarters when he made his first major contribution to the London skyline, in the form of new offices for Lloyd’s of London, in the late ’70s.

Having moved twice in the previous 50 years, Lloyd’s needed a building which could adapt easily to its changing needs in the future. Again Rogers’ solution was to move the essential service infrastructure to the edges of the building, where it could be upgraded and added to, without disrupting the use of the office. The design also demonstrates Rogers’ longstanding concern for the sustainability and efficiency of his buildings. For the Lloyd’s project, Rogers used triple-glazed windows which trap heat between individual panes of glass so that it can be used to heat water and the office interior.

Having completed the Millennium Dome and Heathrow Terminal 5 in recent years, Rogers’ latest London landmark, the Leadenhall Building, is currently under construction in The City. As in his other work, the building’s mandatory infrastructure is concentrated in one area, leaving a vertical glass wedge of uninterrupted office space that encourages passersby to gaze skyward. The efficient use of material has also made it possible to create a large public foyer on the ground floor of the building.

Rogers’ energy and enthusiasm for London are undiminished by his 80 years, and the last of the three main rooms in the exhibition is dedicated to the future of the city. The architect believes London can accommodate a further two million people in the next 20 years without encroaching on the greenbelt. If managed wisely, he says the 3,600 hectares of brownfield sites available in the city can be used to create 500,000 homes.

Rogers himself seems to have been closely involved in curating this exhibition. In between the plans and models of his work, a wide variety of personal items are displayed – including family photos, school reports and favourite books. The objects are not displayed in chronological order and don’t always correspond to the architectural work around them; instead the visitor is left to make their own connections.

At times, when presented with items such as one of Rogers’ pink shirts or a running shoe, it feels as though visitors are being invited to genuflect in front of a religious relic. But overall the combination of architectural images and objects from Rogers’ personal life provide a well-rounded picture of an architect who cares greatly about this city and continues to exert a major influence on its appearance.

Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out is showing until 13 October 2013 at:

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House

Piano + Rogers, Pompidou Centre, Paris, 1971-77 © Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. Photo © David Noble. Image courtesy of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

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