Pritzker Prize winner Richard Rogers dies at 88

1933 – 2021

Pritzker Prize winner Richard Rogers dies at 88

Peter Rice, Renzo Piano (with umbrella), and Richard Rogers straddle a gerberette aloft the Centre Pompidou construction site, mid-1970s. Ruth Rogers can be seen in the background. (Tony Evans/Courtesy Arup)

Pritzker Prize and multiple Stirling Prize winner, AIA Gold Medal recipient, architect, urbanist, forward thinker, governmental advisor, humanist, and eclectic dresser Richard Rogers has passed away at the age of 88 at his home in London. His December 18 death was confirmed by his son Roo Rogers in the New York Times, though the cause was withheld.

Born to Anglo-Italian parents in Florence, Italy, in 1933, Rogers’ parents fled to London in 1939 when he was six as war encroached on Europe. There, Rogers struggled to fit into boarding school due to his undiagnosed dyslexia and sunk into depression, and he would struggle to fit in until a visit to his cousin Ernesto Rogers’ BBPR office in Milan in 1953; the elder Rogers was already a well-respected architect and planner, and this was Richard’s first exposure to the field. He enrolled in the Architectural Association School (AA) in London in 1954.

It would be Rogers’ tenure at Yale, and the opportunity to see America the followed, that would change everything. He and his wife Su Rogers crossed the Atlantic in 1961 to attend the Yale School of Architecture, where a friendship with fellow student Normal Foster and tutelage under architectural historian and scholar Vincent Scully, would radically alter the trajectory of Rogers’ life.

Exterior stairs leading up to the exoskeleton clad pompidou center
The Pompidou Center, opened in 1977, is today in dire need of asbestos remediation. The 4-year closure and accompanying work will be delayed until after the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. (Caleb Maxwell/Unsplash)

In a 2018 interview with AN, Rogers recounted his weekend trips into New York City with fellow AA alumnus James Stirling, where he was “blown away” by the sheer size and scope of Manhattan’s modernist towers—the Seagram Building, Lever House, 270 Park Avenue, and a sea of glassy International Style buildings had only just sprouted up across Midtown less than a decade prior. After graduating, Richard, Su, and Foster would travel across the U.S. to study further examples of Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright firsthand, as well as the Case Study Houses in California. The trio returned to London in 1963, adding Foster’s future wife Wendy Cheesman to the group and forming their own firm, Team 4.

Although Team 4 would dissolve in 1967, the Rogers launched their own firm soon afterward that, along with a young Renzo Piano, would respond to a Parisian competition brief that would change everything. Inspired by Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, the often referenced but never built mutable, multipurpose venue, the team would submit a proposal for the “inside-out” Centre Pompidou in 1971. The “inside-out” contemporary arts center opened as a home for the Musée National d’Art Moderne in 1977, with massive uninterrupted floor plates thanks to the monumental building’s High Tech exoskeleton. The center was, at the time quite divisive, inspiring protests over both the center’s unique design and gentrification it was bringing to Paris’s Les Halles neighborhood. The postmodern multicultural center has proven a massive, unexpected success in the years since, spawning international branches worldwide (including a forthcoming Jersey City location).

Parlaying that momentum, Rogers’ would follow up the Centre Pompidou with what some have called his greatest work, the Lloyd’s of London headquarters, through his new firm, Richard Rogers Partnership. Although he had never designed an office building before, Rogers took to the commission with vigor, marrying skeletal tresses, over-exaggerated heating and cooling duct imagery, and a Victorian-inspired glass barrel vault topper containing an atrium with the massing of a traditional tower.

Richard Rogers looking at a model of the Centre Pompidou.
Richard Rogers looking at a model of the Lloyd’s Building. (Courtesy Domus)

Rogers’ firm would undergo a renaming to Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners (RSHP) in 2007 to celebrate the company’s collaborative nature. In that time, they’ve designed everything from 3 World Trade Center at 175 Greenwich Street, a glassy tower with subdued traces of trademark exteriority to set it apart from its neighbors; the pleated International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Stirling Prize-winning Maggie’s West London Centre, and many, many more from offices to bourbon distilleries to high-end residential towers.

Three men with richard rogers in the middle
In order from left to right, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Carl Abbott in the 1960. (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

Rogers officially retired from RSHP in September of 2020, ending a fruitful 43-year career to spend more time with his family. All of this is to say that he leaves behind too long a list of accomplishments to recount in this announcement of his death (to say nothing of London’s Millennium Dome, the Inmos Microprocessor factory in New South Wales, his earlier work in 1967 on Reliance Controls, or his planning recommendations for the English government), but suffice it to say, each project expresses an unwavering clarity of vision.

Longtime friend Lord Norman Foster recounted his loss at Rogers’ death of both a friend and contemporary:

I am so deeply saddened by the loss of my oldest and closest friend, Richard Rogers. Over the time since we met, almost exactly 60 years ago as students at Yale University, Richard has been a kindred spirit.

In a first of its kind, we collaborated on projects in the Yale Masters Class and, in every break, we travelled together across the United States to be inspired by the works of past and modern masters. Our rapport on everything architectural amounted to a privately shared language that could encompass criticism and appreciation.

With the briefest of breaks, we continued our unique blend of friendship and collaboration into private practice with two architect sisters as Team 4, before eventually going our own ways as separate practices in 1967. Since then, we have come full circle to be closer than ever as families. If a tribute is about a life and not a departure, because Richard’s legacy will live on, then how do I start to define the life and work of my dear departed friend. Do I start with the person and move onto the architecture or vice versa? Either way will work because the one is a manifestation of the other.

Richard was gregarious, outgoing, generous and possessed an infectious zest for life. His buildings are a social mirror of that personality—open, welcoming and, like his wardrobe, elegantly colourful.

The Rogers signature is an architecture that makes manifest and celebrates the role of the structure. Technology comes to mind in my reference to his architecture, but it is always as a means to the social agenda. Given Richard’s passion for the community spirit of a building, it is perhaps no surprise that he was a lover of cities and championed their cause as a committed urbanist.

Whether as an advisor to mayors and government, or as a writer on the subject, he was a tireless supporter of the compact, sustainable, pedestrian-friendly city and a passionate opponent of mindless suburban sprawl. These convictions were embedded in our private language when we came together in our twenties and there was the same fire in his belly (an expression he would love) up to the very end. On the subject of love, Richard’s life as an architect is inseparable from that of his family and any tribute to him is one to his wife Ruthie and their devotedly caring family.

Richard Rogers was a great pioneering architect of the modern age, socially committed and an influential protagonist for the best of city life—such a legacy. I will miss you dearly.

three elderly men
Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Carl Abbott 50 years later (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

AN will follow this breaking news story with a longer obituary and remembrances from those close to Rogers. In the interim, Todd Gannon recounted in depth why Rogers’ influence will be felt long after his passing last year upon news of his retirement—in light of new events, the piece also serves as a memorial and testament to his power to inspire.