Biography of British Architect Richard Rogers

The Inside Out Pritzker Laureate (1933– )

white man dressed in white seen through a window
British Architect Richard Rogers. Ulf Andersen Cambridge Jones/Getty Images

British architect Richard Rogers (born July 23, 1933) has designed some of the most important buildings of the modern era. Beginning with the Parisian Centre Pompidou, his building designs have been characterized as being "inside out," with facades that look more like working mechanical rooms. In 2007 he received architecture's highest honor and became a Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming Lord Rogers of Riverside, but in the U.S. Rogers is best known for rebuilding Lower Manhattan after 9/11/01. His 3 World Trade Center was one of the last towers to be realized.

Fast Facts: Richard Rogers

  • Occupation: British Architect
  • Born: July 23, 1933 in Florence, Italy
  • Education: Yale University
  • Key Accomplishments: Centre Pompidou with Renzo Piano; Three World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan; 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize


Early Life

Born in Florence, Italy to an English father and Italian mother, Richard Rogers was raised and educated in Britain. His father studied medicine and hoped that Richard would pursue a career in dentistry. Richard's mother was interested in modern design and encouraged her son's interest in the visual arts. A cousin, Ernesto Rogers, was one of Italy's prominent architects.

In his Prizker acceptance speech, Rogers noted that it was Florence "where my parents instilled in my brother Peter and me a love of beauty, a sense of order, and the importance of civic responsibility."

As war broke out in Europe, the Rogers family moved back to England in 1938 where young Richard attended public schools. He was dyslexic and did not do well. Rogers had a run-in with the law, entered the National Service, became inspired by the work of his relative, Ernesto Rogers, and ultimately decided to enter London's Architectural Association school. Later he moved to the U.S. to pursue a masters degree in architecture at Yale University on a Fulbright Scholarship. There he developed relationships that would last a lifetime.

Partnerships

After Yale, Rogers worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in the U.S. When he finally returned to England, he formed Team 4 architectural practice with Norman Foster, Foster's wife Wendy Cheeseman, and Rogers' wife Su Brumwell. By 1967, the couples had split to form their own firms.

In 1971 Rogers entered a partnership with the Italian architect Renzo Piano. Although the partnership dissolved in 1978, both architects became world famous with their work in Paris France — the Centre Pompidou, completed in 1977. Rogers and Piano had invented a new type of architecture, where the mechanics of a building were not simply transparent but showcased as part of the facade. It was a different kind of postmodern architecture that many began to call high-tech and inside-out architecture.

detail of large round mechanical-looking equipment on a building's facade
Exterior of Centre Pompidou. Richard T. Nowitz/Getty Images

Rogers chose good partners, although it was Renzo Piano and not Rogers who in 1998 would win the first Pritzker Prize and then Norman Foster won in 1999. Rogers won in 2007, and the Pritzker Jury was still talking about Pompidou, saying it "revolutionized museums, transforming what had once been elite monuments into popular places of social and cultural exchange, woven into the heart of the city."

After Pompidou, the team split and the Richard Rogers Partnership was established 1978, which eventually became Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in 2007.

Personal Life

Rogers married Susan (Su) Brumwell before they both went off to study at Yale University — he studied architecture and she studied town planning. She was the daughter of Marcus Brumwell who headed the Design Research Unit (DRU), a moving force in British design. The couple had three children and divorced in the 1970s, during the work on Centre Pompidou.

Shortly after, Rogers married the former Ruth Elias of Woodstock, New York and Providence, Rhode Island. Called Ruthie, Lady Rogers is a well-known chef in Britain. The couple had two children. All of Richard Rogers' children are sons.

Famous Quote

"Architecture is too complex to be solved by any one person. Collaboration lies at the heart of all my work."

Legacy

Like all great architects, Richard Rogers is a collaborator. He partners not only with people but also with new technologies, the environment, and the societies in which we all live. He was an eary champion of energy efficiency and sustainability in a profession that came late to taking responsibility in protecting the environment.

"His fascination with technology is not merely for artistic effect," cites the Pritzker Jury, "but more importantly, it is a clear echo of a building's program and a means to make architecture more productive for those it serves."

11 shot panorama of the interior of a multi-level skyscraper, in the middle is a void that runs all the way to the top
Inside Lloyd's of London. Sean Batten/Getty Images (cropped)

After the success of the Centre Pompidou in the 1970s, Rogers' next huge project was the Lloyd's of London building completed in 1986. The Pritzker Jury cited it as "another landmark of late twentieth century design" and that it "established Richard Rogers’ reputation as a master not only of the large urban building, but also of his own brand of architectural expressionism."

In the 1990s Rogers tried his hand at tensile architecture and created London's temporary Millennium Dome, which is still being used as the O2 arena center of entertainment in Southeast London.

The Rogers Partnership has designed buildings and cities all over the world — from Japan to Spain, Shanghai to Berlin, and Sydney to New York. In the U.S. he was part of the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — Tower 3 at 175 Greenwich Street is a Rogers design, completed in 2018.

Rogers' legacy is as the responsible architect, the professional who considers the workplace, the building site, and the world we share. He was the first architect to deliver the prestigious Reitch Lecture in 1995. In "Sustainable City: Cities for a Small Planet" he lectured the world:

"Other societies have faced extinction — some, like the Easter Islanders of the Pacific, the Harappa civilization of the Indus Valley, the Teotihuacan in pre-Columbian America, due to ecological disasters of their own making. Historically, societies unable to solve their environmental crises have either migrated or become extinct. The vital difference today is that the scale of our crisis is no longer regional but global: it involves all of humanity and the entire planet."

entrance to a high-tech skyscraper
The Leadenhall Building, London, UK. Oli Scarff/Getty Images