Richard Rogers, Paris Pompidou Centre and his mother’s clay pots

Richard Rogers, Paris Pompidou Centre and his mother’s white pots.

Italian-born British architect Richard Rogers, designer of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, died in London at the age of 88 on 18 December 2021. Although he worked on many prominent buildings, such as London’s Millennium Dome and Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, he is best known in France for his work on the Pompidou Centre with architect Renzo Piano.

The Pompidou Centre in the 4th arrondissement opened in 1977, noted for its industrial materials, such as glass and steel. Italian architect Renzo Piano designed the brightly-coloured pipes on the façade. Rogers and Piano teamed up in the early 1970s, and in 1971 they won the competition to build a multi-arts complex in Paris – the Pompidou Centre. Rogers was 38 years old, and Piano was 33 at the time. 

Richard George Rogers was born in Florence, Tuscany, in Italy in 1933. His father William Nino Rogers (1906-1993) was a doctor from Venice.

What people forget is that his mother was Ermenegilda Geiringer – known as Dada – and a potter from Trieste. She was a student of Irish author James Joyce – yes, he was her English teacher when he lived in Trieste. The Rogers family moved to England in 1938 due to the impending war.

Rogers left school in 1951, did his national service for Italy in Trieste, and worked for his cousin Ernesto Rogers, a noted architect in Milan. This inspired him to study architecture at Yale in America in 1962.

His mother Dada also came from a creative and architectural family – Eugenio Geiringer (1844-1904) was an architect and engineer from Trieste. Dada continued her pottery work throughout her life. For the Richard Rogers: Inside Out exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 18 July to 13 October 2013, her off-white pottery was on display. The pots are plain and, due to the distinctive clay, have natural markings. 

Rogers said in 2013 for ICON magazine that his mother ‘thought beauty was an intrinsic part of life – she was brought up with that idea. I remember going with her to the first Picasso show at the Victoria and Albert just after the war.’ His mother started making the pots for her son when he left home and married Su Brumwell.

The pots are part of his youth, and so are his memories of his mother’s many artistic friends. Rogers said, ‘We were friends with Bernard Leach, the great British potter of the post-war period … she was also very friendly with [sculptor] Barbara Hepworth and [painter] Ben Nicholson and so all these things you can see in the pots indirectly.’ However, the pots are more like the austere works of Giorgio Morandi, who was one of Dada’s favourite potters. 

Rogers admits that, while the pots are mainly sculptural, he did use them for flower vases and sugar bowls. When Rogers was asked whether his mother’s pots influenced his architectural style, he answered, ‘I’ve been looking a lot at this question of influences and references and there’s a mythology that you go to Siena and then you make the Pompidou piazza slope. It doesn’t work like that. You have some ideas, you get people to move, you put in a slope, and then you recognise this as Siena, which was of course at the back of your mind all the time, though you’re not copying it. There’s a vast wealth of references back there.’

His mother talked about clusters a lot, like the cluster of villages in Tuscany. Rogers said, ‘the importance of tall buildings is not the buildings but the space between the buildings. I spend a lot of time to … look at the cluster, the dialogue between the buildings and the spaces in between.’

His mother only had one or two exhibitions of the pots, and they were not made for sale or show, but ‘simply as gifts for the family.’ He added, ‘she got great enjoyment out of it. It was unbelievably difficult to get this clay – this white stone clay is very inconsistent …it‘s delicate stoneware.’

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