Graham Phillips

In this episode of the ‘Inside the Archive’ series, Architect Graham Phillips recalls anecdotes of his first encounter with Norman Foster as he started to work with the practice. Phillips then reexamined the Sainsbury Centre project, considering Sir Robert Sainsbury’s appreciation of the project and the qualities of the building’s design. Graham Phillips concludes with the production of the HSBC building in a pre-computer era, raising the question of the role of technology in architectural progress.

Graham Phillips reminisces his first encounter with Norman Foster as he was asked to forget everything he had learnt before. Leaving conventional design behind him at the request of Norman Foster, Phillips learnt to think fresh while making use of his technical abilities. Learning from Foster’s creative approach, Graham Phillips understood the role of an architect as cooperating with engineers while designing in order to set the limitations and opportunities of the projects.

Phillips develops his vision of the Sainsbury Centre as an open-ended system with a structural frame that could have been extended infinitely. Graham Phillips recalls Sir Robert Sainsbury himself recognizing the concept of the building as a beautiful and perfect design that shouldn’t be changed in any way; taking the benefit of the contours so that a complete window wall of daylight would be facing the Lake.

Exploring the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank building, Graham Phillips connects the project to the pre-computer era, explaining the challenge of a project of such scope for such a small office with no emails or computers but instead typewriters, letters and hand drawings. Developed both in Hong Kong and London on a twenty-four-hour cycle, the HSBC building engulfed components from all around the world, with only three years of construction. Phillips concludes with the assertion that even though technology has produced fantastic benefits, the architect still believes that pre-computer architecture stays in many ways better than today’s productions.