An Interview with Rogers
Ladders are very important to Ab Rogers – designer, former cabinet maker and head of interior design at the Royal College of Art. ‘I love ladders,’ he said. ‘I am always photographing them.’ So it is not surprising that when he and his father, the eminent architect Richard Rogers, were asked to come up with an idea for The Wish List, they chose a ladder. ‘It is a simple diagram of how to get you off the ground,’ he said. ‘It offers another way to see across a room.’
Although the two run entirely separate practices, Ab Rogers has worked with his father, most notably when Ab designed the retrospective exhibition of Richard’s work at the Royal Academy. ‘I know his philosophy only too well,’ Ab said. ‘As soon as a young designer gets too romantic, we will need to get back to the exquisite diagram.’
The idea for the ladder was not simply that one should be able to go up but, according to Rogers, that it should be ‘a little escape inside a room’. The idea was that one should be able to sit, to look around but also to read a book, use an iPad or drink a glass of wine. Xenia Moseley, the designer with whom father and son worked, had to detail a design that was not only self-supporting but that also included a slot to hold the iPad and a holder for the wineglass.
Because of the number of things that needed to be on the top, the form rapidly evolved to be like a fruit ladder in reverse. Where the fruit ladder is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, the ladder that Moseley was developing needed to be widest at the top. This is not an inherently stable form, and although it proved to be very safe thanks to the friction between the top of the ladder and the wall, it was not immediately apparent that it would be so.
Ab Rogers was happy with this level of concern. ‘I always think that the things that you don’t worry about are the ones that go wrong,’ he said. In this case the ‘worrying’ took the form of calling in, at Richard Rogers’ suggestion, engineer Chris Wise. Wise, the co-founder of Expedition Engineering, is one of the country’s best and best-known structural engineers. ‘Richard wants to work with an engineer on anything he does,’ Ab said. The pair had an hour-long meeting with Wise, at the end of which they came away reassured that ‘We could make the ladder light and ambitious and dynamic’.
The two enjoyed the experience of working with Moseley. ‘I teach and I enjoy working with younger people,’ Rogers said. ‘Xenia is a great facilitator, interested in craft and materials. Her approach is quite different to the way that I work and that my studio works.’
The result of this collaboration – as well as being a tremendous learning experience – was an elegant ladder in American red oak, with a bright green leather seat, on top of which both Ab Rogers and his father sat comfortably and comfortably – and even sipped that all-important glass of wine.