AN INTERVIEW WITH NARINDER SAGOO
Narinder Sagoo is an exceptional architect. He is Art Director and Senior Partner at the global architectural practice Foster + Partners. Narinder’s expertise lies in his perspective drawings of which he has produced over 5000 and many of which have been exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts. He is patron of the arts education charity, The Big Draw. We met him at Bloomberg LLP – one of his many stunning architectural projects – and had the chance to observe him draw. Here is what he shared about art, infrastructure and the passion of helping others.
Mirela Mihova (MM): What is Article 25, what do they do and why do you support this charity?
Narinder Sagoo (NS): I’ve been involved with Article 25 for a long time. As architects, and as with many human beings, we have a shared passion of helping others. We are very fortunate to be in a profession where we can change the physical environment around human beings to make their lives better. That is what architecture and design are about, regardless of aesthetic and materiality – they are fundamentally about changing and improving people’s lives. Therefore through this ability we have a very powerful position to help those in need. In Norman Foster + Partners, we have a strong belief that we should devote our day to those kind of projects in whatever way we can. In this case of charity, we are doing it through the power of the line to raise money and contribute to that change. Personally, as a Sikh as well as an architect, I’d like to think one day that I’ve devoted a part of my life to helping other people in whichever way I can. This happens to be through drawing and I’ve always loved drawing so it comes very easy to me and to many other architects. I think it is a great demonstration of the power of the line, the power of drawing, the power of the collective through drawing. I think it is incredible putting together 100 people to take part in an event like 10×10, it makes it pretty special.
MM: This feeds nicely to my next question – what is 10×10?
NS: We live in an incredible city which is great in so many different ways: 10×10 is, in a very simple form, a grid of 10 by 10 squares that form one hundred and have a common theme. Then 100 artists and architects contribute through their art – drawing, representing, visualising, painting, or sketching; whatever they find interesting within those squares. Each one of the individual pieces of art is auctioned and all the proceeds go to this incredible cause of helping others.
Watch our video with Narinder drawing in front of Bloomberg LLP here:
MM: How would you define infrastructure?
NS: Infrastructure, and in this case the Elizabeth Line, is really what glues architecture together. It is the urban glue that ties together every building, every piece of design, whether that is a building like Bloomberg LLP that we are in today. The infrastructure here is the public space, the place where we are sitting, the landscape, the benches, the street, the road, everything that encompasses human life. Other than providing creativity and energy to buildings, it is really the thing that ties everything together within cities.
MM: Can you talk about some of the projects you have been involved in?
NS: Through what I do and my role as Art Director in Norman Foster + Partners, I’m involved in most projects and always have been since I’ve started in practice. If I was to pick out a few, not favourites but highlights, certainly the Bloomberg LLP headquarters has to be one of them because it is in the City of London. It is an incredible site, and it has had a huge impact on everything around it. It has had an impact on the way we see office buildings, on the way we see sustainability and how it manifests itself into design. I’ve been involved in airports, high-rise towers, homes, all aspects of living and working not just in the City of London but the rest of the planet.
MM: This year’s 10×10 theme follows the Elizabeth Line. How do you think this project will improve the social and spatial landscape of London?
NS: Cities thrive on connectivity – without it, a city doesn’t have any life to it. Infrastructure projects like the Elizabeth Line are really the veins and arteries of the whole city, humans being the blood and the DNA which flow through it to keep it alive. It is really important that we design new cities with great infrastructure but we also look up to historic cities like London which is still in development, and improve not only the buildings but the connectivity and the veins and arteries as well. We are enjoying some of that today, but it is equally important in the future for cities to be not only physically accessible but to be accessible in terms of communication, sharing information, in terms of business as well as for the enjoyment of every day life.
MM: How do you think the line will change one’s personal experience with regards to navigation around the city?
NS: I think we are quite fortunate to be in a city which has had a huge amount of forward thinking by the architects and engineers of centuries ago, particularly through the Victorian era. At this point in the past forward thinking and design allowed the connectivity of travel to be combined with landscape architecture, the architecture of buildings, but also with public space and the appreciation of the environment. Having said that, you might not think that underground connectivity through trains forms any kind of component to what goes on above ground. However, you often find that the very space we are sitting on at street level is defined by a complexity of networks underground so they have a very strong relationship. Of course, as transport has evolved throughout our lifespans – it’s getting faster and faster and technologies are allowing connectivity to be safer and more reliable – we should be thinking where London needs to be in the next hundred years. Hopefully, in 100 years people will look back to us and think that we did great things just like the Victorians did in our forward thinking and through projects like the Elizabeth Line.
A glimpse at some of Narinder’s sketchbooks on Instagram – follow him at @narinder_sagoo
MM: Where do you get your inspiration from for your drawings?
NS: For me drawing has always been a way of discovering the world around me. It has been a way of, sometimes as a child, escaping the physical boundaries of growing up and living in the city, and of travelling through the physical world in my imagination. Today I use the same inquisitive nature through drawing just to find out what is going on around me, whether that is design or things I see. I allows me to explore parts of my mind or, if within a team, collectively explore ideas which can be brought together into a reality through sketching and drawing. In that sense, my inspiration is things I see, things I hear and a combination of those two things. Drawing itself, like the verbal language, is just another form of communication.
MM: You are an architect, what different perspective do you think you can bring to an art piece?
NS: In some respects I find that studying architecture restricts you to a certain extent. The inquisitive nature of design means that we want to know what goes on behind things, behind materials and how things work. I’ve had to train myself to sometimes switch that on and sometimes switch it off, and sometimes not think about architectural design at all but think about life, connectivity between people, landscape and how nature makes you feel and how that affects the human emotions.
I like to think how architecture improves quality of life in the cities we live in which in a funny way comes full cycle because the way we feel and the way nature enhances your psychological wellbeing is a form of architecture. Thereby, architecture has equipped me with the skill of seeing things deeper while experience has equipped me to be able to control that inquisitive nature. I still have that child-like innocence about things I see and about drawing things without having to know what they are which is often the hardest thing to do. It is harder to draw things that you don’t know about that things that you do know about.
The series of four views of Bloomberg, London which Narinder donated to 10×10. They were drawn on location with pen, ink on paper, then digitally enhanced and embellished by hand with pen and ink.