|Amanda Levete in her London office. Photograph by Peter Guenzel.|
HOME editor Jeremy Hansen met Levete at her office in London last June. Here's his profile of her from the current issue of the magazine:
Amanda Levete almost didn’t become an architect. Expelled from school for sunbathing naked on the roof when she should have been at biology class, she had no idea what she was going to do next. “I got so embarrassed that all my friends were going to university that I did an A-level in art and art history and a foundation year at art school,” she told Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian. “That’s when architecture came across my radar, and when it did, I realised that I work best when I’m doing something creatively, but have a boundary to push.”
Levete (pronounced Lev-eet) has been pushing boundaries to create remarkable buildings ever since. For 20 years she was one-half of the innovative firm Future Systems with her then-husband, the late Jan Kaplický. Together they designed the Media Centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground, a curvaceous pod of white aluminium that almost bankrupted them but then won the 1999 Stirling Prize, Britain’s most prestigious architecture award. Their subsequent design for Birmingham’s Selfridges store, a swoop of a building covered in circular aluminium discs, was hailed as a symbol of the city’s regeneration. Kaplicky stormed out of the Selfridges opening because the finished structure wasn’t as pure as their original design. Levete was more pragmatic. “I don’t devalue the power of conceptual thinking, but for me the thrill of architecture is to see your ideas realised – to struggle against the problems out there and overcome them,” she told Jeffries.
|A rendering of the EDP Foundation Cultural Centre in Lisbon, Portugal, designed by Amanda Levete Architects and currently under construction. |
|The EDP Cultural Centre is a dramatic swoop on the Tagus River with a rooftop walkway.|
|A rendering of the cultural centre's exterior and its |
specially designed tiles.
Levete and Kaplicky had a son, Josef, but divorced in 2006 – “a very public falling out,” according to Levete. Kaplicky, who was Czech, died in Prague in 2009 at the age of 71, just after visiting his second wife, Eliska, and their newborn daughter in hospital. He and Levete had continued working together after their divorce, but had agreed to separate their architectural practice four months before his death, which is when Levete established Amanda Levete Architects.
Anyone who wondered if she had been riding on the coattails of Kaplický’s genius (a word Levete uses to describe him) has since been thoroughly silenced. In 2011, Levete won an international competition to build an extension to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The 1,500-square-metre gallery for temporary exhibitions will be the biggest new art space in London since the Tate Modern; the project also involves the design of a new entry to the building from Exhibition Road. An earlier scheme by Daniel Libeskind was abandoned seven years earlier after encountering a storm of public option. “It was an iconic building, but the time for iconic buildings has passed,” Levete told The Guardian. Her design is currently under construction.
|A rendering of Amanda Levete Architects' competition-winning scheme for a new entry and gallery space for London's Victoria and Albert Museum.|
|Another rendering of the V&A project, which features a courtyard connected to Exhibition Road.|
|Two views of the new subterranean gallery spaces that are |
currently under construction at the V&A.
Other major projects are nearing completion: a waterfront cultural centre in Lisbon that reads as a dramatic bulge in the landscape; a shimmering high-rise hotel and shopping centre in Bangkok which Levete will attend the opening of on her way home from helping to choose our 2014 Home of the Year. She has also designed furniture for London’s Established & Sons and writes regularly about architecture, design and urbanism for The New Statesman (you can read her articles here). Her office, a non-descript semi-industrial building in London’s northeast, now employs more than 50 staff, who pad around on the immaculate space’s bright carpet in socks (the office’s no-shoe office rule means you are greeted by an archipelago of footwear when you arrive at reception).
|Two views of Amanda Levete's London home, photographed by Gidon Fuehrer.|
This will be Levete’s first visit to New Zealand. Her husband Ben Evans, director of the London Design Festival, will accompany her. She has already reviewed the entries in the 2014 Home of the Year with us, and will help choose a winner when we visit the shortlisted homes in person.
First impressions? This year’s entrants are notable for their “modesty in scale and materials and technology, and within that they’re searching for something quite profound and poetic,” she says. That seems promising.
We’re looking forward to showing her the best New Zealand homes of the past year. Please come along to Levete's Auckland and Christchurch lectures: it’s a rare chance to hear a remarkable talent reveal more about her remarkable work.