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Architect Says What She Learned From Dennis Hopper In Las Vegas


amanda leveteWhat first drew you to architecture?

I left school at 16 to go to art school, and then felt embarrassed about not doing A-levels. So I started reading a lot about the history of art. Through those books, I discovered the world of architecture – and that was it.

What was your big breakthrough?

Getting shortlisted for the Bibliothèque Nationale de France competition in 1989. It came just two weeks after I'd left Richard Rogers' office to join Jan Kaplický's. We had no work, Jan and I, so it was fantastic timing. We didn't win, but our fee – about £20,000 – kept us going for a year. We were very mean and keen in those days.

What has changed about architecture?

When I started out, I drew with a drawing board and set square, and wrote with an ink pen. Now, it's all computerised. When Jan and I started doing the Media Centre at Lord's, we were drawing all these very complex three-dimensional forms by hand. To make any changes, we had to scratch out the drawings with a scalpel. In the end, the people in our office gave us an ultimatum: either computerise or we leave. We computerised.

Which artists do you most admire?

Of course, my late partner Jan. Many of his concepts were tinged with genius – and I don't use that word lightly. Rogers, who was my first employer. And Zaha Hadid, for her tenacity, her work – and the fact that, despite being one of the most famous architects in the world, she still enjoys girly gossip.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

I've never taken on work I didn't want to take on, even if that meant making compromises financially. I didn't own a dishwasher until I was 40.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

About four years ago, I sat next to Dennis Hopper at dinner. I'd just come back from Vegas, where we'd been commissioned to design an art gallery. I'd found it apocalyptic. When I told him so, he just said, "Relax, babe – if you can't enjoy Vegas for a few days, there's something wrong." He was right: I was being far too uptight.

Is there an art form you don't relate to?

I find video art quite heavy-going.

What's the biggest myth about architects?

That we're all individualistic fundamentalists. Actually architecture is a very collaborative discipline. On a big project, there can be a cast of thousands: the job of the architect is not only to create, but to get everybody on board. In that sense, it's very consensual.

Do you suffer for your art?

I do. But I love to suffer, so it's not a problem.

In short

Born: Bridgend, 1955.

Career: Started out at the Architectural Association and with Richard Rogers; became a partner at her late ex-husband Jan Kaplický's firm Future Systems in 1989. Founded her own practice, Amanda Levete Architects, in 2009.

High point: "Winning the competition [to design a new extension] for the V&A."

Low point: "Completing the Media Centre at Lord's. We were virtually bankrupt."

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

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