Drifting after school he joined the British Army and served two years in Trieste, during which time he spent time with a cousin, Ernesto Rogers, a famous architect and town planner, and worked in his office from Milan. Ernesto’s work – the civic promise of Modernism and his own warm version of it – inspired Richard to join the profession. After a year of art school, he enrolled in the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, at the time the only school of its type in Great Britain.
In his third year, he met Su Brumwell, a sociology student whose father was one of the founders of the Design Research Unit, a British design consultancy; they married in 1960. The couple spent their honeymoon at a kibbutz in Israel, then moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to attend Yale – Mr. Rogers got a Fulbright scholarship to study architecture and Ms. Rogers to study town planning. There they met Norman Foster, a classmate, with whom they became quick friends and, later, collaborators.
A road trip to Southern California after graduation introduced Su and Richard to Mondrian’s vivid colors of the houses in the case study, budget housing prototypes designed by Modernist architects like Richard Neutra and Charles and Ray Eames. Upon their return to Britain, Mr. Rogers formed an architectural firm with Mr. Foster and two architectural sisters, Wendy and Georgie Cheeseman. They built homes for all of their parents, modeled after the ones the couple had seen in Los Angeles.
These houses in turn inspired the work that followed, instilling in Mr. Rogers an enthusiasm for efficient technology, modular construction and a commitment to the more human side of architecture.
The members of the practice soon went their separate ways. Through an introduction by his doctor, Mr. Rogers met Mr. Piano, and together with Ms. Rogers and others, they started a business just before the Paris competition. Decades later, Mr. Rogers, Mr. Foster and Mr. Piano would be among the most successful and well-known Modernist architects in the world – The Starchitects, as the French called them.