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Library Prague
Future Systems ©

Library Prague
Future Systems ©

Selfridges building in Birmingham
Future Systems
Photographed by [Richard Davies](http://www.richarddavies.com)

Selfridges building in Birmingham
Future Systems
Photographed by Richard Davies

Flower Necklace
Future Systems
Photographed by Soren Aagaard

Flower Necklace
Future Systems
Photographed by Soren Aagaard

Car 2001
Future Systems ©

Car 2001
Future Systems ©

Black Table
Future Systems ©

Black Table
Future Systems ©

Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari
Future Systems ©

Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari
Future Systems ©

Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari 
Future Systems ©

Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari
Future Systems ©

National Library of the Czech Republic
Future Systems ©

National Library of the Czech Republic
Future Systems ©

Future Systems

Architectural Design (1979-)


Future Systems is an influential architectural practice that has moved from what might be described as “turbo-charged high-tech�, building on the precedents established by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, toward a more organic, voluptuous, formally inventive architecture, most flamboyantly expressed by the Selfridges department store in Birmingham, completed in 2003.

The Selfridges store was a rare example of a convincing iconic structure, instantly recognisable with its free form outline and its floating metal disc skin, that immediately became synonymous with Birmingham’s ambitious campaign of urban renewal. The project forms part of an utterly conventional shopping centre, which Selfridge’s visionary chief executive at the time, Vittorio Radice, agreed to take space in upon the condition that the store appointed its own architect.

Selfridges is grafted onto unsympathetic neighbours, reached from the internal mall that snakes around the development. It forms the background to an existing 19th century gothic church keeping a respectful distance away, in order to create a public space. It is both an object building, but also part of an urban context, linked-in to a network of walkways and connected to a neighbouring parking structure with a bridge, that plunges into the store through a dramatically delineated mouth. The interiors, inevitably for a department store, take second place to the merchandise, but a spectacular stack of escalators reaching up to a glass roof provide an impressive centrepiece.

Future Systems was established by Jan Kaplicky, born in Czechoslovakia, 1937, with David Nixon in 1979, in London. Amanda Levete, born in London in 1955, became a partner in 1989, by which time Nixon had left for America.
Kaplicky, who was educated in Prague, came to London as a refugee after the Russian invasion of 1968. While still in Prague, he had started building small-scale domestic projects influenced by Charles and Ray Eames.
He grew up the only child of a sculptor father and a mother who worked as a botanical illustrator. Czechoslovakia, before it was extinguished by Nazi Germany shortly after Kaplicky was born, was one of Europe’s most progressive new states. It had an advanced industrial base and a tradition of innovative architecture. Kaplicky grew up across the street from the house that Adolf Loos designed in Prague. He was fascinated by the Czech engineering tradition, which produced such remarkable products as the streamlined Tatra car and the prefabricated steel fortifications on the defensive frontier against Germany. In the 1920s, Czechoslovakia also produced its own distinctive architectural movement which came to be known as Czech cubism.

This formed the background to Kaplicky’s development. Equally important though was his fascination for the West, glimpsed when he was young through the occasional copy of Vogue, and an early visit to New York, where Buckminster Fuller was a particular inspiration.

When he came to London, he was part of the team at Piano and Rogers that won the competition to build the Pompidou Centre, and later he spent some years working with Norman Foster. Levete worked for Richard Rogers before joining Kaplicky.

In its early years, Future System was driven by Kaplicky’s passion for developing a new technology-based approach to architecture, which he expressed through an extraordinary series of images that mixed dramatic photomontages with ink drawings of remarkable mechanical precision. Without building anything, Kaplicky created a powerful image of what architecture might be, inspired by the technology of the aerospace industry, as well as the work of Jean Prouvé and Luigi Colani. It was a spectacular calling card which, coupled with the ambitious name that Kaplicky had chosen for the practice, were to drive them into adopting a resolutely experimental approach. Future Systems poured out a heady stream of speculative propositions for ultra high-rise buildings, for emergency structures that could be helicoptered into position. Some were rooted in existing technologies. Others, such as a proposal for a robot-built space structure, or even Kaplicky’s scheme for a helicopter pilot’s house (a cube like structure sitting on lunar module legs, with a rooftop-landing pad) were more provocative. After a domestic interior designed for the architecture critic, Deyan Sudjic, and work for the Harrods Way In boutique in conjunction with Eva Jiricna, Future Systems built a couple of small houses in London, and then came second in a competition to design the new French National library in Paris. President Mitterrand chose Dominique Perrault ahead of Future System’s proposal for a kind of glass mountain on the banks of the Seine.

Future Systems began to build on a substantial scale when they were commissioned to design a new press centre at the Lords cricket ground, for which they won the Stirling Prize in 1999. It was a chance to realise Kaplicky’s interest in adopting technologies from outside the building industry to realise architecture. The disc shaped structure that they designed was fabricated by a contractor specialising in ship construction. Perched over the spectators’ stands like a floating flying saucer, it was a dramatic sign of a new approach to architecture. Where high-tech believed in expressing structure, in working with the imagery of the machine, the Lords project was something different: an organic, fluid geometry that pointed toward the new direction that Future Systems intended to take. This direction was also related to the work of Zaha Hadid, and others who were beginning to use increasing computing power to design free form, blob-like structures.

With the success of the Lords project, Future Systems were in demand for a series of fashion interiors, notably for Comme des Garcons’ stores in Paris, New York and Tokyo, for New Look in London, and for Marni in London and Milan. They were also collaborating with artists to a degree unusual for architects, including Brian Clarke, who specialises in stained glass, Anthony Gormley and Anish Kapoor. They have even built a partially-underground house in Wales.

Future Systems have gone on to win the competition to design the Czech National Library overlooking Prague in 2007, the Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari, and in partnership with the artist Anish Kapoor, a subway station for the Naples Metro system.

At the same time, Future Systems has worked on a number of industrial design projects. Kaplicky has designed a variety of domestic objects with Alessi, including cutlery and glassware, while Levete has been commissioned by Established & Sons to design furniture. These have adopted a fluid formal language that reflects the practice’s architectural work and have retained their trademark rejection of tradition.

Jan KaplickĂ˝ died in January 2009. At this time Amanda Levete left Future Systems to set up her own practice;
KaplickĂ˝ was also working on the significant competition win, the Budvar Concert Hall. Later that year, from 1 July - 1 November, to mark the passing of KaplickĂ˝ and celebrate the work of the Czech architect responsible for some of the most remarkable buildings in Britain, the Design Museum decided to put on the exhibition Remembering Jan KaplickĂ˝ - architect of the future.

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Basso & Brooke Coca-Cola &made Oscar Medley Whitfield + Harry Trimble Alvar Aalto Tomás Alonso Aluminium Anglepoise Pascal Anson Ron Arad Archigram Art and Craft Movement Assa Ashuach Solange Azagury - Partridge Shin + Tomoko Azumi Maarten Baas Georg Baldele Luis Barragán Saul Bass Mathias Bengtsson Sebastian Bergne Tim Berners-Lee Flaminio Bertoni Jurgen Bey Biba Derek Birdsall Manolo Blahnik Leopold + Rudolf Blaschka Andrew Blauvelt Penguin Books Irma Boom Tord Boontje Ronan + Erwan Bouroullec Marcel Breuer Daniel Brown Robert Brownjohn Isambard Kingdom Brunel R. Buckminster Fuller Sam Buxton Fernando + Humberto Campana Matthew Carter Achille Castiglioni Wells Coates Paul Cocksedge Luigi Colani Joe Colombo Committee Concorde Terence Conran Hilary Cottam matali crasset Michael Cross + Julie Mathias Wim Crouwel Joshua Davis Robin + Lucienne Day Christian Dior Tom Dixon Doshi Levien Christopher Dresser Droog Charles + Ray Eames Ergonomics Luis Eslava Established and Sons Industrial Facility Alan Fletcher Norman Foster FUEL Future Systems John Galliano Abram Games Giles Gilbert Scott Ernö Goldfinger Kenneth Grange Graphic Thought Facility Eileen Gray Konstantin Grcic The Guardian Martí Guixé Zaha Hadid Stuart Haygarth Ambrose Heal Thomas Heatherwick Simon Heijdens Jamie Hewlett James Irvine Alec Issigonis Jonathan Ive Arne Jacobsen Jaguar James Jarvis Nadine Jarvis Experimental Jetset Craig Johnston Hella Jongerius Louis Kahn Kerr Noble Jock Kinneir + Margaret Calvert Onkar Singh Kular Max Lamb Lawrence Lek Julia Lohmann Ross Lovegrove Berthold Lubetkin M/M Finn Magee Enzo Mari Peter Marigold Michael Marriott The MARS Group Aston Martin J. Mays Müller+Hess Edward McKnight Kauffer Alexander McQueen Matthias Megyeri David Mellor Memphis Mevis en Van Deursen Reginald Mitchell Maureen Mooren + Daniel van der Velden Eelko Moorer Jasper Morrison Jean Muir Khashayar Naimanan Yugo Nakamura Marc Newson Isamu Noguchi norm Chris O'Shea Foreign Office Architects Verner Panton James Paterson Phyllis Pearsall Charlotte Perriand Frank Pick Amit Pitaru Plywood Gio Ponti Cedric Price Jean Prouvé Ernest Race Dieter Rams Charles Rennie Mackintosh Rockstar Games Richard Rogers Stefan Sagmeister Freyja Sewell Jerszy Seymour Percy Shaw Hiroko Shiratori Tim Simpson Cameron Sinclair Alison + Peter Smithson Ettore Sottsass Constance Spry Superstudio Yuri Suzuki Ed Swan Richard Sweeney Timorous Beasties London Transport Philip Treacy Jop van Bennekom Sarah van Gameren Viable Matthew Williamson Robert Wilson Ben Wilson Philip Worthington Frank Lloyd Wright Michael Young
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