Norman Foster

Architect, England
Together with architects Richard Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw, and Michael Hopkins,
Norman Foster is credited with pioneering the design style known as High-Tech in
Britain in the early 1970s. Although in the United States the term refers principally to an
architectural style, in Britain High-Tech points to a more rigorous approach in which
advanced technology is acknowledged as representing the “spirit of the age.” The
aesthetics of industrial production and machine technology are celebrated and embodied
Entries A–F 883
in the methodology of design production. Industry is a source for both technology and
imagery.
After working in the city treasurer’s office in Manchester Town Hall and
serving for two years in the Royal Air Force, Foster studied at the
University of Manchester (1956–61) and at Yale University (1961–62). In
1963, he formed Team 4 in London, collaborating with his wife, Wendy,
and Su and Richard Rogers, whom he had met at Yale. An early commission was for a house in Cornwall
for Richard Rogers’s parents-in-law, the Brumwells, and their art collection. Marcus
Brumwell had been a founder of Misha Black’s design consultancy, DRU, and this
connection was to lead to further commissions. The house is half buried in the contours
of the site and takes full advantage of the dramatic coastal position; the bridge spanning
the steep gully between road and turfed roof presages some of Foster and Roger’s later
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preoccupations. Another significant early work was the controversial Reliance Controls
Factory (1967) at Swindon. Here, Foster’s interest in tense metal skins for buildings and
Roger’s predilection for expressing structural bracing externally are anticipated. There
was also a concern for civilizing working conditions, which was to become a hallmark of
Foster’s commercial buildings.
Foster Associates was founded in London in 1967 and includes eight partners in
addition to Norman and Wendy Foster (Loren Butt, Chubby S.Chhabra, Spencer de Gray,
Roy Fleetwood, Birkin Haward, James Meller, Graham Phillips, and Mark Robertson). It
has become an immensely successful practice with an international profile. Their first
significant commission was the Olsen line passenger terminal and administration building
(1971) in London’s Dockland. Here, Foster declared his concern of breaking down the
“distinction between us and them, posh and scruffy, front office and workers’ entrance.”
Throughout the early 1970s, Foster brought his commitment to a patrician elegance to a
whole range of modestly scaled buildings, offices, schools, shops, and some factories.
The celebrated headquarters of the Willis Faber Dumas offices (1975) in Ipswich
boasts a curved glass facade that reinforces the street boundaries and harmonizes with the
urban environment. Two floors of office accommodation for 1300 people are elevated
and placed between amenity and support areas above and below, including a swimming
pool and gymnasium on the ground floor and a restaurant pavilion set in the landscaped
garden roof. The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts (1978), built to house the Sir
Robert and Lady Sainsbury Collection, comprises an ingeniously adaptable structure that
allows any part of the external walls and roof to be changed quickly to provide different
combinations of glazed, solid, or grilled aluminum panels. A single, large, span roof
covers two exhibition galleries, the School of Fine Arts, a large reception area, the
university faculty club, a public restaurant, and storage facilities. The latter requiring
more space, Foster designed the fan-shaped Crescent Wing, completed in 1991. This
addition is introduced discretely into the landscape and does not destroy the integrity of
the main building. The Renault Distribution Centre (1983) at Swindon is based on a
structural module—a masted, lightweight suspended roof that repeats itself. Stansted
Airport Terminal (1991) followed, with its dramatic roof structure surmounting the vast
open space of the main building. Such great “neutral space envelopes,” capable of
accommodating differentiated functions, are a feature of Foster’s work. While being
committed to the HighTech movement, which celebrates the aesthetic of industrial
production, Foster is also concerned with what he describes as design “development,”
evinced in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Headquarters (1985),
described as the most expensive office building ever constructed. Here, all the main
elements of the building, often prefabricated off-site, result from the close collaboration
of architect and manufacturers, ensuring high levels of craftsmanship and quality of
detail. Stansted witnesses a similar concern for detail, with the architect designing
carpets, seating, checkout desks, and retail outlets. More recent works include a
contribution to Stockley Park (1984), Heathrow, Middlesex, a business park attracting
international companies; the ITN Headquarters (1991); Riverside Offices and Apartments
(1990), including Foster’s own apartment, both in London; and the Library (1992) at
Cranfield Institute of Technology, Bedfordshire, England.

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