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Tandy Cheng

“As an architect you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.”


Table of Contents About Foster 3 Selected Works 7 In Comparison 16 Thoughts 22

About Foster

about foster

background “Foster was born in 1935 in Reddish in Greater Manchester to a working class family with no tradition of higher education. After leaving school, he did his national service in the air force and then worked in the treasurer’s department at Manchester town hall, before studying architecture in his hometown. He subsequently won a scholarship to Yale, where he met Richard Rogers, and studied with, among others, James Stirling. Foster and Rogers established their first architectural practice, Team Four, on their return to England in 1963, along with Foster’s first wife, the architect Wendy Cheesman, and Su Brumwell. Team Four built an outstanding house for Brumwell’s parents in Cornwall and an impressive factory for Reliance Controls in Swindon, before Foster started his own practice in 1967” (Design Museum).


“Architecture really is about the needs of people, the material needs, the things that you can measure: keeping us warm when it’s cold outside, cool when it’s hot outside, protecting us from the elements. But it’s also about the spiritual dimension, it’s about the things that move us, that make us feel happy, comfortable. You can call it any word you like, you can call it beauty, you can call it aesthetics, you can call it welcoming, friendly. But something that will make us feel good. Architecture is about the social agenda.“

about foster

“We use technology, but not just for its own sake. I believe that the best architecture comes from a synthesis of all of the elements that comprise a building: the structure that holds it up, the services that allow it to work, the ecology of the building - whether it is naturally ventilated, whether you can open a window, the quality of natural light, the materials used - their mass or their lightness, the character of the spaces, the symbolism of the form, the relationship of the building to the skyline or the streetscape, and the way in which the building signals its presence in the city or the countryside. I think that holds true whether you are creating a landmark or deferring to historical setting. Successful architecture addresses all these things, and many more.”

about foster

foster + partners Foster + Partners is a global practice with 25 offices around the world, with a total of around 1,250 employees. At any given time, they can be working on over 80 projects in more than 50 countries. They are one of the most prolific architectural firms in the world, and their work runs the gamut: urban plans, public infrastructure, airports, civic and cultural buildings, offices and workplaces, private houses, product design, and more. Since its inception, the practice has received 470 awards and citations for excellence and has won more than 86 international and national competitions.

Foster and Partners in 1968 saw the beginning of a long period of collaboration with American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller, which continued until Fuller’s death in 1983. Their partnership became a catalyst in the development of an environment sensitive approach to design, including the Samuel Beckett Theatre project. Sustainability and eco-sensibility of the structure forms the basis of Foster’s inspiration for design. Choice of materials, design elements, sometimes even the form of the building all evolves from this inspirational approach� - (foundationsakc).

Selected Works

willis faber & dumas headquarters (1975)

selected works

“Ipswich is characterised by low-rise, articulated buildings bound together with winding streets of random geometry. Any new building had to respond to the scale of these surroundings and the pattern of streets.” - Norman Foster

Foster’s breakthrough building, built in Ipswich, UK. The client was a family-run insurance company that wanted to restore a sense of community to the workplace, echoing Foster’s ‘social agenda’ design principles. Its internal organization, planned around an atrium serviced by banks of escalators, with a roof garden, and a staff swimming pool that doubled as a heat sink, demonstrated Foster’s abiding concern for the social aspects of architecture, and for energy performance. In a town lacking of public facilities, it also enhanced the quality of life for the company’s 1200 employees. The building has a full-height glass facade molded to the medieval street plan and contributes drama, subtly shifting from opaque, reflective black to a glowing backlit transparency as the sun sets. The use of dark glass, a curtain wall and lack of right angle corners mirrors the art deco Express Building in Manchester - one of Norman Foster’s favorite buildings and a clear indication of the influence Mancunian architecture has in Foster’s works. In 1991 the Willis building became the youngest building to be given Grade I listed building status in Britain, and it is now seen as a landmark in the development of the ‘high tech’ architectural style.

hsbc main building (1986) “Many buildings are statements of confidence in the future, so they are inextricably linked to the political processes which generate their need, and some of that is really highly symbolic. The Bank was certainly no exception. It was a very considered move, as a vehicle to enhance the prosperity of that particular bank, which has since moved dramatically into the world league. But it was also a symbol of confidence in the future of the colony.� - Norman Foster

Past Works

selected works After gaining a reputation for designing office buildings, HSBC contracted Foster to design their headquarters building in Hong Kong. The main characteristic of the building is its absence of internal supporting structure, instead relying on a module design consisting of five steel modules. Another notable feature of the building is its high level of light transparency, as all 3500 workers have a view to Victoria Peak or Hong Kong bay and the Chinese mainland. This was done with the philosophy of Feng Shui in mind, with the belief being that those who have a direct view of a body of water are more likely to prosper than those who do not. Because of this, natural sunlight is the major source of lighting inside the building. There is a bank of giant mirrors at the top of the atrium, which can reflect natural sunlight into the atrium and hence down into the plaza. Through the use of natural sunlight, this design helps to conserve energy. Additionally, sun shades are provided on the external facades to block direct sunlight going into the building and to reduce heat gain. Instead of fresh water, sea water is used as coolant for the air-conditioning system. Through this building, Foster established himself as one of the world’s leaders in high-tech design. The relocation of elevators to the exterior of the building and instead using escalators as the primary form of transportation in the interior allowed open plans in the center of the spaces.

reichstag building (1999)

selected works

“I believed that if we were to introduce a symbolically resonant structure that would signal the changed use of the building then that structure should also be an integral part of the buildings ecology.” - Norman Foster

One of Foster’s most renowned restoration projects. This building was initially constructed in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged in a fire. The ruined building was partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification, when it underwent a reconstruction led by Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag. The building provides a model for sustainability by burning renewable bio-fuel - refined vegetable oil − in a cogenerator to produce electricity: a system that is far cleaner than burning fossil fuels. The result is a 94 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Surplus heat is stored as hot water in an aquifer deep below ground and can be pumped up to heat the building or to drive an absorption cooling plant to produce chilled water. Significantly, the building’s energy requirements are modest enough to allow it to produce more energy than it consumes and to perform as a mini power station in the new government quarter. But even more than just the usual environmental agenda, Foster also takes into account the building’s long history. He pays homage to the past by leaving certain layers of history intact, such as stonemason’s marks and Russian graffiti, scars that have been preserved in order to form a living museum of sorts. At the same time, Foster is able to display the progression of Germany with the large glass dome at the top of the Reichstag, symbolizing the reunification of Germany.

millau viaduct (2004) “We wanted the piers to look as if they had barely alighted on the landscape, light and delicate - like butterflies’ legs.” - Norman Foster

Past Works

selected works A cable-stayed bridge in southern France that spans the valley of the River Tarn near Millau and connects Paris to the Mediterranean coast. It holds the world record as the tallest bridge in the world, with the highest mast standing at 343 meters, taller than even the Eiffel Tower. This work by Foster is unique in that bridges are often seen as the work of engineers, not architects. Yet Foster quite literally bridges the gap between engineers and architects and shows how a collaboration of the two can create something beautiful and elegant. The tapered form of the columns also reflects Foster’s environmental agenda by making minimum intervention in the landscape. In essence, the bridge is a perfect example of the way Foster is able to effortlessly combine function, technology, and aesthetics.

gherkin (2004)

selected works

“The Swiss Re tower is arguably the most important 21st century landmark in London.” Building Design 13/05/05

This skyscraper situated in London’s financial district is widely regarded as one of Foster’s greatest works and is an embodiment of his belief in sustainability. Generated by a circular plan, with a radial geometry, the building widens in profile as it rises and tapers towards its apex. The form reflects the function in that the design is energy saving in its nature, allowing it to use half the power a building that size would typically consume. Foster worked with engineers who applied laws of physics such as convection to create a green building that promotes sustainable energy. The swirling striped pattern on the exterior results from the floor layout within, allowing air to flow up through spiraling wells, and the double-glazed façade is ventilated to help with temperature control that lets in air for cooling and vents it as it warms.

hearst tower (2006) “Norman has a feel for what it is your business does. The dialogue is often not about architecture, but how does your business function, and how do people live in the space.” - Frank A Bennack Jnr, (former) Hearst Chief Executive

t Past Works

selected works Originally envisioned as a landmark tower in the 1920s by renowned publisher William Hearst, his grand plans never came to fruition as the Great Depression hit. Now over 80 years later, Foster was brought in to complete the long overdue project. With a keen understanding of the building’s history, Foster was able to establish a connection between the old and the new by leaving the original cast stone façade intact. The new tower is 44-stories tall and has a triangulated ‘diagrid’ form. Like most of Foster’s work, the form reflects environmental principles by acting as a highly efficient solution that uses 20% less steel than a conventionally framed structure. It was also built using 85% recycled steel. Because of this and many other sustainable aspects of the tower, it achieved a gold rating under the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the first skyscraper in NYC to do so.

wembley stadium (2007)

selected works

“The stadium [Wembley] is approached along an axial approach which showcases the arched structure supporting the roof. The arch works immensely well both in terms of its immediate and long distance scale as an icon - it is an enormously successful London landmark. At a functional level the building appears to work with exemplary efficiency. It is an outstanding, practical achievement.� RIBA National Award citation, 2008

Originally constructed in 1924 for the British Empire Exhibition, the old Wembley Stadium was arguably one of the most important entertainment venues in Britain. Now almost a century later, the stadium has been redesigned by Foster to build upon the cultural history of the past while thrusting it into modernity. With a staggering 90,000 seats, the new stadium is the largest covered arena in the world. One of the most distinguished and recognizable aspects of the stadium is the 133-meter high arch spanning across the top of the stadium, the longest single-span roof structure in the world. Throughout the intricate design and pleasing aesthetics, Foster is able to retain pragmatism in his work by ensuring that the geometry and seating tiers of the stadium allow everyone to have an unobstructed view of the field.

beijing capital international airport (2007)

selected works

selected works

“Foster has achieved what no other architect has been able to: he has rethought the airport from scratch and made it work. Foster has done for airports what the architects Reed & Stem did for train stations with their design for Grand Central, a building whose greatest achievement is not its sumptuous main concourse but its orchestration of an intricate web of people, trains, taxis, and passing automobiles into a system that feels straightforward and logical, as if the building itself were guiding you from the entrance to your train.� - Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker, April 21 2008

Ranked as the second largest airport passenger terminal building in the world, Terminal 3 of Beijing Airport was designed by Foster with his past airport projects of Stansted and Chek Lap Kok in mind. Despite the enormous size, the logical and efficient layout easily guides passengers to their flight. The roof canopy makes reappearance, and allows natural flight to flood in the terminal building. The light casts a color that shifts from red and yellow too, reflecting of course the Chinese national colors. Foster once again makes sustainability imperative in his designs, by maximizing heat gain from the sun and minimizing energy consumption with an integrated environment-control system. Interior design also plays a big part here, as many traditional Chinese motifs can be seen throughout the terminal.

In Comparison

foster versus other sustainable architects

Buckminster Fuller- is an American architect, designer and inventor. Fuller was a frequent collaborator with Foster and Partners when the firm first formed in 1967, with many of Fuller’s works influencing Foster’s environmental approach to architecture. Fuller was a forefather of environmentalism and studied principles of energy and material efficiency in architecture and design. Fuller believed in a term he himself coined, ephemeralization- doing more with less on the basis of technological advancements. Clearly he was highly concerned with sustainability, and believed human survival hinged upon it. This is very similar to Foster, who also believes that sustainable architecture is not just a fad, it is a means of survival. William McDonough- is an American architect with a focus on designing environmentally sustainable buildings and transforming our traditional ways of manufacturing. McDonough’s work is inspired by the “Cradle to Cradle Design,” a philosophy developed by McDonough himself and German chemist Dr. Michael Braungart. The philosophy outlines design as “a beneficial, regenerative force—one that seeks to create ecological footprints to delight in, not lament.” McDonough is very similar to Foster in that both are concerned with architecture that minimizes the negative environmental impact of buildings. Both also like to utilize energy efficient techniques, natural ventilation, and lots of daylight in their designs. The two do differ in an underlying belief though. Foster revolves his designs around a social agenda- creating public space for the community to enjoy. McDonough on the other hand takes a more physiological approach with the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and living systems and using his designs to strengthen that bond.

In comparison

Current Projects

Frank Lloyd Wright- is an American architect who believed in “organic architecture”designing buildings that were in harmony with the surrounding environment. His magnum opus, Fallingwater, exemplifies this belief by integrating the surrounding waterfall into the design of this house. Using a cantilever design, Wright was able to make the house larger than the plot allowed. Both Wright and Foster are similar in that they both believe in designing buildings on the basis of integrating humanity into the equation. Both were highly keen to the treatment of space and how best to utilize limited space to maximize efficiency. I think the biggest similarity between the two though is in their temperament or personality- both are highly against the entrapments of tradition or association. Foster refuses to be lumped in with the ‘high-tech’ style, and Wright believed in individualism so strongly that he once called the American Institute of Architects “a harbor of refuge for the incompetent.” Wright’s vision is embodied in his belief of a Usonia- a new and distinct form of American landscape free from previous architectural conventions.

foster versus other sustainable architects

Glenn Murcutt- is an Australian architect who focuses on organic architecture and its relationship with nature. Murcutt is a sole practitioner and although his work is contained to Australia, his influence can be seen worldwide in the classes he teaches to both budding and established architects. Murcutt’s motto when it comes to design is “touch the earth lightly,” and it means to adapt his designs to the features of the Australian landscape. He’s similar to Foster in that both create highly economical and functional buildings, and are highly adept at observing their surroundings before designing the building itself. As a testament to Murcutt’s work, he was awarded the 2002 Pritzker prize, with the jury saying“In an age obsessed with celebrity, the glitz of our ‘starchitects’, backed by large staffs and copious public relations support, dominate the headlines. As a total contrast, Murcutt works in a one-person office on the other side of the world ... yet has a waiting list of clients, so intent is he to give each project his personal best. He is an innovative architectural technician who is capable of turning his sensitivity to the environment and to locality into forthright, totally honest, nonshowy works of art.” In this regard, Foster is somewhat different: he runs a global firm, receives a lot of press attention, and designs buildings that will definitely catch your eye.

Current Projectt

In comparison

Ken Yeang- is a Malaysian architect known for his green architecture, and is described as the “world’s leading green skyscraper architect.” His ecoarchitecture work goes beyond traditional standards and he approaches his designs from an empirical perspective. When it comes to the aesthetics of his designs, Yeang is unique in that he believes buildings should physically look natural and green and visibly display its sustainable function. Foster himself has said that “Ken Yeang has developed a distinctive architectural vocabulary that extends beyond questions of style to confront issues of sustainability and how we can build in harmony of the natural world.” In comparing Foster and Yeang it becomes clear that while both men are practitioners of sustainable architecture, Yeang is more focused on design ecology. To sum up Yeang best, he himself has said “I’m an ecologist first, and an architect second.”

foster versus other architects

Richard Rogers- is an Italian-born British architect who used to work with Foster back with Team 4. As old colleagues, they also share similar views on design, with both Rogers’ and Foster’s work being termed by the media as high-tech architecture. Rogers is fundamentally modernist in outlook, but developed a style of his own dubbed “Bowellism.” This style can be seen in his designs of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyd’s Building in London- an inside-out style that relegates most of the building’s services to the exterior in order to free up interior space. Much of Rogers’ later career has been focused on issues of urbanism, sustainability and the ways in which cities are used. This is very similar to Foster, who probably had some part in influencing Rogers or vice versa. David Chipperfield- is a British architect who is modernist in outlook and driven by a philosophical and elemental approach when it comes to design. Formerly a partner of Foster and Partners, he established his own practice, David Chipperfield Architects, in 1984. From there, he has gone on to design many civic and cultural buildings both in the U.S. and Europe, with one of his best works being the restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin. From this, one can glean the similarities to Foster when compared to one of Foster’s works also in Berlin- the restoration of the Reichstag. Both restorations respect the history of the past and ensure that the new design complements the old, creating a smooth and flowing integration of old and new. For example, Chipperfield has kept several of the old facades intact in the Neues Museum, and Foster has left many marks of the past German graffiti untouched in the Reichstag.

In comparison

Current Projects

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe- is a German-American architect who served as the last director of the Bauhaus school. Widely regarded as one of the forefathers of modern architecture, Mies used modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass in his buildings. He referred to his buildings as “skin and bones” architecture because of the minimal framework that characterized it, and is commonly associated with the aphorism “less is more.” Unlike Foster, Mies did not practice sustainable architecture because to be honest that was not necessary or even really existent at the time. In Mies’ time, what mattered was defining his era through exploring what modernism meant. Using rational thought to achieve spiritual goals, he believed that every architectural element must serve a purpose and contribute to the building in its entirety. When looking at Mies’ work such as the Barcelona Pavilion, it is evident they are very direct and simple in nature. All in all, Mies can be seen as a clear influence in Foster’s highly modern, economic, and efficient buildings today.

foster versus other architects Zaha Hadid- is an Iraqi-British architect who is known for her distinctively futuristic buildings, characterized by the “powerful, curving forms of her elongated structures” with “multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry to evoke the chaos of modern life.” In terms of modern architects, she is probably on the opposite side of the spectrum when compared to Foster. Hadid holds a highly spatial and abstract philosophy towards design and is all about designing exciting buildings that exceed traditional standards of aesthetics. This is very different from Foster’s much more pragmatic and technological approach, designing buildings instead based on the functionality of the form.

Peter Calthorpe- is a San-Francisco-based urban designer and planner who works on promoting sustainable building practices. In 1983 he formed Calthorpe Associates, which worked on many neighborhood development projects. In 1989 he proposed the concept of a “Pedestrian Pocket”- an up to 110 acres pedestrian friendly, transit linked, mixed-use urban area with a park at its center. This pocket of his aimed to be a better alternative to low-density suburban developments that was ubiquitous at the time. Calthorpe is similar to Foster in that both men are concerned with helping the people of society live better through smart designs. Land preservation, better communities, and urban growth are three shared goals of the two. Sim Van der Ryn- is a sustainable designer at the community scale. He is known for applying principles of physical and social ecology to environmental design. Van der Ryn pioneered new technologies, systems and materials to create environments that would be responsive to human needs. Worker with California governor Jerry Brown, Van der Ryn developed the United States’ first government-initiated energy efficient office building program and spearheaded the implementation of energy standards for all construction in California. He views energy security as one of the country’s biggest problems, and sees passive solar heat as a possible solution. If we look at some of Foster’s work that utilizes natural ventilation and absorption of solar energy, such as the Gherkin, it becomes evident that Foster shares the same mindset as Van der Ryn.

Current Projectt

In comparison

foster versus other environmental designers

foster versus other environmental designers Peter Max- is a German-born American illustrator and graphic artist, known for the psychedelic shapes and color palettes he uses in his work. As a personal environmentalist, much of his designs reflect his desire to “save the world.” His artwork is identified as part of the counter culture of the 1970s, and Max was never afraid to break convention in his work. He and Foster share a similar personality when it comes to breaking boundaries and going against the grain of tradition.

In comparison

Current Projects

James Baldwin- is an American industrial designer and writer. A student of Buckminster Fuller, Baldwin was highly influenced by Fuller’s design principles. Baldwin is a leader in incorporating solar, wind, and other sources of renewable energy into design. In the 1970s, he co-developed the world’s first building to be heated and powered by only solar and wind power. Baldwin is known for his critiques of the American automobile industry, criticizing their overemphasis on time spent marketing rather than actual innovation. For a designer technologist of his time, Baldwin was largely unsupported by mainstream fields at the time because the territory he was exploring was simply too new. Even though it is not as difficult for Foster because there have been many sustainable architects before him, he also struggles like Baldwin when it comes to the utopian vision he strives to achieve.


what do others think? Norman Foster is frequently cited as one of the greatest and most successful architectural minds of our generation, with more than 150 awards under his belt, some of which being the 1994 AIA Gold Medal, 1999 Pritzker Architecture Prize, and two-time winner of the Stirling Prize. However his fame and success does not come without its fair share of detractors. Many of Foster’s critics dismiss his ideas as dystopian rather than utopian. They complain about his excessive use of modern materials such as steel, aluminum and glass, as opposed to the traditional concrete shells used by most other architects. One of the biggest issues people seem to have with Foster is his pure ubiquity, viewing both his individual work and the work of his firm as a threat. As Foster + Partners continues to expand and employ more workers, people have begun to question whether or not Foster can create the same genius works he has done in the past if he is busy overseeing such a large team. Norman Foster has essentially become a brand name, and people are worried that Foster’s fingerprints on his recent projects are quickly fading. One recent project of Foster’s that garnered significant backlash was his renovation plans for the New York Public Library. In an attempt to modernize the century-old Beaux Art landmark and further democratize access to knowledge, the NYPL enlisted the help of Foster. The highlights of his renovation plan include consolidating two deteriorating nearby library branches and relocating underused research stacks to a humidity-controlled chamber beneath Bryant Park, installing a new circulating library in place of seven levels of book stacks under the Rose Reading Room, and in general make the space a more open area by replacing books with people. These plans of his caused uproar among preservationists, who believed Foster was disregarding the history of the building, with one exclaiming, “you don’t update a masterpiece.” Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman takes it upon himself to personally attack Foster’s work- “The designs have all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall. I was reminded that Mr. Foster is also responsible for the canopied enclosure of the inner court at the British Museum, a pompous waste of public space that inserts a shopping gallery into the heart of a sublime cultural institution.” At the end of his diatribe, Kimmelman concludes with- “The value of an institution isn’t measured in public square feet. But its value can be devalued by bad architecture. And here we get to the schematics Mr. Foster finally unveiled last month. They aren’t worthy of him. After more than four years, this hardly seems the best he can do.” But despite the lament of critics, most agree that the overall standards of architecture in the world have been raised thanks to the contributions of Foster and his firm. Nowadays, every major city needs at least one Foster building as a symbol of modernity and progression. Telegraph journalist Leo Hollis puts it best, “A Foster museum makes it a cultural centre, a Foster airport makes it a transport hub, a Foster corporate building establishes a market leader.”

what do I think? Once when asked about his design beliefs, Foster said, “The ends are always social, generated by people rather than the hardware of buildings.” Through the selected works of his I looked at, it is clear the quote holds true and that he truly is a practitioner of his social agenda. So much so that I think, like some of his peers I compared him to, he transcends being just a mere architect. I think at this point, it is clear I myself am a fan of Foster and his work ethic. He is genuine in his quest for a sustainable future, and “green” is not just a catchphrase…to him it is a way of life. From high-tech landmarks such as the Gherkin to a simplistic bridge like the Millau Viaduct, Foster has shown time and again that he is indeed creating for the betterment of society. There is one qualm I have though, and it is one I share with the critics- Foster vs. Foster and Partners. I suppose it is impossible for him to get where he is today without some help, but is it necessary for that help to come in the form of a 25 office, 1250 employee firm? Foster has become such a brand name that there is even a replicable Foster look now: “a Foster building explores the entire palette of greys; the same font is used for all signage; the furniture is exacting.” While conducting my research for this dossier, I ran into many instances when it became hard to distinguish what was Foster’s work or merely the work of his firm, and if it was the work of his firm did he have any input in it? In comparing Foster to some of his peers who possess much smaller firms or none at all even, it became evident that an enormous firm like his is not all that necessary. To me, it just seems draining to manage that many employees and offices around the world. At times I feel like Foster, while already wildly successful, would still be able to accomplish even more if he returned to more modest roots such as his time with Team 4. Yet despite my concerns, it seems Foster has never allowed the firm to swallow up his individual voice. Time and again, he designs buildings that just keep setting the bar higher and higher. Taking after his past colleague Buckminster Fuller, Foster seems to always be looking ahead at the future and finding new ways to improve it. Increasingly, Foster has directed the growing technology of our time towards more advanced ways to utilize it for a social purpose. The last few decades have witnessed a profound change in public attitudes towards high consumption of energy and have consequently shifted towards a greener approach to life. Foster has been at the forefront of this change, and with it he asks, “as we see a lot of these deadlines slipping by and not being met, will we get the message early enough or will it be, in the end, too late. That is why I say that it is not a matter of fashion, it’s truly a matter of survival.”

foster’s place In british design history The British Empire Exhibition of 1924 was the largest exhibition ever staged in the world at the time, with the official aim to “to stimulate trade, strengthen bonds that bind mother Country to her Sister States and Daughters, to bring into closer contact the one with each other, to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other.” This exhibition was held in none other than Wembley Stadium, and the building became known as the most important sports and entertainment venue in Britain. In 2002, Norman Foster was given the task of reinventing the stadium for a new century while building on the heritage of the past. While Wembley Stadium is no longer home to the world’s largest exhibition, the fact that Foster was chosen to give new life to this historic building shows firsthand how significant he is to British design history. After Foster’s breakthrough in the UK with the Willis Faber and Dumas headquarters, he would quickly move from a purely British to an international stage. He won a competition to design the new headquarters for Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Hong Kong. An even bolder project, it was perhaps the first skyscraper to have been built outside North America. Foster reinterpreted the traditional skyscraper mold and abolished the central lift core, working instead with an exoskeleton structure that suspended huge floors in tiers from bridge structures. From this point, Foster expanded in scale and ambition. He returned to Britain to work on Stansted airport, and it is there he shaped new thinking about airport design. Even though Foster was achieving success on a global scale, he would still return time and again to hometown Britain and turn whatever he worked on into gold. Foster did more than just build buildings though, he completely turned traditional design principles on its head by eliminating what had previously been the gulf in British architecture. By building everything from industrial structures such as offices to cultural hubs such as museums, universities and theaters, Foster effectively bridged the gap between commercial architecture and ‘art’ architecture. This of course translated over to his growing firm, which took on a much wider range of work made capable by the number of workers he was employing. He was radically changing the nature of architectural practice for the better. In terms of his role as a teacher, young architects could build under the Foster name much earlier in their careers than they could have done on their own. All the while, Foster has never compromised his beliefs to please mainstream media. Take the Gherkin for example. When first commissioned by Foster, it embodied all that the British public hated: outlandish shape, industrial materials, imposing upon the London skyline. But after it was built, public outlook shifted completely and it became a symbol of the future of London. Bold and unique, it displayed fearlessness towards setting new social, spatial, and environmental standards. Through his work, Foster has effectively constructed the modern face of the capital and cemented his legacy in British design history while doing so. The truly great thing about him though is that he is never done. With the ever-evolving technology present at our fingertips, Foster will continue to find new and innovative ways to make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants. To close with a quote by Foster himself- “More and more people inhabit cities, the majority of the planet. So, if we create new cities, which we have to, they have to be sustainable, clean, inviting, great places to be, not polluting, harvesting energy, conserving energy. And if that’s true of new cities, it’s true of existing cities. They have to transform, improve public spaces, a richer mix of activities, safer, more secure and of course, sustainable. That’s a dream, but it’s a practical dream.”


Norman Foster Design Dossier