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Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank

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Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank

The Right Honourable
The Lord Foster of Thames Bank
Born Norman Robert Foster
(1935-06-01) 1 June 1935
Stockport, Cheshire, England
Nationality British
Occupation Architect
Website .com.fosterandpartnerswww
Practice Foster + Partners
Projects American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

Norman Robert Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, OM, HonFREng[1] (born 1 June 1935) is a British architect whose company, Foster + Partners, maintains an international design practice famous for high-tech architecture.

He is one of Britain's most prolific architects of his generation.[2] In 1999 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.[3] In 2009 Foster was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award in the Arts category. In 1994 he received the AIA Gold Medal.


Early life in Manchester

Foster was born to Robert Foster and Lilian Smith[4] in 1935 in Reddish, Stockport, Cheshire. They moved, soon after his birth, two miles to 4 Crescent Grove in Levenshulme, Manchester, which they rented for fourteen shillings (70p) a week:[5] Foster has no recollection of Reddish.[4]

He attended Burnage Grammar School for Boys in Burnage. In a Guardian interview in 1999, Foster said he always felt 'different' at school and was bullied.[6] and he retired into the world of books.

Alfred Waterhouse's Manchester Town Hall, where Foster worked as a junior clerk

Manchester was 'one of the workshops of the world'[6] and 'the embodiment of a great city';[7] his father, Robert, worked at Metropolitan-Vickers at Trafford Park which fuelled Foster's interest in engineering and design.[6] He was fascinated with engineering and the process of designing. He says that caused him to pursue a career designing buildings.[8] Specific interests included aircraft, a hobby he maintains today;[8] and trains, generated by viewing passing trains on the railway outside his terraced home during his childhood.[8]

Foster's father convinced him to take the entrance exam for Manchester Town Hall's trainee scheme[9] which he passed in 1951 and took a job as an office junior in the Treasurer's Department.[9] A colleague, Mr Cobb's son, was studying architecture and his interest led to Foster considering a career in architecture.[10] After working in the Manchester City Treasurer's office, Foster completed his National Service in 1953 serving in the Royal Air Force, a choice inspired by his passion for aircraft.[11]

Foster returned to Manchester, not wanting to return to the town hall as his parents wished and unsure of which path to follow.[12] Foster was searching for a world away from his working-class roots which led to the alienation of his parents.[13]


Foster lecturing in 2001
Foster ventured around Manchester observing buildings. The art deco Express Building in Manchester was a building that intrigued him.

Foster took a job as assistant to a contract manager with John Bearshaw and Partners, a local architectural practice. [14] The staff advised him, that if he wished to become an architect, he should prepare a portfolio of drawings using the perspective and shop drawings from Bearshaw's practice as an example.[15] Bearshaw was so impressed with the drawings that he promoted the young Foster to the drawing department of the practice.[16]

In 1956 Foster won a place at the University of Manchester School of Architecture and City Planning. Foster was not eligible for a maintenance grant so took up a number of part-time jobs to fund his studies.[17] becoming an ice-cream salesman, night-club bouncer[17] and working night shifts at a bakery to make crumpets.[6] He combined these with self-tuition via visits to the local library in Levenshulme.[18] Foster took a keen interest in the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer and graduated from Manchester in 1961.[6]

Foster won the Henry Fellowship to the high-tech industrial design.

Foster + Partners

The Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters in Ipswich was one of Foster's earliest commissions after founding Foster Associates.

After Team 4, went their separate ways, Foster and Wendy Cheesman founded Foster Associates, which later became Foster and Partners in 1967. A long period of collaboration with American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller began in 1968 and continued until Fuller's death in 1983. They collaborated on several projects that became catalysts in the development of an environmentally sensitive approach to design – including the Samuel Beckett Theatre project.

Originally they concentrated on industrial buildings. The turning point was the 1969 administrative and leisure center for Fred. Olsen Lines in London Docklands, where workers and managers are not separated any more.[19] Foster and Partners' breakthrough building in the UK was the Willis Faber & Dumas headquarters in Ipswich, of 1974. The client was a family run insurance company which wanted to restore a sense of community to the workplace. Foster created open plan office floors long before open-plan became the norm. In a town not over-endowed with public facilities, the roof gardens, 25 metre swimming pool and gymnasium enhanced the quality of life for the company's 1200 employees.[20] The building has a full-height glass facade moulded to the medieval street plan and contributes drama, subtly shifting from opaque, reflective black to a glowing backlit transparency as the sun sets. The design was inspired by the Daily Express Building in Manchester a work Foster admired in his youth. The building is now Grade I* listed.

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, an art gallery and museum on the campus of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, was one of the first major public buildings to be designed by Foster, completed in 1978, and became grade II* listed in December 2012. In 1990 Foster's design for the Terminal Building at London Stansted Airport was awarded the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture / Mies van der Rohe Award.

The HSBC Building in Hong Kong. Designed by Foster in the 1980s

Foster gained a reputation for designing office buildings. In the 1980s he designed the HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong for HSBC. The building is marked by its high level of light transparency, as all 3500 workers have a view to Victoria Peak or Victoria Harbour.[21] Foster said that if the firm had not won the contract it would probably have been bankrupted.

Foster believes that attracting young talent is essential, and is proud that the average age of people working for Foster and Partners is 32, just like it was in 1967.[19]

Present day

View of 30 St Mary Axe. The building serves as the London headquarters for Swiss Re and is informally known as 'The Gherkin'.

Foster was assigned the brief for a development on the site of the Baltic Exchange in the 1990s. The Exchange was damaged beyond repair by a bomb left by the IRA. Foster + Partners submitted a plan for a 385 metre tall skyscraper, the London Millennium Tower, but its height was seen as excessive for London's skyline.[22] The proposal was scrapped and instead Foster proposed 30 St Mary Axe, popularly referred to as "the gherkin", after its shape. Foster worked with engineers to integrate complex computer systems with the most basic physical laws, such as convection. Green, sustainable energy ideas include the complex facade which lets in air for passive cooling and vents it as it warms and rises.

The restored Reichstag in Berlin, housing the German parliament. The dome is part of Foster's redesign.

Foster's earlier designs reflected a sophisticated, machine-influenced high-tech vision. His style has evolved into a more sharp-edged modernity. In 2004, Foster designed the tallest bridge in the world, the Millau Viaduct in Southern France, with the Millau Mayor Jacques Godfrain stating; "The architect, Norman Foster, gave us a model of art."[23]

In January 2007, the Sunday Times reported that Foster had called in Catalyst, a corporate finance house, to find buyers for Foster + Partners. Foster does not intend to retire, but sell his 80–90% holding in the company valued at £300M to £500M.[24]

In 2007, he worked with Philippe Starck and Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group for the Virgin Galactic plans.[25]

Foster currently sits on the Board of Trustees at architectural charity Article 25 who design, construct and manage innovative, safe, sustainable buildings in some of the most inhospitable and unstable regions of the world. He has also been on the Board of Trustees of the Architecture Foundation.


The Hearst Tower in New York City

In 1986, he was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Science) from the University of Bath.[26]

Foster was knighted in 1990[27] and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1997.[28] On 19 July 1999, he was created a life peer, as Baron Foster of Thames Bank, of Reddish in the County of Greater Manchester.[29][30] As a resident of Switzerland, in 2010 he stepped down from his seat in the House of Lords in order to maintain his non-domiciled status, and so be able to avoid paying UK residents' taxes on income earned abroad.[31][32] Foster was criticised by some in the architecture world for not advocating the importance of high standards of architecture and planning whilst a member of the House of Lords.[31] Foster last spoke in the Lords in 2003 before his resignation in 2010.[31]

He was also appointed as a HonFREng[1] of the Royal Academy of Engineering[1] in 1995. He is the second British architect to win the Stirling Prize twice: the first time for the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in 1998, and the second for 30 St Mary Axe in 2004. In consideration of his whole portfolio, Foster was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1999. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers and winner of the Minerva Medal, its highest award. Foster is a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.[33]

Foster received The Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2007 to honor his contributions to the advancement of tall buildings.[34]

He was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, for the University of Technology Petronas in Malaysia,[35][36] and in 2008 he was granted an honorary degree from the Dundee School of Architecture at the University of Dundee. In 2009 he received the Prince of Asturias Award in the category Arts.


See also




  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ Chris Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme, Thorndike Press,2006
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Sudjic 2010, p. 11.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e
  7. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 32.
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^ a b Sudjic 2010, p. 27.
  10. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 30.
  11. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 34.
  12. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 35.
  13. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 37.
  14. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 36.
  15. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 39.
  16. ^ Sudjic 2010, p. 40.
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c How much does your building weigh, Mr. Foster?, Sternstunde Kultur, Schweizer Fernsehen, 4 December 2011.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Carré d'Art, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Anagramme Ed., 2008, p. 134
  26. ^
  27. ^ The London Gazette: no. 52543. p. 8207. 28 May 1991.
  28. ^ The London Gazette: no. 54962. p. 13399. 28 November 1997.
  29. ^ The London Gazette: no. 55565. p. 8128. 28 July 1999.
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b c
  32. ^
  33. ^ Design Futures Council Senior Fellows
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^



  • How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster? (dir. Carlos Carcas and Norberto Lopez Amado, 2010, 78 minutes)

External links

  • Foster and Partners
  • Bio at the Pritzker Prize
  • Lord Norman Robert Foster information at Structurae
  • Interview with Norman Foster(video)
  • Foster's projects on the map, Guardian gallery of 16 projects
  • Building "The Gherkin" (film)
  • A (video) tour of the Clark Center
  • Norman Foster's building Valencia Conference Centre
  • Foster and Partners Projects in the Middle East
  • TED Talks: Norman Foster's green agenda at TED in 2007
  • Foster chosen for iconic redevelopment Mikhail Bode, Russia Beyond the Headlines 18 December 2007
  • "Driven designer constructs a global empire," Financial Times, 30 January 2011
  • "Norman Foster" (Review of Norman Foster: A Life in Architecture, by Deyan Sudjic), Financial Times, 5 June 2010

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