Norman Foster, High-Tech Architect

From Humble Beginnings, b. 1935

British architect Norman Foster, 2010, in San Sebastian, Spain
British architect Norman Foster, 2010, in San Sebastian, Spain. Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images, ©2010 Getty Images (crop)

Pritzker Prize-winning British architect Norman Foster is famous for "high tech" designs that explore technological shapes and ideas. His "big tent" constructed with the modern plastic ETFE even made the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's tallest tensile structure. In addition to winning the most prestigious award for architecture, the Pritzker Prize, Foster has been knighted and granted the rank of baron by Queen Elizabeth II.

Background:

Born: June 1, 1935 in Manchester, England

Early Life:

Born in a working class family, Norman Foster did not seem likely to become a famous architect. Although he was a good student in high school and showed an early interest in architecture, he did not enroll in college until he was 21 years old. Foster won numerous scholarships during his years at Manchester University, including one to attend Yale University in the United States.

Education:

  • 1961: Manchester University School of Architecture
  • Master's Degree, Yale University, Henry Fellowship

Partnerships:

In 1963 Foster co-founded the successful "Team 4" architectural firm with his wife, Wendy Foster, and the husband and wife team of Richard Rogers and Sue Rogers. His own firm, Foster Associates (Foster + Partners), was founded in London in 1967.

Selected Projects:

Awards and Honors:

  • 1983: Gold Medal, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
  • 1990: RIBA Trustees Medal for the Willis Faber Dumas building
  • 1990: Knighthood from the Queen of England
  • 1991: Gold Medal, French Academy of Architecture
  • 1994: Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • 1997: Appointed by the Queen to the Order of Merit
  • 1999: Pritzker Architecture Prize
  • 1999: Honored by the Queen as Lord Foster of Thames Bank
  • 2002: Praemium Imperiale, Japan Art Association

Related People and Influences:

In His Own Words:

"I think one of the many themes in my work is the benefits of triangulation that can make structures rigid with less material."

Source: Interview by Vladimir Belogolovskiy, archi.ru [accessed May 28, 2015]

"Buckminster Fuller was the kind of green guru...He was a design scientist, if you like, a poet, but he foresaw all the things that are happening now....You can go back to his writings: it's quite extraordinary. It was at that time, with an awareness fired by Bucky's prophecies, his concerns as a citizen, as a kind of citizen of the planet, that influenced my thinking and what we were doing at that time."

Source: "My green agenda for architecture," December 2006, TED Talk at the 2007 DLD (Digital-Life-Design)Conference, Munich, Germany [accessed May 28, 2015]

More About Lord Norman Foster:

By the time Foster decided to become an architect, he had been a radar technician in the Royal Air Forces and worked in the treasury department of Manchester Town Hall. In college he studied bookkeeping and commercial law, so he was prepared to handle the business aspects of an architectural firm when the time came.

Foster Associates became known for "High Tech" design that explored technological shapes and ideas. In his work, Foster often uses off-site manufactured parts and the repetition of modular elements. The firm frequently designs special components for other high-tech modernist buildings.

In 2002 Lower Manhattan developer Larry Silverstein chose Norman Foster to join the team of Pritzker Laureates who would design Towers 2, 3, and 4 on Greenwich Street near Ground Zero. Foster's assignment, Tower 2, would be the second tallest skyscraper in New York City. In 2006, he  proposed a design for 2 World Trade Center, but a sagging real estate market stalled construction for several years. Then, seemingly out of the blue in 2015, he lost the commission to the Danish Bjarke Ingels Group, known as BIG.

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