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Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank

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The Lord Foster of Thames Bank

Norman Robert Foster

(1935-06-01) 1 June 1935 (age 89)
PracticeFoster + Partners
ProjectsAmerican Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

Norman Robert Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, OM, FRIBA, FCSD, RDI (born 1 June 1935) is an English architect. His company, Foster and Partners, has an international design practice. He is the United Kingdom's biggest builder of landmark office buildings.

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

Biography[change | change source]

Early life

Foster was born to Robert Foster and Lilian Smith in 1935 in ReddishStockport, Cheshire. They moved, soon after his birth, two miles to 4 Crescent Grove in LevenshulmeManchester, which they rented for fourteen shillings (70p) a week: Foster has no recollection of Reddish. Foster's parents were diligent, hard workers – so diligent that Foster, as an only child, felt their heavy workload restricted his relationship with them and he was often looked after by neighbours or other family members. 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 and he retired into the world of books. He considered himself quiet and awkward in his early years often making faux pas.

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

He left school at 16 and worked in the Manchester City Treasurer's office. Next, he joined the National Service in the Royal Air Force. After he was discharged, in 1956 Foster attended the University of Manchester's School of Architecture and City Planning. He graduated in 1961. Later, Foster won the Henry Fellowship to the Yale School of Architecture, where he earned his Master's degree Foster also met Richard Rogers at Yale. He then travelled in America for a year. He returned to the UK in 1963. Then he set up an architectural practice as Team 4 with Rogers and the sisters Georgie and Wendy Cheesman. Georgie (later Wolton) was the only one of the team that had passed her RIBA exams. This allowed them to set up in practice on their own. Team 4 quickly earned a reputation for high-tech industrial design.


Foster took a job as assistant to a contract manager with John Bearshaw and Partners, a local architectural practice.  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. Bearshaw was so impressed with the drawings that he promoted the young Foster to the drawing department of the practice.

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, becoming an ice-cream salesman, night-club bouncer and working night shifts at a bakery to make crumpets. He combined these with self-tuition via visits to the local library in Levenshulme. Foster took a keen interest in the works of Frank Lloyd WrightLudwig Mies van der RoheLe Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer and graduated from Manchester in 1961.

Foster won the Henry Fellowship to the Yale School of Architecture, where he met future business partner Richard Rogers and earned his master's degree. Vincent Scully encouraged Foster and Rogers to travel in America for a year. After returning to the UK in 1963 he set up an architectural practice as Team 4 with Rogers and the sisters Georgie and Wendy Cheesman. Georgie (later Wolton) was the only one of the team that had passed her RIBA exams allowing them to set up in practice on their own. Team 4 quickly earned a reputation for high-tech industrial design.

Foster + Partners[change | change source]

Foster and Partners London Office

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.

HSBC Hong Kong Headquarters

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. 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. The building has a full-height glass façade 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 AngliaNorwich, 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.

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. 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.

Present day[change | change source]

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

Today, Foster + Partners works with its engineers to use computer systems. They pay attention to basic physical laws such as convection. They have created efficient buildings like the Swiss Re London headquarters in London. The walls let in air for passive cooling and then let it out as it warms and rises.

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."

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 want to retire, but wants to sell his 80-90% holding in the company valued at £300M to £500M.[3]

Foster is a member of the board of Trustees for the architectural charity Article 25. They design, construct and manage safe, sustainable buildings in dangerous parts of the world. He has also been on the Board of Trustees of The Architecture Foundation. The reason for his wealth is he receives 15% of the building cost.

Apple Park in August 2016

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

Foster designed the Apple Campus in Cupertino and is currently designing most of their Apple stores. He is also designing Bloomberg's[disambiguation needed] headquarters in London. He also recently designed the Monaco Yacht club and the McLaren technology centre.

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.

He has recently set up the Norman Foster Foundation which promotes interdisciplinary thinking and research to help new generations of architects, designers and urbanists to anticipate the future.

Foster recently set up his personal Instagram account under the username @officialnormanfoster where he publishes photos of his everyday life

Recognition[change | change source]

Foster was knighted in 1990 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1997. In 1999, he was created a life peer, as Baron Foster of Thames Bank, of Reddish in the County of Greater Manchester.[4] He was a Crossbencher; he resigned from the House of Lords in 2010 because he refused to pay UK taxes on his foreign earnings.

Norman Foster is the second British architect to win the Stirling Prize twice: the first for the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in 1998, and the second for 30 St Mary Axe in 2004.

Foster was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1999.[5]

He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers and winner of the Minerva Medal, the Society's highest award. In Germany Lord Foster received the Order Pour le Mérite.

Most recently, in September 2007, Foster was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the largest architectural award in the world, for the University of Technology Petronas, in Malaysia.[6][7]

It was announced in January 2008 that Foster was to be awarded an honorary degree from the Dundee School of Architecture at the University of Dundee. In 2009 Foster was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award in the category Arts.

In 2012, Foster was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork – the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life that he most admires.

In 2017, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London for his contribution to contemporary architecture.

Personal life[change | change source]

Foster married business partner Wendy Cheesman. She died in 1989, leaving him with four sons. whilst he was greiving, he was also diagnosed with bowel cancer. He next married Indian-born Begum Sabiha Rumani Malik. Sabiha was married to Andrew Knight when she and Foster met. Knight was Chairman of News International. Foster and Sabiha divorced in 1998. Foster is now married to Elena Ochoa, Chairman of the Tate International Council, and founder of Ivory Press. He has five children and three grandchildren.

Foster flies his own private jet and helicopter between his homes in London, France, Switzerland, Marthas Vineyard, New York and Madrid.[3]

Selected projects[change | change source]

Foster has established an extremely prolific career in the span of four decades. The following are some of his major constructions:

Masterplans[change | change source]

Masdar City self driving car

Bridges[change | change source]

Government[change | change source]

Cultural[change | change source]

Higher education[change | change source]

The Bow, Calgary, Canada, 500 Centre Street SE London, UK (1993–2001)

Sports[change | change source]

Beijing airport

Transportation[change | change source]

McLaren Technology Centre

Office[change | change source]

Hearst Tower in April 2008

Leisure[change | change source]

Mixed use[change | change source]

Bilbao Metro

Residential[change | change source]

  • The Murezzan, St Moritz, Switzerland (2003–2007)
  • Regent Place, Sydney, Australia (2003–2007)
  • Jameson House, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (2004–2011)
  • The Aleph, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2006–2013)
  • Anfa Place, Casablanca, Morocco (2007–2013)
  • Faena House, Miami Beach
  • The Towers by Foster + PartnersBrickell (Miami)
  • Arcoris Mont Kiara, Malaysia (projected 2016)
  • 610 Lexington Avenue (projected 2016)
  • 50 United Nations Plaza (projected 2014)

Non-architectural projects[change | change source]

Foster's other design work has included the Nomos desk system for Italian manufacturer Tecno,[8] and the motor yacht Izanami (later Ronin) for Lürssen Yachts.[9]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. "List of Fellows". Archived from the original on 2016-06-08. Retrieved 2021-10-21.
  2. Roberts, Chris (2006). Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme. ISBN 978-0-7862-8517-4.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Foster puts £500m firm up for sale
  4. Announcement of Foster's introduction at the House of Lords
  5. Pritzker Architecture Prize, "Norman Foster, 1999 Laureate" Archived 2016-03-18 at the Wayback Machine; retrieved 2013-3-27.
  6. "The Tenth Award Cycle 2005-2007". The Aga Khan Development Network. Archived from the original on 2009-01-23. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  7. "Petronas University of Technology receives 2007 Aga Khan Award for Architecture". Foster + Partners. 2007-04-09. Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  8. "Foster + Partners". Archived from the original on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  9. "Foster + Partners". Archived from the original on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2010-05-24.

Other websites[change | change source]