The View from Here


Norman Foster’s buildings have graced skylines across the world from London to Washington, whilst his unique designs have inspired many a young architect. Luke Thomas takes a look back at the legacy of a living legend

Norman Foster is living proof that even as a Pritzker Prize winning supremo in design and build circles, you can still be denied planning permission. Cue London mayor Sadiq Khan who delivered the fatal blow – nipping Foster + Partners latest project, The Tulip, in the bud.

Khan rejected the proposal for the 305.3-metre-high viewing tower on the grounds that it would provide "very limited public benefit" to the City of London and that it was not the "world class architecture that would be required to justify its prominence.”

The axed tower was due to be built alongside the RIBA Stirling Prize-winning 30 Mary St Axe – known as the Gherkin, also designed by Foster + Partners. The viewing platform and gondola ride attraction would not have offered free entry access to the general public.

Foster, founder of the studio, defended the "inevitably controversial" design earlier this year, saying the supertall tower had the chance to become "a world symbol of London".

Said a spokesperson for Khan "The mayor has a number of serious concerns with this application and having studied it in detail, has refused permission for a scheme that he believes would result in very limited public benefit."

"In particular, he believes that the design is of insufficient quality for such a prominent location, and that the tower would result in harm to London's skyline and impact views of the nearby Tower of London World Heritage Site," the spokesperson added.

While the latest project from the chipper 84-year-old architect won’t be soaring into the London skyline any time soon, there’s no doubt that future projects will continue to challenge the status quo – wherever they may be.

Born in Cheshire in 1935, the young Foster had a keen interest in engineering and the process of design from an early age, in part thanks to his father, Robert who worked for heavy electrical-engineering company Metropolitan-Vickers in Manchester – the city he described as "one of the workshops of the world".

After a stint in the Royal Airforce, Foster attended and graduated from the University of Manchester's School of Architecture and City Planning, and after a year travelling in America at which time he met Richard Rogers, he returned to the UK. Together, they set up a brand new architectural practice as Team 4 with Rogers and 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 and they quickly earned a reputation for high-tech industrial design.

After Team 4 went their separate ways in 1967, history was made as Foster founded Foster + Partners. The firm have since gone on to complete many landmark projects across the world, with globally recognised buildings designed and built with state-of-the art techniques including office buildings, residential units, museums and even bridges. Abode picks three of the finest.

The Gherkin

Better known locally as The Gherkin, 30 St Mary, this commercial skyscraper dominating London's primary financial district was completed in December 2003 and opened in April 2004. 41 storeys high - 180 metres (591 feet) tall, the tower stands on the former sites of the Baltic Exchange and Chamber of Shipping, which were extensively damaged in 1992 by a  bomb explosion placed by the Provisional IRA in St Mary Axe, the street from which the tower takes its name.

After plans to build the 92-storey Millennium Tower were dropped, 30 St Mary Axe was taken on by Foster and the Arup Group and erected by Skanska, with construction commencing in 2001. The polarising building has become a recognisable feature of the capital and is one of the city's most widely recognised examples of contemporary architecture.

Its unique shape reduces the amount of wind deflection compared to a rectilinear tower, due to its narrow peak and tapered body. The hexagons separating the glass exterior are also designed with energy in mind, and resolve many problems posed by a more traditional wall and roof construction.

Viaduc de Millau

An unusual project for Foster and his team, this iconic cable-stayed bridge spans the gorge valley of the Tarn near Millau in southern France in a Franco-British partnership between Foster and French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux.

As of November 2018, it became the tallest bridge in the world, having a structural height of 336.4 metres (1,104 ft). The Millau Viaduct is part of the A75–A71 autoroute axis from Paris to Béziers and Montpellier, making it an important part of the infrastructure of the area.

No expense was spared with the construction, with the three-year build costing approximately €394 million.

The bridge has been consistently ranked as one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time, and received the 2006 Outstanding Structure Award from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering, but the true testament to its quality is that after being formally inaugurated on 14 December 2004, it was opened to traffic just two days later.

The Reichstag

A landmark building in Berlin, constructed to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire, the Reichstag was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged after being set on fire. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic met in the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.

Due to damages throughout the history of the building, a full reconstruction could not be led until after the German reunification in 1990. Foster + Partners added an iconic glass cupola to the posterior of the building, symbolising rebirth after reunification in its capacity to provide light in the darkened interior.

Battersea Power Station

The most recent string to Foster + Partners’ bow, Battersea Power Station sees the regeneration of one of the most important areas of Battersea. Currently in phase three of its build, a major part of the regeneration of the Battersea Power Station site, has been designed by Gehry Partners and Foster + Partners and includes new homes and a new high street, known as The Electric Boulevard, in an area to the south of the landmark power station.

The Electric Boulevard will be the main gateway to the 42-acre development, connecting the Northern Line Extension station with the Power Station. The phase includes more than 1,300 homes in a range of sizes and styles in two zones on either side of the boulevard, as well as a 160-room hotel, retail spaces, restaurants and leisure facilities.

The undulating building to the west of The Electric Boulevard called “The Skyline”, brings together half of the planned homes, including 103 units of affordable housing, in addition to a medical centre and 160-room hotel. Two floors of retail front on to the western side of the street, while generous breaks in the façade allow daylight to reach the public spaces below. The entire top of the building is laid out as one of London’s largest roof gardens – over a quarter of a kilometre long, the garden will have views of the Power Station, river and city beyond.


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