Read one of this year’s winning entries to the Immerse Education Essay Competition from the Architecture category.
Congratulations to all participants and in particular to the 10 winners of 100% scholarships!
Why is Norman Foster so well regarded?
The purpose of a building is one of those core definitions that architects, engineers, and designers have been in dispute about for as long as the word has existed. At first, it meant shelter. Then, as society developed and specialized, a building took on the duty of hosting tools, fireplaces, books, cars, machinery, and — perhaps most importantly — people. Architect Norman Foster expanded the definition further, explaining that, “a building is a focus of energies” (Foster, 2011). This phrase defines the work that he and his company have worked on throughout the decades, his projects and name becoming prestigious and respected in the architecture community. It is through his signature ‘high-tech’ style that Norman Foster is able to create open, sustainable, and utilitarian spaces that integrate into their surroundings.
One of the first buildings that brought international acclaim to Foster was the Willis Faber and Dumas Building in Ipswich. His design challenged the layout of a typical workspace by focusing on the relationships between workers themselves and to their environment (Arch2o). By placing escalators in a three-story building, creating a roof-top garden, and constructing solar-adjusting floor-to-ceiling windows, Foster established a space where all employees interact regardless of status, showcasing the vibrant energy of a working community in one. Foster gives a flexible and fluid structure to his buildings, underlining the power of democracy in a workspace and community (Foster and Partners, 2002).
The techniques that Foster has applied to his structures reflect the issues of the late 20th and 21st centuries. Brutalist architecture was on a rise in a post-world-war era, where the approach to reconstructing cities and towns was more economical and industrial rather than stylistic and individual. Foster addressed this issue through his usage of lightweight materials, open space, and simple construction. For example, when designing the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, he designed a simple tube-like figure with see-through walls, allowing for an open space with natural lighting and the potential to expand and manipulate the interiors. While conforming with the demands of a war-torn and more technical society, Foster added the human factor into his ideas, confronting the stereotype that high-tech buildings could only be crude and aggressive (Drexler, 1980).
Furthermore, Foster also responded to the rising awareness of climate change and the need for sustainable infrastructure by installing a fluid relationship between the building and its surroundings (Zukowsky, 2006). Nowadays, his projects feature the same key features: open, light spaces, green areas, and easily maintainable structures. Foster and Partners’ recent design of a 12-acre site in Washington DC, for example, features a collection of four multi-service buildings in a dense space, reducing the site’s overall emissions. Each building also has a rooftop garden, each designed to collect and reuse 100% of the water (Foster and Partners, 2014).
In the end, Norman Foster has revolutionized the way building was perceived by drawing the link between society and buildings. He was one of the pioneers of high-tech architecture, and has shown that architecture is more than just a pleasing design, but a means to create or destroy empathy and spirit within a community. “The interesting thing is that when those boundaries were taken down, nobody wanted to put them up again” (Ravenscroft, 2019) – how it affects the people inside.
Beard, Alison. “Life’s Work: Norman Foster.” Harvard Business Review, Mar. 2011, https://hbr.org/2011/03/lifes-work-norman-foster.
Drexler, Arthur. Transformations in Modern Architecture. The Museum of Modern Art: Distributed by New York Graphic Society, 1979.
“Home: Foster Partners.” Architectural Design and Engineering Firm,
Parvin. “Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters: Fosters and Partners.” Arch2O.Com, Arch2O, 7 Sept. 2019, www.arch2o.com/willis-faber-dumas-headquarters-fosters-partners/.
Ravenscroft, Tom. “The Willis Faber & Dumas Building Is a Revolutionary High-Tech Office.” Dezeen, Dezeen, 13 Dec. 2019,
Woodman, Ellis. “Norman Foster: Building an Empire.” The Telegraph, 15 Aug. 2011, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8698243/Norman-Foster-Building-an-Empire.html.
Zukowsky, John. “Norman Foster.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 May 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Lord-Norman-Foster.
There were over 5000 entries to the Immerse Education Essay Competition 2020. Return to our blog over the coming months as more winning entries are published.