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15 Emblematic Buildings via Norman Foster

13 April 2011 No Comment

Norman Foster, or Baron Foster of Thames Bank is one of the most emblematic and prolific architect that Great Britain has. His career started back in the 1960’s after graduating from the University of Manchester’s School of Architects and City Planning. Today, he operates the company called Foster + Partners, located on Hester Road, London.

Here is a presentation of some of his most emblematic buildings – a few of these come from the earlier stage of his career, while others stand to represent what high-tech architecture (through the prism of Foster + Partners) means in the 21st century.

Expo MRT Station Singapore

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This is a structure built in the “space age” architecture style, with its innovative columns and pillars free design allowing for a sense of open space, not hindered by concrete walls. All the pillars actually support the structure by being hidden behind the train tracks and away from the circulated spaces. Thus, an immense free space has been created in order to facilitate mass circulation of people on a daily basis.

The main construction materials included glass, steel and titanium. It was opened to public in January 2001, and it is built with full access for people with disabilities as well.

Hearst Tower, New York City

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The Hearst tower can be found on the top of the 1928 constructed office building. The tower only has 46 floors, and is 182 meters high. It was constructed between 2003 and 2006, and it is considered one very important environmentally friendly or “green” building in the world (it was actually the first such structure in New York).

The design allowed for using much less steel frame than normally such a building would require (with about 25% less), thanks to its “diagrid-weaved” pattern. Other environmentally friendly patterns include the limestone heat conductive floors of the atrium, and the huge rainwater collector tank, which allows for water reutilisation inside the building (for watering purpose and for the cooling system mainly). It is also the very first building in New York to receive the Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification.

The Hearst tower is one of the most wonderful combinations of traditional and futuristic architecture which are blending in perfect harmony (the base built in the 20’s and the tower in the 21st century).

Reichstag, New German Parliament


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A landmark for the German people, the Reichstag went through a restoration session in 1993. Based on the plans of Norman Foster, the dome was rebuilt in the form of a glass cupola, with a spiral walkway represented through a conical structure. It stands as the most prominent landmarks of Berlin today, receiving millions of visitors from all around the world.

The conical structure within the interior uses mirrored facades to reflect the sunlight and spread it within the building. Moreover, this is an environmentally friendly building, being highly energy efficient.

City Hall, London

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This modern architectural style, slightly tilted structure has been opened to public in 2002, and it was built following the master plans of Norman Foster and associates. Its overall cost for construction was £65 million, and it is a highly energy efficient building. It has a bulbous shape, which serves to reduce the actual surface area, thus allowing energy saving.

The design of the building heavily borrows from the design of the Reichstag Dome in Berlin, with its helical stairway structure and the oval/rounded shape of the building. Also, thanks to the materials used and the overall design, the building is a symbol for “transparency”, just like Reichstag is.

Torre Caja Madrid, Spain  torre_caja_madrid_foster3Image source


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This is a skyscraper with 250 meters in height, and it easily earns its place on the Top 200 Tallest Buildings in the World. It was completed in 2009, and it took 6 years to complete. Currently, the building serves as the main office space for the largest banking institution in Spain (Caja Madrid). It is a highly modern structure not only on the outside, but offering great flexibility and large comfortable office spaces and conference rooms inside.

Clyde Auditorium Glasgow


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This beautiful, contemporary style building is a very popular concert venue of Glasgow Scotland, also known as “The Armadillo” (because of its resemblance to the armadillo mammal). It has been opened to public in 1997, and it has 30,000 seats. The shape of the building was not only chosen for pure design, but it also has a very practical side: to get the best acoustic experience.

Many critics have compared the Clyde Auditorium with the Sydney Opera House; there are indeed many similarities, however the Sydney structure did not serve as a prime model for the architects to design the Scottish Auditorium. The exterior shell-like structure is made of titanium alloy, which is the sole material that allows the creation of such beautiful, perfectly sleek and curved designs.

30 St. Mary Axe London

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Known as the Gherkin Building (or even sometimes the “Cucumber”), this wonderful architectural landmark is not only beautiful but also a very environmentally friendly building. It was completed in 2003 based upon the master plans of Norman Foster and associates. The building is very famous for its natural ventilation system – which thanks to the huge shafts or cylinders placed on each floor the natural air can circulate in the building.

With the use of passive solar heating system, in winter the building warms up the air it subtracts from the outside. In summer periods, the shafts work as huge warm air pumps, thus creating a cool atmosphere within the building. Energy is also being saved, because these huge shafts also have the purpose of letting natural light into the building.

Currently, it is Great Britain’s most expensive commercial building (with office spaces). It has been sold at a mesmerizing price of £630 million (Evans Randall and IVG Immobilien AG joint purchase).

Millenium Bridge, London


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This suspension bridge opened to public on June 10th 2000, automatically becoming a landmark of the new millennium. The structure is 325 meters long, is made of steel, and has a 4-metre wide aluminium deck. The design of the bridge allows a very good visibility of the River Thames and the surroundings, because the suspension cables are placed below deck level, instead of hanging up in the air. When Foster and Partners, Arup and Anthony Caro entered the competition with their design, the project was called “The Blade of Light”.

Free University, Berlin


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This university is among the top 3 academic institutions in Germany, where social and natural sciences research and doctoral programs are conducted. Its construction took around 8 years until final completion (1997-2005), and given its oval egg-shape like design, some call it a fine piece of “Eggchitecture”.

Some critics argue that the ultra modern library building with curved shapes, does not match the rectangular, traditional structures that one can find on campus. However, the entire project seems to have fitted in perfectly, being a symbol for change, future and environmentally friendly strategy implementations.

American Air Museum

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The structure is homage to the lost American airmen during the Second World War, but also to brave fighters who fought in Vietnam and Korea. The museum is built in contemporary architectural style by Foster and Partners, and inside one can catch a glimpse of famous aircrafts such as the B-52 Stratoforttress or the P-47 Thunderbolt, and most of them are suspended up in the air, which gives a very realistic sensation like these aircrafts are actually up in the sky, flying.

The structure is built to imitate a hangar, and the mirrored glass wall façade gives the entire building a sense of lavish modernity.

Commerzbank Headquarters- Frankfurt, Germany


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Until 1997, this has been the tallest building in the European Union, but the record was taken over in 2005 by Triumph Palace in Moscow, Russia. Commerzbank is 259 meters tall and it has 56 floors. It is a building projected by Foster and Partners with eco-friendly characteristics.

The skyscraper has a structure that allows a very good natural lighting inside the building, and it also allows natural air circulation. Moreover, within the building one can find some very neatly organized winter gardens. This is also one of the rare buildings in Germany where steel has been the prime material of construction instead of heavily using concrete.

Hong Kong International Airport


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This majestic airport was built upon the designs of Lord Foster, and was opened to the public in 1998. It currently has 60,000 employees and operates around 90 different airlines to more than 150 destinations around the Globe. It has received the Aetra Award for Best Airport Worldwide in 2005. The entire structure is built using materials that will allow natural light to come through the rooftop and window systems for a perfect ambience.

Wembley Stadium- London Borough of Brent, England

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This huge arena has no less than 90,000 places, and it is actually the second largest stadium in Europe (Camp Nou Barcelona being on the first place with 99,354 places capacity). The Wembley Arch is its symbol, being 134 meters high and “arching” over 317 meters in length (it is the longest roof in the world which uses single/continuous span structure without being supported).

It has been opened for public in 2007, after 4 years of construction, and the overall cost for its construction was $1.57 billion.

Willis Building in Ipswich willis-building-FaberDumas2

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This was actually Norman Foster’s breakthrough piece of architecture, which started to attract both national and international recognition. It has been constructed for five years (1970-1975), as an office space for the Willis Group Holdings insurance company.

In the early 90’s, the Willis building became listed as a grade I building- a building of special architectural and historical interest for Great Britain. The inside of the building hosts open plan office spaces, while the exterior of the building is covered up by dark smoked glass panels. The Willis building is considered a milestone structure in high tech architecture.

Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, Astana- Kazakhstan

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Khan Shatyry literally means “royal marquee”, and this structure is actually a 150 meters tall transparent tent, serving as a base for recreational purposes. It comprises of shopping centers, entertainment venues, and even a beach and boating resort. This is the second ambitious project from architect Norman Foster in Kazakhstan, the first being the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, which is a huge pyramid style building made of glass.

The roof of the Shatyr Center is made of EFTE (a high corrosion resistant plastic material), which being transparent, it allows natural sunlight to enter the tent. The center was opened to public on July 2010, and its total cost was $400,000,000. The floor area at the base of the tent comprises 100,000 m2 of space where all the venues and different centers can be found.

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