Norman Foster's Architecture... What do you think of it?

Peter Jones

Give your opinion of Foster style of architecture? in particular, the three building below, what do you think of the architectural language? Shape, colour, detail, form, the glazing.....


Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Norwich, UK, 1974-1978

The Sainsbury Centre brought a new level of refinement to the practice’s early explorations into lightweight, flexible structures. Much more than a traditional gallery, it integrates spaces for viewing art, and facilities for recreation, teaching and research, within a single, light-filled space that opens up to views of the surrounding landscape.






Chek Lap Kok Airport
Hong Kong, 1992-1998

Chek Lap Kok is one of the world’s largest airports and this was among the most ambitious construction projects of modern times. The terminal building extends a concept pioneered at Stansted Airport. With its uncluttered spaces, bathed in light, it forms a spectacular gateway to the city.





Swiss Re HQ, 30 St Mary Axe
London, UK, 1997-2004

London’s first ecological tall building and an instantly recognisable addition to the city’s skyline, 30 St Mary Axe is rooted in a radical approach - technically, architecturally, socially and spatially. Generated by a radial plan, its energy-conscious enclosure resolves walls and roof into a continuous triangulated skin, allowing column-free floor space, light and views


Aug 17, 12 12:52 am

'super adventurous' corporate architecture. yaaaay!

Based on this sample, Norm sure loves his triangles. 

Aug 17, 12 1:39 am

Good case studies for basic diagrid structures and some other technical feats. It at least isn't flashy.

Aug 17, 12 1:52 am

pretty decent when it comes to big projects

Aug 17, 12 3:10 am

What do you think?

I  think someone's got a paper on Norman Foster due in a couple of days...

Aug 17, 12 1:00 pm

Just because they just joined and then posted their only post asking for opinions on an architectural topic relavant to a history classes doesnt mean youre right....but you're probably right.

If we at least find out his university we can get him expelled for plagiarism.

Aug 17, 12 1:07 pm

he could work there and is trying to drum up a bit of advertising.

architects shouldn't advertise to architects though.

Aug 17, 12 2:09 pm

of course architects should advertise to other architects... were in competition with each other for talented and ambitious employees... if you're firm is well regarded, the quality of your staff should be better than average, which in turn should improve the quality of your work, which in turn should make you more appealing to potential clients, which in turn should make you more profitable

Aug 17, 12 2:19 pm

If he worked there he would have used better projects.

Aug 17, 12 3:10 pm
Peter Jones

The reseaon I am asking for YOUR comments is because i'm writing a dissertation and would like other opinion on norman foster architectural language so i have a variety of  YOUR comments to disscuss in my dissertation. Im not asking for you to write my dissertation but to feedback on fosters architecture. I will be referencing the the comments which I use in my research. So if you could give YOUR opinion I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank You 

Aug 18, 12 10:42 am

I would love to be referenced in your dissertation....No really, I would!

Ok, so let's start. Why did you choose those three projects? They are from quite different eras in architecture and probably have quite different design intentions.

If you are asking for my personal opinion on Foster then I am afraid that it is not a positive one (of his work, not him personally by the way, because I'm sure he's a nice guy and he does own a helicopter!) :)

The main problem I have with Norman Foster's architecture is that it lacks identity and seemingly ignores human scale and rejects the need for an architectural expression of place, craft and meaning. For example, where is the intimacy (relation to the body) in the architecture? This lack of consideration for use is possibly more apparent in his residential work than the above examples, but I think it is evident in all of his work to be honest. Further, as somebody mentioned above, his work does have a very 'corporate' feel to it and lacks an association with its setting. It is a prime example of how globalisation is stripping all of our cities of their soul and identity. What can we learn from looking at his buildings? Where are the traces of craft/ construction? I've never quite understood the corporate desire to strip individual identity away? I use the word 'corporate' meaning that it is very cold, sterile perhaps and lacks human scale and is detached from its surroundings. The first project (the gallery) is a good example of this. Does it reflect its use on the outside? No. Does it reflect its setting? No. Could it be anywhere in the world? Yes. The building resembles an industrial warehouse. nothing wrong there as long as it is used as an industrial warehouse. But why make something so beautiful look so sterile? A gallery is a place for leisure and education. I don't think Foster cares much for the traditional concept of beauty though.

I think it is fair to say that Foster's approach to architecture is centred in the concept of the tabula rasa. His ideology is almost imposed or forced into/ onto the designated site with little respect and relation to its surroundings. I can almost envision him designing an object and then placing it into the site, as opposed to the site informing the layout of the building. His work in central London is evidence of this, particularly 30 St. Mary Axe. Personally, I prefer architecture to be developed out of context and be influenced by what is around it rather than trying to create something completely unrelated and iconic. Cooperation over competition for me.

Whenever I see 30 St. Mary Axe, all I think about is a huge AC shaft and ventilation diagram. His architecture emphasises technology over all else (high-tech) and is too repetitive. It also rejects references to nature. This is tragic considering his projects such as the zero carbon city/ eco towers etc.

Corporate architecture is also problematic because of the amount of times it can be copied. How many Foster-esque business offices do we see today? Could the public tell the difference? Probably not (apart from a few iconic pieces of architecture maybe). So he therefore becomes a 'brand' or label to add to a building, rather than an artist.

I should point out that I am very biased here. I tend to enjoy the opposite of Foster's architecture - where a building expresses its use and the identity of the building can be traced through its details. It will be interesting to hear an alternative opinion though..

What is your dissertation about (specifically) by the way?

Aug 18, 12 6:41 pm
Peter Jones

The dissertation is about how he uses achitectural language (matirials, details, connections, concepts etc) to express his architecture. So I will be looking in depth into the building, the connection details, the over all form and what he wanted the building to represent and what the building represented in other words what people think its like, and thank you for giving your feedback it's greatly appreciated

Aug 18, 12 10:23 pm

Why didnt you choose The Bow? There are some good white papers on it.

Aug 18, 12 11:01 pm

unless you are in grade school i recommend not citing any opinions here for a paper.   seriously.  just don't.

Aug 19, 12 1:24 am
Peter Jones

I'm trying to pick about three four of fosters building from different eras so I can compare there architecture together and maybe to other architects ..... Why should I not cite others comments Will? And if you think the building choice isn't great then I'm would like other suggestions Thank you

Aug 19, 12 3:00 pm

He doesn't think citing comments from this forum, becauase some posters are absurd and "trolling". You are citing opinions in the context of people that may be typing "lol" "omg" and talking of waffles. Also, the range of knowledge on these forums is very wide and you have no idea if you are recieving un-educated opinions vs wel educated.

Aug 19, 12 3:58 pm

problem with your choices is that three buildings have completely different typologies. It's like comparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and hoping to come to some insightful conclusion like 'we can clearly see that by dinner time the chef has moved away from using eggs.'

You can totally cite me on this. Do it. 

Aug 19, 12 5:05 pm
Peter Jones

Any ideas on something more appropriate? The reason I choose the three buildings is so I can show his development in his architecture,

Aug 19, 12 6:08 pm

yeah that IS worth citing.  pretty good summary even.


what Rand said about citing a forum.  go read a book, online or whatever, but unsupported opinion is not so useful when it comes to your education.  it's like saying i heard some dude at the bar telling his friend he thinks trump is a moron and his hair ain't real.  all true but what's that got to do with you and the price of tea in nantucket?

Aug 19, 12 6:13 pm

A better dissertaion would be in regards to his work under Fuller, then when he became famous, and then the firms work now that he is no longer in charge, and compare those. You have his use of the diagrid, is claims of sustainability (arguable), and other facets. How much research about him have you really already done? Even watched his lectures or the documentary about him? Read structural white papers? CTBUH had a good one on the bow

Aug 19, 12 6:24 pm
Peter Jones

I've watch his lecture on TED talks, I’ve also watched "how much does your building weigh mr foster". Also been through several books

Norman foster, life in architecture by deyan sudjic
The Norman Foster studio, consistency thought diversity by Malcolm Quantrill
Norman foster works 5
Per Arnoldi, Colour is communication
Catalogue Foster + Partners, prestel
Another catalogue of foster works
And finally Norman Foster drawings 1958 – 2008

I have looked at news papers such as the guardian and daily mail to see the response to Fostera architecture and some journals and magazines. 


Aug 19, 12 6:56 pm

in that case, what do YOU think of foster's work? 

Aug 19, 12 9:13 pm
Peter Jones

Fosters personal life is interesting, but what I find most appealing is his overall architecture language which seems to be driven from his service at the royal air force and his addiction to Trix construction kits as a child, his architectural language is industrial which is seen in most of his architecture 

Aug 19, 12 10:01 pm

: /

Aug 19, 12 10:09 pm
Peter Jones

not to good with putting thoughts in words lol

Aug 19, 12 10:19 pm
Peter Jones

Is there a book which show construction details of foster buildings?

Aug 20, 12 11:28 am
Peter Jones

or a video which explains fosters idea of detailing his buildings?

Aug 20, 12 11:29 am

detail magazine and the plan magazine

Aug 20, 12 5:11 pm

maybe best to re-read your books and throw in a primer like kenneth frampton's book on architectonics to put it all in context.  try reading beatriz colomina's essay on mies as well if you can find it. brilliant deconstruction of the mythology of an architect.  won't give you the answer you need but will definitely show you the way forward.  just like mies was never a bricklayer ( he spent his youth as draftsman in his stone-mason father's business), foster possibly has a more interesting story than the "played with froebel as a kid" narrative all architects are automatically given.  somehow i would expect archigram or bucky to be more influential than his childhood toys...

Aug 20, 12 5:34 pm
Peter Jones

Yes i do agree with you but i find it interesting because i see the link in his architecture with his childhood and teenage era, as his architecture, to me, feels very mechanical and it links to his fascination with air craft and his time spent building clock mechanisms. The reason for this post was to see how others relate  to his architecture,  my question is to research his architecture, what he wants people to think when looking at his building and what they really feel. I was reading though a online news paper about 30 St Mary axe in London (Gherkin) and someone commented relating the building to a Faberge egg because they see the building in another manner. For my research into Norman foster architecture I will need to research his influences and then see if other relate to it, as you have connected fosters architecture with Archigram.

I need to have primary research for the dissertation and I did hand out questionnaires to the staff at the buildings mentioned above however this response wasn’t positive. Any idea how I could gain primary research and

Is there other architects which You think Foster was influences by?

Aug 20, 12 8:29 pm
Peter Jones

Any more personal opinions on Foster's Buildings, any feedback will be helpful...

Sep 12, 12 10:03 pm

heyy i know this is quite old but im doing a project based on norman foster i dont understand this guys work :( someone please help me out. i dont understand his philosophy behind his work in certain wayys and how does his work relate to high tech because im quite confused with modern and high tech architecture they seem the same as in their styles. i would have though norman fosters building '30st mary axe' would be a modern architect.  :/

Feb 25, 13 9:37 am
vado retro

Watch "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster." as noted above.

Feb 25, 13 10:12 am

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