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Norman Foster

Norman Foster  Norman Foster is a major contributor to twentieth century architecture both in the westernworld and further afield. After starting his studies in architecture over 50 years ago he has designeda range of buildings (and bridges) and continues to produce outstanding designs today. Aswell asexploring Foster’s career this essay will focus primarily on two of Foster’s buildings, Creek VeanHouse in Cornwall and the Willis Building in Ipswich (originally the Willis Faber and DumasHeadquarters).

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Born in Manchester on 1 June 1935 to working class parents, Foster was a bright studentwho after attending a private school and a grammar school was pressurised to leave early in order toearn a living. It wasn’t until 1956 after working in a bakery, a city treasurer’s office, a factory,selling furniture, spending time in the Royal Air Force on national service and studying commerciallaw that he finally started his studies in architecture.

Graduating from Manchester university schoolof architecture and city planning in 1961, Foster won the Henry fellowship to study at Yaleuniversity where he obtained his master’s degree and also met Richard Rogers, another Britisharchitect whom he became good friends with. In 1963 Rogers and Foster along with their respective wives Su and Wendy formed ‘Team 4’, a practice known for its high-tech designs and thegroup behind Creek Vean House. In 1967 Team 4 ended and Foster and Wendy set up Foster Associates (now Foster and Partners).

Between 1968 and 1983 Foster collaborated on a number of  projects including the Samuel Beckett Theatre project with Richard Buckminster Fuller whohappened to be one of his idols. Foster called him a “lone voice,” whose work with geodesicsdemonstrated how building form could be both economical and ecological. Orientation and building form became, for Foster, touchstones in his design of ecological architecture. – Michael J. Crosbie, ArchitectureWeek.

Foster Associates has produced many well known works such as theSainsbury Centre in Norwich, the Hongkong and Shanghai bank, the Millau Viaduct in France, theBritish Museum Great Court in London and the Swiss Re tower in London to name but a few. Over History and Theory of Architecture the years Foster Associates has achieved more than 190 awards and won over 50 competitions for its work, in 1990 Foster was Knighted and in 1999 he was honoured with a life peerage giving himthe title Lord Foster Of Thames Bank, in the same year he became the 21 st Pritzker ArchitecturePrize laureate.

Creak Vean house was the first work of group Team 4, built in 1964, it was commissioned by Marcus Brumwell as a home for himself and his wife who were the parents of Su Rogers. Although Foster has concentrated more on buildings for the workplace, houses which showsimilarities to Creek Vean are the Jaffe house and Murray Mews which were also designed by Team4, these buildings are orientated to make the most of their views and have large slanting glass walls,similar to the glass walk way and large glass walls in Creek Vean. The Willis Faber ; Dumas Headquarters in Ipswich was built from 1971-1975 as aworkplace for around 1300 employees.

Foster has mostly designed buildings for the workplaceand is very good at designing space for employees to enjoy their surroundings. The three storey building is surrounded by a glass facade, similar to that in some of his later buildings such as HearstTower in New York City, the Swiss Re Headquarters in London, the HSBC UK Headquarters inLondon and City Hall in London. The facade also has a curved appearance, with no hard edges or corners, similar to the Swiss Re and City Hall buildings, the American Air Museum and the newWillis Headquarters in London.

Inside the Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters escalators lead upthrough the central atrium, in Foster’s Hongkong and Shanghai bank he uses a similar approach buton a larger scale with a ten storey atrium and the escalators leading up to the main banking hall. The Ipswich building established a couple of themes that Foster returned to in project after project: howthe building meets the ground in an accommodating way; how light, views, and the interior environment can be adjusted and modified; and how to introduce green space into an urbanenvironment such as an office building. ArchitectureWeek Creek Vean House is positioned overlooking the Fal estuary in Cornwall on a steepriverbank. The house is made up of two separate blocks at different angles to each other linkedtogether by a long glass-roofed corridor which was used as a gallery. One of the blocks is one storeyhigh and contains the bedrooms and studio and the other block is two storeys high and contains theliving room and dining room, the ground floor ooms are cut back into the hillside and the onestorey block’s roof is covered in vegetation, this gives the impression the house is carved into thelandscape. All the main rooms have large sliding doors off the main corridor and are angled so thatthey have the best views possible out over the estuary, this results in the rooms being fan shapedwith very angular corners. The house is constructed of exposed concrete blocks and reinforcedconcrete slabs, the floors are slate. Outside the building, winding steps lead down the slope fromthe access road above the house.

They step down through the building over the corridor that linksthe two blocks (the corridor has a solid roof at this point), emphasising the split in the two parts of the building and continue down through the garden to a boat house on the shore below. The Willis Faber ; Dumas Headquarters is situated in Ipswich. unlike many office buildingsit is only three storeys high and is spread out to fit in with the shape of the surrounding streets, withthe curved glass facade showing reflections of the surrounding buildings. On entering the buildingthere is a central atrium with escalators leading right up to the rooftop restaurant.

Overlooking theatrium are the different storeys with open plan office space, the layout of the office space and factthat it is so open plan gives the workplace a very communal feel. … orientation is direct:you alwaysknow where you are, one can move freely, the sun penetrates everywhere and there are only a fewvisual barriers. – Norman Foster. The building was also built with a rooftop garden and aswimming pool for the employees to use in their lunch breaks but the swimming pool has since been covered with a glass floor.

Around the time Creek Vean was built (1964) James Sterling had just built the Leicester University engineering building (1963). There are similarities between their work, both use a lot of History and Theory of Architecture glass and non standard geometry for walls however where Foster’s house tries to blend in with thesurrounding area the University building is very bold and brutal. Another house built around thesame period is Hanselmann House in Indiana, 1967 by Michael Graves. This house is verymodernist with lots of open spaces and like Creek Vean it uses steps as a link to the house.

VannaVenturi House was built between 1962-1964 by Robert Venturi. Unlike Creek Vean which blends inwith its environment Venturi’s house really tries to make a statement. Around the time the Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters was built (1971-1975),The Creek Vean House shows similarities to Frank Lloyd Wright’s building’s, particularlyFallingwater built from 1935-1937. Wright designed the house around the surroundings, similar toFoster and so it appears that the house is almost growing out of the rock beneath it. In both housessteps are used as a passageway from the house down to the water. History and Theory of Architecture