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Discover what made the future: Norman Foster

Sir Norman Robert Foster of Reddish, England, grew up in the era just following the second Industrial Revolution. His mother worked at the bakery and his father worked as a painter at a factory, setting him up for a pretty unspectacular life.

Foster’s father’s work at the factory piqued his interest in engineering and design. Foster would be bullied throughout school resulting in him becoming reserved and preferring reading instead of the more conventional teenage activities.

After national service in 1953, he began an internship at John E. Beardshaw & Partners that would set his course. He then studied at the School of Architecture and City Planning and paid for his studies with part-time jobs, including, somewhat ironically, working at a bakery and as a bouncer. After completing his studies Foster opened Foster Associates (later changed to Foster + Partners) with his future wife, Wendy, and some other partners. Some of the work done with American architect Richard Fuller became significant influences on environmentally conscious design.

Foster Associates had their big break with the Willis Faber & Dumas headquarters in the 70s. The company was focused on the community and wanted this reflected in the workspace. Foster created open floor plans, against the grain at the time, a roof garden, swimming pool and gym. The building was also fitted with floor to ceiling glass.

Foster’s creations were first based on a sophisticated, machine-like appearance and took on a more modern, geometric or ‘sharp’ appearance over time. For some of his best work see Millau Viaduct – at the time the tallest bridge in the world, HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong, Apple Park with Steve Jobs and ‘The Gherkin’ at 30 St Mary Axe.

He was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1999, he was knighted in 1990 and received the Order of Merit in 1997.

The average age of people working at Foster + Partners is 32 years old, the same as when it was first opened over 50 years ago.

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