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Norman Foster
Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images

Norman Foster

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Sir Norman Foster is a prominent British architect known for his innovative structural designs, as seen with edifices like Berlin's Reichstag, New York City's Hearst Tower and London's City Hall.

Who Is Norman Foster?

Sir Norman Foster is an award-winning and prolific British architect known for sleek, modern designs of steel and glass with innovations in contouring and inner space management. He was part of the architectural group Team 4 before branching off on his own to form what would eventually be known as Foster + Partners. Foster earned acclaim for his design of the Willis Faber & Dumas headquarters in the early 1970s and was later responsible for the updated Reichstag in Berlin after the reunification of Germany as well as the Hearst Tower in New York City. His design practice has overseen an array of heralded structures around the globe.

Early Life and Education

Norman Foster was born on June 1, 1935, in Reddish, England. An only child with an avowed interest in structures and design, he grew up in a working-class neighborhood and left school at the age of 16 to work as a town hall clerk, later going on to work in engineering as part of the Royal Air Force for two years. He went on to study architecture at the University of Manchester and won accolades for his drawing work, developing a lifelong passion for sketching. He later earned a scholarship to Yale University’s School of Architecture, earning his master’s in 1962.

Iconic Buildings

While at Yale, Foster met Richard Rogers, with the two eventually becoming part of the architecture world’s elite. In 1963, Foster, along with Richard and Su Rogers, his future wife Wendy Cheesman and her sister Georgina Wolton, formed the architectural organization Team 4. Foster broke off on his own in 1967 to form Foster Associates, which would later become Foster + Partners.

In the early 1970s, Foster had his big break with the design of the Willis Faber & Dumas headquarters in Ipswich, a low-rise office building that was innovative for its use of escalators, contoured facades and idyllic, nature-oriented interiors. The late ‘70s and early-to-mid-‘80s saw Foster and his team working on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation headquarters, a modern three-tower edifice, while the ‘90s saw the architect heading up an update of the Reichstag in Berlin, rebuilding the emblematic glass dome after the unification of East and West Germany. In the early 2000s, Foster also contributed to the iconic New York City skyline with his design of the Hearst Tower, a 44-story skyscraper with a triangulated facade atop an Art Deco foundation.

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Other renowned Foster-designed structures include the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Kuala Lumpur’s Troika Towers, Frankfurt’s Commerzbank, Hong Kong International Airport and London’s City Hall and Millennium Bridge. (The latter structure, which utilized lateral suspension techniques, underwent repairs days after its inauguration by Queen Elizabeth, to rectify wobbliness caused by heavy foot traffic.) The Millennium Bridge is London's first dedicated pedestrian bridge and has become a new landmark of the 21st century.

Global Expansion

Foster + Partners is an international entity that has more than 1,000 employees and continues to handle projects with blockbuster budgets in a wide range of nations. Foster himself has become less of a hands-on draftsman and more of a global manager who aims to create as much time as possible to focus on designing. Foster was knighted in 1990 and received a life peerage nine years later. He has received an array of additional honors that include the 1983 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture and the 1999 Pritzker Prize.

Personal Life

Foster wed his first wife and business partner Wendy in 1964. She died from cancer in 1989, and Foster went on to marry Sabiha Rumani Malik in 1991. The two divorced in 1995, and Foster married his third and current wife, professor and publisher Elena Ochoa, in 1996. He has several children.

Foster was diagnosed with bowel cancer in his 60s and received chemotherapy treatments to fight the disease. He has also suffered a heart attack that has somewhat curtailed his activity as a solo pilot, another of his passions.

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