PRESIDENT'S AWARD

Winner Lord Foster of Thamesbank

It is not so long since it would be most unusual for the developer of an office building to approach one of our most distinguished architects to design it for him - and equally unusual for such an architect to accept, even if invited. There was perhaps on the one side a perception that good architecture was incompatible with cost consciousness; and on the other an expectation that all of the pressure would be to drive things down to a lowest common denominator, and that the architecture could be no more than skin deep.

Lord Foster Thamesbank 

 

It is not clear who has suffered most from this mutual freeze-out, but it is clear that the beneficiaries of the subsequent thaw have been many and varied: developers in being trusted to build in places, and at a scale, where otherwise they might have been severely constrained; architects themselves in being able to practise their craft in a busy market place; occupiers in finding offices being transformed from mere containers for desk-bound process to instruments of culture, to places where people are enabled to do their best stuff; and all of us through having our spirits lifted by the ever-livelier skyline of our business districts.

Now, far from being a commodity designed down to the bare minimum, office designs have become progressive, responding to the changing demands of business and society through a series of step changes. And there is perhaps no body of work which more illustrates this progression than the output of the studio of Norman Foster.

From the IBM Pilot Office building in Cosham, a study on lightness and flexibility; to the Willis Faber offices in Ipswich, organic in form,

democratic in approach and with an openness that provides the opportunities for interaction that is still displayed in the best of office design (and all of which makes it hard to believe, on visiting that building, that it was completed 30 years ago); to the HSBC headquarters building in Hong Kong, a 'cathedral to commerce' with its powerfully expressed structure, its organisation of service and circulation space, and its handling of the engagement between public and private realm; to the Commerzbank in Frankfurt, re-writing the rules for tall buildings and energy efficiency; and to the Swiss Re tower at 30 St Mary Axe, pulling off the trick of building big and tall in the City of London to almost universal acclaim; the story rolls on. And the ideas roll forward, not just through these landmarks but through a series of elegant buildings for some of our best known property companies, with each design displaying a consistency of principle whilst varying to suit differences of customer need, local climate, civic and social context and the unbounded imagination of the Architect.

This constant exploration of ways of progressing the art and science of office design on a solid base of past experience is what the BCO is about, and makes Norman Foster the worthy winner of the Presidents' Award for 2005.