Distinguished as one of the world’s great architects, Norman Foster is a British-born architect. For his ultra-modern designs and simple streamlined new structures, Foster is often referred to as the “hero of high-tech”. He established his practice titled as Foster + Partners in 1967 and has since been executing a wide array of works over the last four decades earning him nearly 500 awards and citations for excellence, including the two starling prizes, a RIBA Gold Medal, an AIA Gold Medal and a knighthood in addition to his 21st Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1999.
Some of his greatest works include The Hong Kong and the Shanghai Bank, The Gherkin a London, The Hearst Tower in New York, the tallest bridge in the world, The Millau Viaduct in Southern France, and his most recent project Apple Park in California, US.
Behind the accolades and greatness, Foster is known to be self-motivated and passionate. He runs marathons and takes on extreme cross country races. It is fascinating to see that the architect enjoys swimming, biking and rowing, even in his eighties. His maximum amount of time is available for design, which is, after all, his core activity, but besides, the architect spends time with his family – vacationing and roaming widely rather than pinned down by day to day activities.
Here are 10 lesser things probably you did not about Norman Foster:
1. His early life faced struggles to thrive
Foster is the only child of Robert Foster and Lillian Smith. Soon after he was born, the family moved to Levenshulme, near Manchester. They moved to a small, inexpensive rented terrace house. His father worked as a machine painter in Trafford Park, while his mother worked in a local bakery. Fosters worked very hard and even worked for long hours to keep just enough bread on the table to survive. Meanwhile, the young Foster spent his formative years being looked after by a host of neighbours, relatives, and friends.
2. Foster once worked varied jobs to finance his studies
On turning 18, pursuing his long term interest in aviation, he signed up for national service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). He left RAF in 1955, thereafter, he served as an assistant in the contracts department of a local architecture firm John Bearshaw and Partners. Foster was promoted to the drawing department after John Bearshaw saw his impressive portfolio of sketchings. The following year, he earned a seat at the University of Manchester School of Architecture and City Planning. But as he did not receive a maintenance grant, he had to fund his studies by taking on a variety of part-time jobs. He worked as a nightclub bouncer to an ice-cream salesman to a crumpet at a bakery during his five years at the school.
3. He has a passion for aircraft and drawings
The first drawing Foster remembers making was an aircraft. It was a model aircraft with high wings and ribs. He had the fantasy of sitting there; controlling and commanding the great craft. He also has a passion for sketching and won accolades for his drawing skills when he studied at the University of Manchester.
4. He travels and wanders around buildings in the city
When Foster was younger working in Manchester, he escaped lunch-time and wandered around buildings in the city. He used to take his only escape route, his bicycle to move from the depressing working environment to discover the other kind of the world. Travelling and taking lessons from studying buildings and cities are as important to him now as they were when he was at architecture school.
5. Paul Rudolph had an incredible impact on Foster
After graduating in 1961, Foster won the Henry Fellowship to Yale School of Architecture where he studied under Paul Rudolph. In particular, Paul Rudolph had an incredible impact on Foster that inspired him to practice for more than forty years. Paul Rudolph was the man who taught Foster to draw like an architect. Rudolph had spotted his pupil’s potential and pushed Foster more than his other contemporaries.
6. Foster designed the largest airport
The Hong Kong International Airport on the island of Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong, is distinguished as the largest airport in the world that opened in July 1998. The eight-story terminal is covered by a lightweight steel roof of 45 acres. Apparently, the airport is so huge that it can be seen from space.
7. Foster designed the world’s tallest bridge
Foster along with French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux designed the tallest bridge, Millau Viaduct, completed in 2004 across the George valley of the Tarn near Millau in Southern France. It was built over three years and was formally opened on 14 December. Until now, it is the tallest bridge in the world, having a structural height of 336.4 meters.
8. Foster married his business partner and further married two times
Returning to London, Foster co-founded the successful ‘Team 4’ in 1963. Soon after, he married his business partner architect Wendy Cheeseman. In 1998, Foster suffered a terrible time when Wendy was diagnosed with cancer and a year after died at an age just 51. Three years later, Foster married Sabiha Malik, a jewellery designer, but the marriage could not be a happy one and the couple got divorced four years later. Soon after, in 1996, Foster married his third and current wife Elena Ochoa and had their first child together in 1998.
9. Foster has had some health problems
In 2005, Foster was diagnosed with bowel cancer for which he had undergone several treatments. Reading Lance Armstrong’s book helped him to get through this horrifying health crisis and, thereafter, he was so inspired that he bought a racing bike, and though did not quite manage to win the Tour de France, he has cycled marathons ever since.
10. Foster was conferred to Knighthood in 1990
Foster achieved the most desired honours for any Brit – a mention on the Birthday Honors lists in 1990. Furthermore, he was assigned to the Order of Merit (OM) in 1997, and again in 1999, he has bestowed a ‘Life Peerage’, thus becoming the ‘Baron Foster of Thames Bank’.