Foster Associates Ltd
WILLIS, FABER & DUMAS HEAD OFFICE
(Ipswich, England) 1970-75
The architecture of the workplace enjoyed predominance in the first two decades after the Second World War and many innovative ideas about the form, structure and function of buildings were associated with it. Most major architects of the time engaged in this field with great inventiveness. This has not, however, been the case in the last twenty years. With few exceptions, such as Herman Hertzberger's Centraal Beheer (1968-72, pp. 48-51) and Richard Rogers' Lloyd's of London (1978-86, pp. 156-59), little creative attention has been given to offices and factories architecturally. Norman Foster is among these rare exceptions and one of the most singular and significant ones. His Willis, Faber & Dumas offices are one of his most inventive and influential contributions to this design problem, at once so urgent and so neglected.
Starting from the need to develop an architecture of the workplace that would be appropriate to a new generation of employees with a new attitude to work and discipline, Foster arrived at a very different solution from Hertzberger's Centraal Beheer. Foster, like his old friend, classmate and associate Richard Rogers, believed in using appropriate technologies to social goals', in achieving emancipation through innovation. Influenced by the vision of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House and by the notion of the well-serviced shed', as described by the influential British architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham, Foster placed great emphasis on problem-solving techniques and searched for an integration of structure, services and external skin, in words paraphrasing Mies, 'to do more with less'.
A programme responding to new ideas about labour, human relations, management and flow of information required a spatial layout 'based on short lines of communication' and an open-door' management policy. It also required the integration of social and sports activities into the production facility. These programmatic demands led to an open-plan i i architectural scheme with 'offices without doors', without enclaves or hierarchization of spaces and a careful clustering of activities. Natural and socializing amenities and visual contact with the outside were provided for all. A swimming pool at ground level, a restaurant pavilion and a large roof garden also became essential components of the building. As in the case of Centraal Beheer, arriving at this solution was not the result of one-way decisions by the architect. The design followed detailed analysis and investigation of the organization of the office and public presen tations and discussions, with both staff and management.
The building has been likened to a 'sand wich\ Two 'served' floors of open-plan office space (to use Louis Kahn's notions of 'served' and 'servant', which were influential in the development of Foster's approach) are situated between two 'servant' floors within which special amenities - swimming pool, restaurant, roof garden - are interspersed. The
(Opposite) Series of conceptual drawings (Upper left) Wails, paving, trees and landscaping create a network of related spaces; the glass lobby acts as a wind break
(Lower left) Flooding hazard indicators show need to raise areas in use; entrance is restricted to high elevation
(Upper right) Reintroduction in a different, more appropriate form of escalator routes
(Lower right) Sketch for a 'predominantly* glazed roof for the building
(This page) Floor plans sandwich is held together by a vertical core consisting of a circulation lobby topped by the all-glass pavilion located on the roof garden.
The technological means for implementing this architecture were also carefully studied. Essential to establishing the desirable transparency was the absence of any bulky, space-occupying structural elements. The basic concept of structural organization adopted was thatof a dual system: a major one for the main body of the building and a minor one for its periphery. The major columnar support system was constructed as a regular, square grid, the minor an irregular one, using smaller columns. Aseries of regularly spaced columns was lined up around the periphery of the site's amoeboid configuration, leaving an irregular zone surrounding the grid. This is a classic approach, avoiding a single-grid pattern that contains multiple distortions, a kind of 'organic' deformation schema such as Alvar Aalto or several other contemporary architects might have employed. Going further back in history, such a
solution was first invented by the Renaissance architect Serlio in his efforts to reconcile classical taxis with the typically disordered shapes of the medieval urban sites.
Also essential for establishing visual contact with the outside, so desirable for the employees, was the detailing of the glass. The ingenious system of its suspension and the absence of mullions in the floor-to-ceiling glazing were all designed and calculated by the architect's office. The glass manufacturer offered guarantees for the design in return for the rights to it. Important also towards achieving a feeling of openness and accessibility was the 'dematerialization' of lighting features, diffusers, pipes, ducts. A sandwich structure absorbed them between ceiling and slab.
In a reversal of the usual institutional hierar-chization of quality materials and design, whereby the most precious and well-crafted environment is created for the public lobby and the most restrained for the actual working areas. Foster designed a simple entrance/ reception for Willis. Faber & Dumas. As one penetrates the building, walking and rising by escalators, one encounters increasingly more luxurious and comfortable areas.
The building was carefully designed from the point of view of energy control and efficiency, which are achieved through a low periphery plan, low proportion of glass-to-floor area, high-efficiency lighting and very effective insulation provided by roof landscaping, a Le Corbusier-type method.
But the most celebrated feature of the project is its external wall, its skin, which transforms this wonderfully pragmatic shelter into a poetic object. The solution marks the beginning of a major shift in sensitivity, away from the sculpted, plastic, spatially exhibitionists architecture, as well as away from the structural, rhythmic and skeletal, both of which types had been predominant since the Second World War. and towards one that focused on the qualities of occlusions, covering, impermeability, folding - that is, on surface. The Willis. Faber & Dumas office is entirely clad in an almost seamless solar mirror glass curtain that extends to the edge of the site in a manner reminiscent in plan to Mies's Berlin 1923 glass skyscraper. The effect is a miraculous disappearing act by the building, and at the same time a doubling of the architectural features of the surroundings reflected on its, surface skin. The irregularity of the mirroring glass adds to the magic, the unreality and the deep sense of play, our turn-of-the-20ttv century, economical, people's answer to the . challenge of Louis XIV's Galerie des Glacesai Versailles. Foster's invention was sow imitated around the world, and it still is at the1 moment of writing. But almost without excep- j tion, these attempts are poor reflections which fail to capture the unique experience offered by I the mirrors of the Willis, Faber & Dumas building.
Foster was not interested in the discussions about the de-institutionalization and re-appro-1 priation by the individual of the workplaces predominant among populists after the events of Spring '68. As a trade-off for individualized, enwrapping workstations, Foster opted for j commonsense environmental and social amenities such as light, spaciousness, long vistas and visual contact with the outside, together with excellence in the detailing of the inanimate objects that surround the worker. He was also from the outset determined to treat aspects of the external impact of the building as being of equal importance to determinants internal to the building. It appears retrospec tively that almost all these decisions were taken with imagination and good judgment.
(Above left) Exterior view with entrance
(Left) Detail showing the attachment of the glass facade to the roof
(Opposite, above) The building by night (Opposite) Site plan
76 WILLIS. FABER & DUMAS HEAD OFFICE
Estudio Rafael Moneo BANKINTER
(Madrid, Spain) 1973-76
Bankinter stands in the grounds of the small, late-19th-century villa of the Marques de Mudela. The site is among the last vestiges of the urban tissue that once made up Madrid's Paseo de la Castellana; it is now occupied by the massive, mighty, high-rise business area carved out of the city centre during the later part of the Franco years. In the early 1970s, in an effort to preserve what little of the historic fabric survived there, new regulations were enacted that strictly limited the volume of new construction. This was an important step towards arresting the destruction of the historically defined, characteristic Madrilenian sense of place by the spread of mainstream commercial, bureaucratic buildings. Bankinter was the first building erected in accordance with these regulations, and it was also one of the key buildings that triggered a critical regionalist' movement in Spain. The desire to respect the original house and grounds and keep their integrity was among the principal reasons for the selection of Rafael Moneo. an architect already known for his devotion to the
problem of continuity in architectural evolution.
As Moneo has written, the 'authentic protagonist' in this building is brick construction, a regional attribute. If there is one image the visitor retains of Madrid's architecture, it is the prismatic volumes, the rigorist, jointless, red brickwork. Although the majority of Spanish architects of the previous generation - Alejandro de la Sota and Julio Cano Lasso, for instance-had used this architectural vocabulary, Moneo made a point of choosing as his model the architecture of Francisco Cabrero's Casa Sindical in Madrid, from the end of the 1940s.
The brick, cubic' project of Cabrero had succeeded in creating a building with a public face beyond the pompous Escorialism of many of his contemporaries. He amalgamated a more vernacular Madrid tradition with the neo-monumentalism of the Milan architects of the 1930s. Moneo went one step further in this approach towards inclusiveness and syncretism by introducing rules of composition derived from a distant and unexpected source, the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.
During the 1950s Aalto was virtually unknown in Spain. His sensitivity to site conditions, his openness to regional context and his concern for 'place' proved to have a special appeal to Spanish architects at a moment of crisis, when the alienating 'urban sprawl' was taking hold during the 1960s. Several projects by another Spanish architect of the period, Antonio Fernandez Alba, testify in their design to Aalto's influence and warm reception in
Spain. In Moneo's project, given the severely constrained site conditions, physical as well as cultural, Aalto provided the necessary balance to Cabrero's lack of response to site con ditions. The pin-wheel composition, the shift of scales on each side of the building, the facade with many faces, the breaking of the monolithic volume into discrete units, their fit into the urban setting of the Paseo de la Castel lana, resulted in a paradigmatic contextual urban design.
Bankinter displays the same planarity, the same play of recesses and appearance of solidity as Cabrero's Casa Sindical. However, with its sharp wedge to one side and a rounded wall to the other, the building is also obviously taking liberties with this meticulous geometnc rigorism, breaking the familiar regionalist pattern.
In its syncretism, the creative combinationof architectural precedents, the project can be seen as a representation of the inclusiveness. reconciliation and opening up of the new, post Franco dynamic Spain. In the same spirit o' conciliation, no doubt, are the cast bronze floral reliefs on the upper part of the facade; by the Spanish artist Francisco Lopez Hernandez, they are directly inspired by Louis Sullivan's buildings in Chicago.
The impact of the project was immediate and was felt as strongly outside Spain as within its borders. This doubtless contributed, along with Moneo's Museum in Merida (1980-86, pp. 148-51), to his appointment as chairman of the Graduate School of Desigr at Harvard in 1984.
(Opposite, left) Axonometrie section showing detail of the wall
(Opposite) The facade on the entrance side (centre) and in relation to the villa (right)
(Above) Axonometrie drawing of Bankinter and the villa
(Right) General plan of the two buildings
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