The revolutions in workplace design explored in this collection all draw from the principles of introducing unprecedented amenities for workers while removing hierarchy from the physical space of the office. These innovations began with Team 4’s design for the Reliance Control Factory, completed between 1967 and 1969, and have been progressively developed throughout Norman Foster’s career across industrial, low-rise, and high-rise workplaces.
Through a simple but powerful intervention in architectural circulation, the Reliance Controls Factory and many of Norman Fosters' subsequent projects challenged the vestiges of social class division which remained embedded in the workplaces of 1960s Britain: management and employees shared a single entrance and a restaurant. In the words of Norman Foster through this design ‘Reliance Controls challenged the idea of the management box and the worker’s shed, the distinctions between “we and they”, “posh and scruffy”, “clean and dirty”, “back and front”, and suggested a more egalitarian, more flexible, more appropriate response’. In this way, the Reliance Controls Factory and subsequent designs intervened directly in the vestiges of social class division which remained rooted in workplaces.’
The principles first experimented with at Reliance Controls were brought to an even fuller realization with the subsequent commission for Willis Faber & Dumas. Maintaining the innovations of a single, integrated entrance and eating area for all types of employees, Willis Faber & Dumas also included from the earliest stages of its brief the inclusion of a wide range of amenities including a coffee-shop, swimming pool, and a roof garden with a running track around its perimeter. The building was characterized by a central atrium lit from ample light such that all the individual flexible, open-plan floors are connected by a communal area with natural light and vegetation. With this myriad of design innovations, the project became a strong statement for the holistic integration of workplace productivity, wellness and morale, and architectural design.
With later commissions, Foster faced the challenge of adapting these principles of workplace design to the unique conditions of the skyscraper. At such a vast scale, how can architecture maintain a sense of connection between workers and their surroundings as well as a sense of community within the building? The response developed in the Commerzbank Tower includes three story atriums reaching from the building’s core to perimeter on alternating points of its triangular plan. By drawing light into the building’s core, the atriums reduce the need for artificial light, introduce natural light to every office in the building, while also improving natural cooling and heating through the ample vegetation planted according to the atrium’s orientation toward the sun. The unique integration of green atria in high rise workplaces was continued in the development of 30 St. Mary’s axe. The building features a connected chain of stepped green atrium stretching from the building’s entire elevation.