1983 - Norman Foster 1935 -

Head office for Willis Faber and Dumas, Ipswich

Designer: Foster Associates, Artist: Hunter, Alastair (1938-1991)
Copyright: Alastair Hunter/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1975)

However deserving of the Royal Gold Medal he received in 1983, none of the jury could have predicted the international acclaim and success that would be achieved by him and by Richard Rogers (1985) in the years to come. Their achievements both engender and typify the transformation that has taken place in British architecture in the latter halves of their careers.


At the time of the award his significant built work comprised: Willis Faber & Dumas Headquarters, Ipswich (1971-1975), a building which at first shocked but which came to be accepted by public and architects alike as the way to build in cities and which was the first scheme in this country to democratize the workplace; Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich (1974-1978), a scheme which explored lightweight, flexible structures and still looks as good in its landscape setting as ever it did; and the Renault Distribution Centre, Swindon (1980-1982), a project whose yellow skeletal structure was used by Renault for years as the backdrop to it advertising campaigns. At that time the scheme which revived the post-Ronan Point fortunes of the skyscraper, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters (1979-1986), was still four years from completion.


The judges said of Foster: ‘No other architect has so effectively drawn the advanced modern technology of the aerospace and electronic worlds into architecture and building, transforming the muddy, rough and ready, traditional building process into a precision activity.


Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe and St Andrew Undershaft Church, City of London

Designer: Foster & Partners
Copyright: Pawel Libera/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (2005)

In doing so he has given a new embodiment to the spirit of classical architecture and created structures of great style and grace ... In his combination of brilliant innovation, passionate dedication to the highest standards of design and detail, and respect for human scale, Norman Foster is an inspiration to a generation of architects throughout the world.' And – it is now possible to add – to many future generations too.