I just realised I've had lunch in two Norman Foster buildings in the last month. A few weeks ago it was at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, where I went to interview Ron Dennis, and this week it was at the top of the Gherkin to meet Richard Tear, the CEO of restaurant company Searcy's, which operates the wonderful restaurant there.
The view from the top of the Gherkin shows how Foster, along with his former partner Richard Rogers, has changed London in a dramatic way over the last couple of decades. Aside from the Gherkin itself, his practice has designed the new Wembley, the GLA building on the South Bank, the Millennium Bridge, the HSBC building in Canary Wharf and the redevelopment of the British Library. Rogers, meanwhile, has given us the Lloyd's Building, the Millennium Dome and Heathrow's Terminal 5. His Leadenhall building in the City, almost next door to the Gherkin and nicknamed the Cheese Grater, is currently under construction.
The skyline of a city is its public face, the thing that makes it instantly recognisable - and one of its core brand values. Such things are important in a competitive world. It's not just the people who give a city personality, it's the buildings, the history, the iconography. The landmarks designed by Foster and Rogers have transformed the city (and indeed, The City) in the eyes of the world and created icons to rival St Paul's, Tower Bridge and the Palace of Westminster as symbols of the capital.
Coming next is the Shard at London Bridge by Renzo Piano who, along with Rogers, designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris back in the 1970s. The Shard will be the tallest building in the UK, and is due for completion just in time to be seen by everyone flying in over London for the 2012 Olympics.
Foster is now 74 and Rogers 76, but the passion of neither has dimmed. And both men can be proud of the fact that their work has raised the profile of British architecture across the world, attracted companies looking for a showpiece HQ to London, and created many, many jobs in construction and associated industries. In 50 or 100 years time, diners at the top of the Gherkin may be looking up rather than down to see London's landmarks, but Foster's and Rogers' buildings will still be among the city's star attractions.
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