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The architect Norman Foster sits with pencil and sketch book in this black-and-white portrait, courtesy of GA/Yukio Futagawa.

Design Interests of Norman Foster

Say Norman Foster and most people think architect. Prompted to name his buildings, they might mention the Gherkin, Apple Park or the Hearst Tower. How many know that the design interests of Norman Foster run to cars, planes and trains? Meet Norman Foster the one-time loco spotter, classic car collector, lover of period Americana and third ‘namer’ on Logomotive.

On Ian Allan’s 1960 Locospotters’ Annual an ex-Great Western Railway Castle Class 4-6-0 locomotive is seen hard at work with the Capitals United Express.
An ex-Great Western Railway Castle Class locomotive graces the cover of Ian Allan’s 1960 Locospotters’ Annual.
The Eagle from 14th April 1950 has a cutaway cross-section of a new gas turbine electric locomotive, the kind of technology centrefold that helped sow the engineering and design interests of Norman Foster.
The Eagle of 14th April 1950 has a cutaway centrefold of the kind that brought alive the world of technology for the young Norman Foster.

As a boy Norman Foster used to stand next to the train tracks behind his home in Manchester waiting to see passing express locomotives, ‘namers’ in train spotter’s language. After lonely waits, he would catch a momentary glimpse of a curved nameplate flashing by midway along the length of the boiler, its raised, polished fonts standing proud against a burgundy red or earthy green background. He ticked off the names in an ABC book of locomotives published by Ian Allan. In between times he pored over cutaway drawings of the latest locomotive technology in the weekly Eagle comic.

The bigger canvas of America
If the express train conjured up a vision of adventure, travel, escapism and high lifestyle in the British Isles, imagine the image of the railroad in faraway America with its vast distances and endless horizons, where trains were immortalized in hit songs like ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe’. Those were the days when Winston O. Link, one of Norman Foster’s later heroes, was recording the last days of steam on the Norfolk & Western Railway in spectacular, arc-lit, black-and-white photographs.

In a black-and-white photograph taken by O. Winston Link in 1957, K2a locomotive No. 127 of the Norfolk & Western Railway makes a stop after crossing the James River in Virginia.
In this 1957 photograph by O. Winston Link, K2a locomotive No. 127 of the Norfolk & Western Railway makes a stop after crossing the James River in Virginia.
On this 1945 sheet music cover of ‘On the Atchison Topeka & Sant Fe’ is a head shot of Judy Garland and a drawing of an American-style locomotive hauling an AT&SF passenger train.
Judy Garland co-stars on the cover of this 1945 music sheet with an AT&SF passenger train headed by an American-style locomotive..
In this black-and-white photograph taken at La Crosse, Wisconsin, the Burlington’s streamlined Zephyr diesel express reaches a crossing, showing off its lightweight, stainless-steel construction.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad’s streamlined, stainless-steel Zephyr, photographed at La Crosse, Wisconsin, entered service in 1934 between Kansas City and Lincoln, Nebraska.
In this black-and-white promotional photograph reflecting the design interests of Norman Foster, the Chrysler Airflow automobile appears alongside the Union Pacific’s M-10000 diesel express
The body panels of the Union Pacific Railroad’s M-10000 diesel express and the Chrysler Airflow automobile were both pressed by the Budd Company of Philadelphia.

Locos, logos, styling and branding
In his Foreword to Logomotive: Railroad Graphics and the American Dream Norman Foster joins the designer Ian Logan and the design critic Jonathan Glancey in celebrating the heyday of mid-century American design, when streamlining smoothed the lines of trains, cars, planes and buildings. ‘The ultimate marriage of machinery, branding, graphics, colour and lifestyle found its apex in American railroad systems,’ he writes.

In this colour photograph the illuminated crown of the Chrysler Building rises above the Turtle Bay neighbourhood of Manhattan with the East River beyond.
The Art Deco crown of the 1929 Chrysler Building in New York is illuminated to glorious effect.

Logomotive touches on so many of my personal interests and the ways they connect, particularly streamlining, which ushered in the new era of lightweight, stainless steel, post-steam expresses like the Burlington Zephyr.’ The Union Pacific’s M-10000 diesel express, the Chrysler Airflow automobile and the Chrysler building in New York are all visually linked in his view, all part of the Art Deco movement.

Railway commissions
It is not difficult to see the spirit of streamlining and innovative engineering in some of Foster’s most recent railway work including Canary Wharf Station and Singapore Expo Station.

The Lord Foster of Thames Bank
Norman Foster was knighted in 1990, awarded the Order of Merit and appointed a life peer in 1997 taking the title Lord Foster of Thames Bank. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1991, won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often considered the Nobel Prize of architecture, in 1999 and has received a string of other awards. In 2017 he set up the Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid to help new generations of architects and designers anticipate the future.

The arched, glazed roof of Canary Wharf Station in London provides an airy canopy for the escalators leading down to the platforms.
The arched, glazed roof of Canary Wharf Station is evocative of the 19th-century cathedrals of steam.
Supported on three tall struts, a disc 40 metres in diameter, sheathed in stainless steel, provides cover for the ticket hall beneath while beyond a blade-like carapace, sheathed in titanium, folds over the platforms.
Appearing to hover like a spacecraft, a disk sheathed in stainless steel protects the ticket hall at Singapore Expo Station while beyond, a blade-like carapace folds over the platforms.