As Sir Norman Foster contemplates fresh international honours and the imminent opening of the Reichstag, it is easy to become blase about the buildings and ideas which have been generated from his office over three decades. This is not to disparage the work of a large handful of other outstanding uk firms, but it is to acknowledge the undoubted contribution of the Foster programme to a story played out against a background of imploding old-style Modernism, Princely interventions, boom and bust, Post-Modernism, new technology, ecology and, not least, the beginning of a new globalisation in architecture.
Talking to Sir Norman this week provided a reminder that what might appear to be new concerns for the office, in particular in respect of energy and climate considerations, in fact have far-reaching antecedents - for example work (mostly unbuilt) for Fred Olsen back in the 1970s. The concern with energy-conservation can also be traced to the Willis Faber building in Ipswich, as can its response to history and place. There has been a constant input of creative energy as the practice explored the possibilities of vertically, as well as horizontally, deep buildings, how they can be lit, and how the building envelope can be developed in different ways. (An interesting footnote to this history is the way in which so many of the buildings work below ground - Hong Kong, Duxford, East Anglia, Nimes.)
One problem for Foster's and other major practices as they develop is the extent to which they are expected to redefine the architectural problem in every building they undertake. This is no more reasonable an expectation than it is for an athlete to break a world record every time he or she performs;
having set new standards, there is inevitably work which will simply meet them and do no more. But the act of redefinition (of the speculative office, of the airport) is a massive contribution to all architects and architecture; happily, there is evidence that the Foster office has plenty of innovation still to come.