High Tech: The Architecture of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster
High Tech is the style of architecture practiced by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster. It is ideologically ambiguous, having been popular with both Tory and Labour governments, and aesthetically it is debatable whether it represents a form of late Modernism or genuine Post Modernism.
The Pompidou Centre in Paris was an early example of High Tech architecture designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano (1977). We can immediately see a different attitude to technology from conventional Modernism. All the functional elements – pipes, service stacks, lifts and escalators – are exposed on the outside in a multicolored celebration of technology. This is the prime example of High Tech, Lloyds Bank in London by Richard Rogers. Unlike Modernist buildings such as the Seagram Building or the Farnsworth House, the service strips are placed on the perimeter, visible from outside. This is certainly functional – it makes them easier to repair – but it could also be regarded as a fetishisation of technology and functionalism.
High Tech uses technology in an almost Futurist way. The buildings are strikingly reminiscent of the unbuilt designs of the architect Antonio Sant’ Elia, a member of the Italian Futurist movement of the 1910s and 20s. His designs for La Città Nuova (1914) combine sharp diagonals and verticals, evoking the energy and dynamism felt to be characteristic of the age. His buildings are often surmounted by features resembling industrial chimneys or radio masts, making a slightly picturesque use of an iconography derived from machines. His trademark external elevators and interconnecting bridges constitute an architecture that proselytises a cult of the machine.
This could just as easily be applied to High Tech architecture. In Norman Foster’s HSBC building the structural frame is clutched to the outside. This is an explosion of the modernist concept that construction should be revealed – does it represent an ironic exaggeration of the principle (i.e. a Post Modernist comment) or a logical continuation of it? The interior fetishises engineering as the substance of architecture .
Sant’ Elia’s buildings could not be built because his vision far exceeded the technological capabilities of the day. He fantasized about a technological architecture before technology was sufficiently advanced to realise it, but High Tech buildings such as Lloyds of London actually achieve it. The HSBC and Lloyds Buildings have the megalomaniacal scale of Sant’ Elia’s visionary structures.
High Tech can be seen as both a continuation and a modification of Modernism. It confines itself to a unity of materials, time and mood, continuing the totalizing impulse of Modernism. Inside and outside are a continuum. This is one of the best Modernist conventions, which helps articulate function. Arguably it represents a Thatcherite commercialism. Canary Wharf in London was privately built during the Tory government of the late 80s in the image of American corporate capitalism. It subverted ordinary planning regulations. But High Tech is also a populist style. Rogers was concerned that architecture had lost contact with the public: his use of emblems from aircraft design constitutes a familiar, accessible imagery, as do the toy-like colours of the Pompidou Centre.
For more information on the Futurist movement, please see: