The Taming of the Shed: SAPA and IBM Greenford, Abstract Containers


The coordination of structure and services in containers of rigorous modularity and immaculate detailing had been the main constructional challenge of the Foster team during the sixties, and this interest in the flexible fast-track shed was extended in the seventies through a factory and an office building that pushed the abstraction of the boxes to an almost metaphysical extreme. In the aluminium extrusion plant for SAPA in Tibshelf, the production process determined the elongated shape of the container, whose exact volume, lined with white steel panels, rises in the landscape like a minimalist manifesto; and at the IBM centre in Greenford – designed and built in eight months – the integration of offices with warehouses was achieved through a strictly gridded umbrella building whose neutral glass facades blend into the countryside, reaching the Miesian ‘almost nothing’ through the changing play of evanescent reflections. But this striving for silence, tempered in SAPA by the bright colours of the components and in IBM by the yellows and greens of the structure, the contrast between corrugated iron and glazing, and the articulation of the bridge joining the boxes, began to appear as the end of a path, and the following projects would explore more expressionist roads...[+]

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