Roofs over Our Heads: the Newport Competition and the Umbrella Concept


In the optimistic and experimental climate of the sixties, the 1967 competition for a school and multipurpose building in the Welsh town of Newport allowed the newly founded Foster Associates to develop the umbrella concept in this maiden project which, although never built, served as a theoretical testing ground and a practical educational experience, greatly influencing their subsequent works. The deep plan, single level building extends the modular and industrial approach of the project for Reliance Controls in Swindon, but the highly serviced roof is inspired by Ezra Ehrenkrantz’s mythical Californian School Construction Systems Development of 1964, a project which Foster greatly admired. A huge 137˘80˘1.2 meter frame sheltered a variety of spaces which could change with the shifts in teaching methods, making flexibility its main social aim, and the rationalization of building components its principal economic purpose. Both intentions would be pursued in the Factory Systems Studies of 1969, and later explored in other projects like the 1970 Cincinnati Milacron factory and the 1970 Pirelli warehouse, as well as in a prototype built in Milton Keynes in 1972 for the Development Corporation of this new town, a genuine urban laboratory of the time...[+]

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