Things to Come: from the Autonomous Dwelling to the Vertical City


Foster’s most visionary projects have arisen out of his collaboration and friendship with Buckminster Fuller. In 1971 they designed two bubbles that never materialised, a subterranean theatre and a total environment office that inspired Willis Faber; and in 1982 the two architects again worked together, on a geodesic dome dwelling that also failed to be produced. The following year – 10 days after delivering the speech at Foster’s RIBA Gold Medal ceremony – Fuller died, and Foster had to wait until 1989 to undertake another futuristic project in the vein of the American master. The opportunity arose with a colossal off-shore commercial development for the Japanese Obayashi Corporation. Foster proposed a conical tower rising up to 840 metres and 170 storeys (twice the height of the world’s highest building), bound in a helical steel grid, and holding offices, shops, hotels and flats. With a faint resemblance to Wright’s Mile High project, and echoes of Archigram’s urban fantasies, Foster’s Millennium Tower is a sound engineering project in the tradition of communication towers, but also a haunting social utopia – a community in a precinct, rising out of a marina in a virtual vertical island – so it is difficult to avoid ambiguous feelings about the abandonment of the project...[+]

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