Working for Fred Olsen: Buildings on the London Docks


The tough labour environment of the docks was very different from the smart atmosphere of the electronics industry, but Foster found in Fred Olsen a progressive client with whom to develop the ideas of industrial democracy advanced in Reliance. After a consultation process with the unions and management, an amenity centre for dock workers was built in the midst of the Olsen facilities: sandwiched between two transit sheds, and including offices on the upper floor, the centre established a new standard of crisp comfort in the rough docks, and its taut reflective facade was a shining icon of a new deal in industrial relations, housing blue and white collar workers under the same roof. Designed and built in twelve months, it was Foster’s first completed work after the break up of Team 4, and established a trusting relationship with the Scandinavian ship owner that led to many other projects (including an environment-friendly planning study for Gomera), the first of which was again in the Millwall Docks: a passenger terminal that separated travellers from cargo with a raised walkway covered with corrugated iron, a ‘serviced shed’. Both the terminal and the centre would be demolished in the 80s, leaving only the memory of Ben Johnson’s haunting acrylic painting of the reflecting wall...[+]

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