The Norman Foster Foundation, Madrid

The Norman Foster Foundation opened its headquarters in Madrid in June 2017, establishing an archive of the British architect’s works and launching an international programme of research, education and interdisciplinary projects.

Based in Calle Montesquinza at a heritage-listed palace designed by Joaquín Saldaña at the beginning of the 20th century, the foundation is home to more than 8,000 drawings by Foster, ranging from a Manchester mill drawn in 1958 to the scale model of the future Mexico City Airport, where construction is currently under way. But the building does not only house his life work. Foster has conceived his foundation as a working centre where architects, urban planners, environmentalists, designers and artists can collaborate to provide answers for multiple fields.

The archive and the collection of scale models occupy several rooms on four floors of the stone building, while the pavilion, a futuristic single-storey structure adjoining the foundation, showcases on open glass shelves the objects that have inspired Foster’s career. In the spirit of encouraging the dialogue between architecture and art, the Spanish sculptor Cristina Iglesias has created a canopy to cover part of the entrance courtyard, providing shade for the pavilion’s facade.

Contrasting with the historical building, the pavilion uses a laminated glass wall structure to support a fibreglass roof shaped like the wing of an aircraft to create a the impression of a floating structure, with no visible means of support, which seeks the changing qualities of light. Foster was a pioneer of glass technology back in the early 1970s, so it comes as no surprise that he has left his “futuristic signature” on this turn-of-the-millennium building.

The large glass panel overlooking the courtyard next to the entrance is actually a massive 2.7-tonne door, 6 metres wide. When opened, the interior and exterior worlds are united into one flowing space for foundation gatherings.

Close collaboration with metal and glassworkers has resulted in a combination of slim bead-blasted stainless steel sections welded together, their mirror-polished edges lending airiness to the supporting structures.

The pavilion was completed through detailed design and construction in the space of six months, a feat achieved by prefabricating all the elements. This had the added advantage of avoiding excavation on the site and disruption to neighbours. The high thermal performance of the glass building envelope, under-floor radiant heating and cooling, generous external shading and latest-generation LED lighting are all part of its sustainable agenda.

Together with BAUprojects, Empty has acted as general contractor for the foundation, including refurbishment of the existing mansion, construction of the brand new pavilion, the external landscaping, and the installation of Cristina Iglesias’s canopy. It also took full responsibility for all aspects related to the exhibition of objects: display cases, tables for scale models and other supports, and the installation of these objects in their respective locations.