The design style known as ‘high-tech’, associated with the work of architects Richard Rogers, Norman Foster (see Foster Associates), Nicholas Grimshaw and Michael Hopkins, was pioneered in Britain in the early 1970s. Although in the USA the term refers principally to an architectural style, in Britain high-tech points to a more rigorous approach in which advanced technology is acknowledged as representing the ‘spirit of the age’. The aesthetics of industrial production and machine technology are celebrated and embodied in the methodology of design production. Industry is a source for both technology and imagery. Principally associated with factory and business applications, although now adopted for supermarkets, leisure centres, art galleries and modern offices in ‘science parks’, high-tech balances function and representation, engineering and architecture, at once symbolizing and representing technology rather than simply using it efficiently. The functional tradition of nineteenth-century architecture, together with important precursors, Sant’Elia, Mies van der Rohe, Mart Stam, Charles Eames, the Russian constuctivists, Buckminster Fuller, Archigram and the Japanese metabolises, all contributed to contemporary high-tech. Distinguished by exposed steel structures and services, visible air conditioning ducts, renewable plug-in service pods and the characteristic use of metal and glass and suspension structures, high-tech buildings demonstrate the high priority placed on flexibility of use, witnessed particularly in the ‘omniplatz’, where internal and external spaces are conceived as serviced zones. The most distinctive example is the Pompidou Centre (1971–7), the sixstorey ‘cultural machine’ designed by Piano and Rogers. Interpretations of high-tech vary, with Foster favouring a smooth exterior as at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich (1977), and Rogers preferring to use more visceral compositions to dramatize function. Development can be traced from Foster and Rogers’s Reliance Controls Factory in Swindon (1967) and the Pompidou Centre, to the Lloyd’s Building, London (1978–86) by Rogers and the Shanghai Bank Building, Hong Kong by Foster (1989). Grimshaw argues, ‘Our buildings are unusually economical and reflect the absolute necessity of conserving energy and saving resources’, indicating significance beyond pristine metal-clad exteriors. Some early high-tech buildings are already deteriorating, which, as Diane Ghirardo points out, ‘leads directly to a major problem of emphatically high-tech architecture: the strident application of technological appendages evinces a view of technology as aesthetic scenography rather than a type of architectural knowledge bound up within a broad and continuing research project’.
   See also: Archigram; Foster Associates
   Further reading
    Davies, C. (1988) High-Tech Architecture, New York: Rizzoli.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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