LORD FOSTER

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the official opening of the McLaren Technology Centre by Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. To celebrate the first decade of our iconic headquarters in Woking, England, we speak to Lord Foster, whose architectural firm, Foster + Partners, designed this home to technology, design and high performance.

McLaren: What struck you about the site on Horsell Common on your first visit in 1996?
 
Lord Foster: I remember being impressed by the nature. Although it’s not far from the town, it had a nice feel of being remote. This led me to think that the challenge of creating the equivalent of a car factory on a beautiful rural site should be thought of more like creating a grand country house in a park-like setting. In a sense that inspiration has been fulfilled, with its lake, meandering approach road and generous tree planting. 
 
McLaren: How detailed was Ron Dennis’ initial brief?
 
Lord Foster: There was no formal briefing document, but the quest for excellence was taken for granted. Ron had a number of ideas, not so much about what the building should look like, more about the building’s spirit.

McLaren: What else inspired you in the design process?
 
Lord Foster: I have long been fascinated by ‘crop circles’. I can remember the wonderment when I first saw a ‘formation’ while piloting a helicopter one evening. I was spellbound by the sheer beauty of the complex geometry etched into the smooth table of wheat. That image came to mind when we started to think about McLaren. Seen from above, the building echoes the pure, abstract forms that have inspired crop formations over time.
 
McLaren: How much did the McLaren brand help to define the final building?
 
Lord Foster: The MTC is very much about human values, advanced technology and ecology. We wanted to provide an efficient and beautiful working environment. To maintain the feeling of order, the main services are hidden below ground. However, to give an aura of excitement and convey the true purpose of the building, we followed NASA’s example by keeping the technological activity visible.
 
McLaren: Before the MTC, McLaren was based in several locations around Woking. How difficult was it to design a single home for these strands of the organisation?
 
Lord Foster: When you understand a building’s needs, you can resolve complexity with simple design strategies. With McLaren that approach extended to collaborations with its engineers for the hardware of the building. For example, I suggested supports could extend out from the structural columns on the building’s edges to stabilise the external glass wall and take the wind loads. Working with McLaren, these evolved into beautiful and sculptural members.
 
McLaren: It sounds as though you feel a certain affinity towards McLaren?
 
Lord Foster: I have a personal interest in cars, and own a collection of vehicles that are, for me, iconic. McLaren pushes the boundaries in terms of car design, and architecturally our work for McLaren is in the same spirit.

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