Fostering the Architecture of Aviation with Lord Norman Foster


 “I am still taken by the romance of flight and I am fortunate to be able to combine that passion with design.”

When celebrated British architect Lord Norman Foster announced his plans to design the new fleet of Dassault Falcon 7X jets for the private aviation company, NetJets Europe, the world took notice. What appeared to be a break in the traditional design profile for Foster was actually a perfect partnership between the man who masters designs on the ground and the company renowned for commanding the sky. The Pritzker prize-winning draftsman has a penchant not just for leading the world in breathtaking architectural feats, but for dominating aviation as well. “For very many years I’ve had a tremendous fascination for flight, aircraft, and flying. I have piloted all kinds of aircraft—helicopters, racing sailplanes, microlights, historic aircraft, and jets. I have even flown aerobatics,” Foster explained in an interview with Haute Living. “I am still taken by the romance of flight and I am fortunate to be able to combine that passion with design.”

The architect began to foster his relationship with private aviation years ago, flying as a single pilot to all of his business destinations. But as his popularity and workload grew, so did the distance between the project sites. Aviation regulations became more complex and the density of flying increased. First he transitioned from a piston twin to a small business jet, but eventually it reached a stage where the distances were too great, the aircraft so intricate, and the demands on his time too intense, so he opted for the cabin of the corporate jet instead of the captain’s chair.

This history positioned him as the obvious go-to guru when NetJets Europe began considering the commission assignment for the design of their new fleet. In 2007, they placed the largest order in business aviation history for 33 Falcon 7X business jets. With an investment of $1.5 billion, it is fitting that the private aviation company would seek nothing short of Foster’s brilliant mind to take business aviation to new soaring heights.

Lord Foster, a NetJets customer himself, considered many aspects when crafting his ideas for the project, such as luxury and comfort, but the main goal was to design a business jet that embodied its name and offered corporate travelers an ideal business venue. “The potential of the plane as a workplace—that is most interesting,” asserts Foster. “When you’re with a group and you can use that time effectively, then you have something that is the ultimate luxury.”

He went on to explain that he does a tremendous amount of work on an aircraft with his own team, collaborating on ideas and preparing presentations. “There’s a great advantage in being able to gather around the same table and have a lively group working session—something that the design of this aircraft allows,” he says.

With his own needs in mind, Lord Foster also conducted extensive consultations with crew and flight attendants and those who maintain the aircraft, in order to ensure that no design detail was left to chance. “The area that supports the crew and the cockpit are sensitive to issues of glare so they tend to be darker. We’ve also used materials like sheepskin that are favored by pilots, in terms of comfort,” he says.
The interior cabin space reveals an illuminated gap between the area overhead and the side panels, which lights the top of the aircraft. He explained that while this in itself is not that unusual, the unique design is that it also offers a hand-hold, so in turbulent conditions passengers can walk the length of the fuselage and be sure of support. The aesthetics of the galley were considered so that it only appears to be a kitchen when a meal is being prepared. Otherwise it breaks convention by serving as an entry space.

Carbon fiber is present throughout, which enhances performance, lightness, strength, and durability. Perforated leather and solid leather combine in the features of the furnishings. This delivers the effect of breaking the bulk and improving the aesthetic appeal and comfort levels. Lord Norman Foster and his design team at Foster + Partners created the space with the theme of classic elegance in mind. He explains that they were interested in creating a concept for the aircraft—in terms of its interior and its detailing—that would be timeless. This philosophy led them to employ the serenity of a soft, neutral color palette.

While NetJets Europe originally intended to commission Lord Foster for the interior space only, it soon became apparent that his expertise would be paramount for the entire external livery for the dedicated European fleet.

As the first project of its kind between a world-renowned architect and a private aviation company, the magnitude of this creative genius is documented in the aptly titled book, Horizons, which was unveiled during Basel World. In addition to the photographs from illustrious travel photographers like Lalla Essaydi and Ellen Kooi, the exquisite volume also contains an insert featuring Foster’s sketches from throughout the design process, including his notes on color scheme proposals, details of the exterior band, his plans for separating the interior spaces according to function, and details of the cabin and cockpit materials.

NetJets Euope’s investment in inventory and interior design of the fastest Falcon ever built has paid off so far with rave reviews and piqued public interest in private aviation.