detailed outline and functional, worker-friendly spatial arrangements were characteristically Fosteresque, balancing the high-tech approach with client and social needs. In its marketing literature, Renault enthusiastically reproduced images of its marqueelike center, regarding it as the quintessence of its corporate image.

When presented with plans for the sloping 16-acre (6.5-hectare) site, the local authority consented enthusiastically to the unexpected design and to the proposed 67 percent land coverage (the usual limit was 50 percent). The prefabricated rectangular building was formed as a series of suspended modules—forty-two in total—comprising 52-foot-high (16-meter) masts, connected to pin-jointed portal frames. Each module measured 91 feet (24 meters) square and was 25 feet (7.5 meters) high at the edge and 31 feet (9.5 meters) in the center. As extensions were required, modules could be unbolted and new ones added. Initially, thirty-six modules were devoted to warehousing, the rest located at the narrower end of the site where the building tapered to a generous entry and porte cochere.

The fully exposed, repetitive mast arrangement flowed graciously beyond the external walls, glazed for showroom and dining but sealed elsewhere with steel skins. Ample natural lighting was achieved by clear glass panels inserted where the mast pierced the roof membrane and by a louvered roof light at the apex of each module; the louvers could be opened for ventilation. The building was centrally heated and lit according to the function of the space. Foster Associates designed the furniture.

The Renault Distribution Center has been described as ushering in the firm’s Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters (1979–1986) in Hong Kong, also noted for its extrinsic structural expression. However, unlike the sprawling Renault building, the bank headquarters is a soaring triple-layered tower (the tallest forty-one stories) with immense tubular steel trusses from which the floors are suspended. Many consider tins Foster’s magnum opus.

Further reading

Abel, Chris. 1991. Renault Centre: Swindon. 1982. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Davies, Colin. 1988. High Tech Architecture. New York: Rizzoli.

Sudjic, Deyan. 1986. Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, James Stirling: New Directions in British Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Retractable roofs

The Houston Astrodome in Texas, opened in 1966, was the first stadium with a roof over the playing area. It set a trend for sports fields for the next twenty years. Its roof, designed to resist 135-mph (216-kph) winds, has a clear span of 642 feet (196 meters); it is 208 feet (64 meters) high at the apex. It was not, however, the first arena to have a roof. It was predated by almost 2,000 years by the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, better known as the Colosseum. The Colosseum measured 620 by 510 feet (189 by 156 meters), and the perimeter of the fourth story had stone brackets supporting wooden masts from which an awning (velarium) was suspended across the interior to shield spectators from the sun. The velarium, was not fixed; teams of sailors handled the rope-and-pulley system that allowed it to be opened and closed depending on the weather.

The Toronto SkyDome, designed by architects Rod Robbie and Michael Allen and inaugurated in June 1989, was the first modern stadium with a fully retractable roof. SkyDome provides 2 million square feet (186,000 square meters) of usable floor space for up to 30,000 spectators. The 8-acre (3.24-hectare), 11,000-ton (10,000-tonne) roof rises 282 feet (86 meters) above the field level. It consists of a fixed panel and three movable panels, framed with steel trusses and covered with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) membrane laminated to an insulated steel sheet, moving on a system of tracks and bogies. The roof can open in twenty minutes to uncover the entire field area and over 90 percent of the seating. Since SkyDome, many similar structures have developed the new technology that enables very large buildings, once considered static, to become (at least in part) flexible—an architectural feat.

Amsterdam Arena, the Netherlands, was opened in September 1996, the first retractable roof stadium in Europe. The stadium is 540 feet (165 meters) wide and 770 feet (235 meters) long; the roof, soaring 255