The designs for this comprehensive school on the outskirts of Newport were never built, but they led directly to a number of later schemes such as the IBM pilot head office at Cosham and the Fred Olsen Amenity Centre, Milwall Docks. Working within tight cost limits imposed by the DES, the design envisaged a vast rectangle (137mx80m) of flexible space covered by a uniform 1.2m deep space frame roof of welded lattice trusses. This roof umbrella combined natural and artificial lighting as well distributing air, power and information. Beneath this constant height deck, the floor levels could be recessed where required to create larger volumes (swimming pool, gymnasium), while classroom layouts could be altered at will by demountable steel partitions. Deep plan teaching areas were not endemic to the scheme, since the system could, create other plan forms with internal courtyards of finger layouts. The heating and cooling system installed in the roof void was designed to respond to these changes of layout. The canopy was extended beyond the glazed walls of the school to form a continuous circulation zone offering protection from the rain and solar shading. The compact plan reduced working distances was more economical to build and preserved the site for outdoor activities.

Sketches + Drawings


Norman Foster in conversation with Graham Vickers

“The intention of Newport was to show that a generous roof umbrella could accommodate not only the requirements of the brief – which were absolutely traditional – but other approaches to education as well. If there had been a will to explore these other approaches – which were to do with newer technologies and the breaking down of the more rigid educational patterns associated with repetitive classroom units – then this scheme would have been very sensitive to such uses. It was more an educational tool than a fixed building.”


Graham Vickers

“On the surface the Newport brief did not encourage innovation. Traditional requirements had to be realised within DES cost limits, but Foster’s response was particularly imaginative. It used the school as the vehicle for exploring a system approach to what was a multi-use building.”

Graham Vickers

“Foster’s Newport School seen in retrospect, retains its radical idealism. Less easy to assess, but no less important, is the extra inspirational edge that Newport was to give to later Foster buildings.”

Norman Foster

“The Newport School system study showed the perimeter of the building as a lattice structure, giving an overhang for circulation with the glass wall set back. On the IBM project we introduced the glass skin outside and took advantage of the same perimeter walkway, but now inside the building itself.”

lecture at Hong Kong University, 2 February 1980

Norman Foster

“The scheme meant that you could have a school that would have corridors and classroom and so on, but you could also have independent planning geometries. I don’t believe that we’ve done anything else, before or since, with quite that extraordinary degree of flexibility.”

Norman Foster

“Without the knowledge we gained from Newport, it would not have been possible to do IBM Cosham. Arguably, Newport also made the Olsen Amenity centre the very swift reality it turned out to be, and IBM Greenford, too, is more easily explained in terms of what we learnt there.”

Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 1965
  • Area: 11,000m²