LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Flying With Lord Foster


Pritzker Prize-winning architect Lord Norman Foster, has brought his signature intelligent, efficient and light-filled spaces to a fleet of NetJets aircraft.

The architecture of aviation is reworked by Lord Norman Foster, who has brought his signature intelligent, efficient and light-filled spaces to a fleet of NetJets aircraft to create Pritzker Prize–worthy planes.


When NetJets, Europe's leading business jet operator, began looking for a designer for its new fleet of 33 Falcon 7X aircraft – the largest order in business aviation history – they immediately looked towards architect, pilot and NetJets customer Lord Norman Foster of Thames Bank. An aviation enthusiast who is only too used to board meetings in the sky, Lord Foster accepted the challenge with self-interest in mind.

The result is an elegant passenger cabin designed from a holistic perspective. Light and tranquil, it features a color scheme of cream and tan punctuated by fiddleback sycamore wood fittings. After talking practicalities with NetJets' clients and crew, Foster reconfigured the seating arrangements to suit business meetings (the primary function of most private plane charters) and created a separate zone for the galley and crew workspace. The overall aesthetic is one of carefully considered details (handsome nickel seatbelt buckles) and quiet luxury (no gold taps here).

Most striking about Foster's work is the exterior, something that was not part of the original commission but was an evolution of his overall design. The bold, dark blue horizontal stripe across the windows of the cockpit and cabin gives the aircraft a sleeker form. Although it makes no use of logos, the distinctive graphic is immediately recognizable and is a lesson in subtle branding. NetJets is so pleased with this development that they have elected to introduce Foster's exterior design across the entire 160-strong fleet of aircraft.

As the first of the NetJets Falcon 7X fleet goes into service, Lord Foster discusses with us the romance of flight and his passion for this project.

What is your personal experience of private aviation?
I have been fascinated for many years by flight, aircraft, flying, and piloting and so have taken tremendous pleasure from everything from airplanes to helicopters to micro lights to historic aircraft to jets. I am still completely hooked on the romance of flight and I am fortunate in being able to combine it with design. In the past I would fly myself to all my business destinations. I would do that as a single pilot – I would do the weather and the flight plans. I would do everything. As the destinations, the distances and the workload grew, it got to a point where the demands on my time were so much greater that it was no longer possible. So I take much more of a back seat in terms of the business flying.

How special is the NetJets project for you?
It sounds like a platitude, but every design assignment is special, and it has nothing to do with the size or the complexity; they are all equally important. I think it is difficult for somebody outside of our company, perhaps, to appreciate this. You would automatically assume that the biggest building in the world would loom larger. Physically, it looms larger, but as a design challenge, the aircraft design was special. All of us got a great buzz, and we learned quite a lot on the project. The relationship with NetJets was also very interesting, very stimulating and demanding in the best sense of the word.

What is your definition of comfort and comfortable flying and how does it transfer into your design?
My definition of comfort is a kind of luxury of choice. I can be quiet and not be disturbed but if I want something I can get it discreetly and without a fuss. The fact that in this aircraft you can draw the curtains and hide away at the back or you can have the extreme of a group working session and the aircraft can easily adapt to both situations. I think comfort is choice.

What influenced your design of the jets?
I think the influence on the design comes from the different roles we played at one time or another. Being a pilot, a customer, being looked after in an aircraft, having to work in an aircraft, or just bringing a design background and in a way an interest in technology but also an interest in customer comfort.

What is your favorite part of the plane, as a passenger?
I suppose it is the active part. It is tempting to say that on an overnight flight that hopefully you can sleep comfortably in the back, but I think for me it is the plane as a work place. That's the most interesting, when you are with a group and you are using that time effectively and you have, in a way, something that is probably the ultimate luxury.
When you first got involved in this project with Mark Booth (executive chairman of NetJets Europe), he asked you to work on the interior of the plane. What led you to advocate addressing the exterior of the aircraft?
It's an extraordinary commitment between NetJets and Dassault. It is literally a fleet within a fleet. And therefore, I felt that this significance should be manifest not just internally, but also externally. This was new, it was exciting, it was newsworthy, and it was commanding attention for all, a whole string of very good reasons. And I thought it would be a missed opportunity if somehow that wasn't made manifest visually from the outside. I felt it was such an exciting and significant program that that you should see it and in a way say, "Wow!" It should stand out in some way.

But again, there's a balance there. You see some aircraft on the ramp and they command your attention, but really perhaps because they're so flamboyant or so vulgar. But that then is a very transient thing. You might think of the streamlined age, which was probably typically the late thirties; some of those emblematic trains or cars of that kind of new era. It wasn't just the shapes, it was also the way in which color and form had been analyzed, and in a way reformed. So the two were going hand in hand. And in a way, we haven't really seen that recently. We've seen some exciting new shapes. We've seen technological advances. But there's been hardly any experimentation in how you might work with that in terms of colors or trim. So here, everything from the tail numbers to the detail of lettering, we tried to think through. And then I think the next thing that's happened is that everybody got so excited about the 7X looking like it was starting to look. The inevitable question was then, well, shouldn't we be doing this for the entire fleet? And in a way, exploring a wider application, which is where we now are.
Would you design jets again or any other mean of transports you would look at designing?
It is in the end, it is the combination of the design challenge and the customer, but I don't think there is another NetJets out there.

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