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When a young London-based duo won an international competition for the Yokohama ferry terminal in Japan in 1995, there was a collective gasp of incredulity. The shock was not only that the couple, still in their early 30s, could land a £150m port project on the other side of the world, but that their design was unlike anything seen before.
Foreign Office Architects (FOA), as they called themselves – coming from Spain and Iran respectively, and setting up their laboratory of foreign objects in London – had conjured a fluid, folded landscape of a building. It would be a world where the ground flexed and fractured beneath your feet, where ramps morphed into rooftops. The built result, completed seven years later, was no less extraordinary. It captured the zeitgeist, becoming a touchstone for a generation of designers weaned on the dynamic possibilities of computer-aided modelling.
Twenty years on, the last project that the practice would ever work on has just opened in Birmingham. Fittingly, New Street train station is another vast piece of transport infrastructure, also formed of twisting, swooping surfaces. It marks a stage when Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi had ceased working together: the project was led by Zaera-Polo and taken on by his firm AZPML when the pair parted company, soon after landing the station competition in 2008. […]