June 01: there’s hope for Norman Foster

2012/06/01 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1935 Norman Foster was born.

Foster (b. 1935)–that’s Baron Foster to you, but he’ll always be Nonnie to the Muse–may be the architect Le Corbusier always dreamed of: a towering, knighted success known for technical skill, environment astuteness, and sculptural daring-do.  He’s won more awards than you can name and he pilots his own plane.  He may have a jet pack.  We’re sure he could put Rem Koolhaas in a camel clutch in about 3 seconds flat.

Although cut of a very clean modernist cloth, Foster has been a work in progress since he first picked up a Staedtler Mars Technico 1001.  His initial buildings with Team 4 (founded 1963) are of the most dire sort of 1960s High-Tech.  Even through the variations of Foster + Partners through the decades there are still a few honkers here and there (environmental friendliness does not excuse that).  But once in a while, his firm churns out something pretty admirable, and which makes us wonder if he really is listening to us on some subconscious level.  Is the British Museum’s Great Court a new and spectacular version of what Barry did at the Reform Club?  Whatever that big glass donut roof is, it makes the interior court–otherwise a sad leftover space–look better than ever.  The Zayed National Museum planned for Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi (above) is a standout among standouts in that crazy-huge development.  If Saadiyat is architecture’s ultimate SuperGroup, Foster is their Robert Plant.  Especially when his museum is compared to its neighbors–the outlandish self-exploration of Hadid’s giant shoe and Gehry’s tin tent city (one more time!)–Foster’s museum is formally disciplined, sustainably sound, and aesthetically evocative.  Those tower thingys aren’t just giant updraft chimney gizmos, they are remembrances of the feathery wings of the falcons that were precious to the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding President of the UAE.  Excuse me, Nonnie, your interest in symbolism is showing!

Foster’s best work infuses modernism with a formal meaning, and that can be hard to come by these days, just as it’s rare to find a mature, established, successful architect branching out.  The Muse wonders what might happen if Nonnie and Demetri were forced to spend a week in a cabin together. Besides being the format for a fabulous reality show (a whole episode might be dedicated to their fight over closet space), we bet the Baron would enter his ninth decade even better than he is today.

Image: Foster’s proposal for the Museum (from this source)

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You are currently reading June 01: there’s hope for Norman Foster at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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