The Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid Is an Architecture Lover’s Dream
It’s been well over 50 years since Norman Foster hopped into a VW with two fellow Yale architecture students and drove cross-country to Los Angeles to see Case Study Houses that were assembled from off-the-shelf steel parts by L.A.’s avant-garde, including Charles and Ray Eames. That simple idea about architectural componentry and systems design would become the basis for Foster + Partners, perhaps the first and foremost of the world’s global high-tech practices. The drawings and models of airports, museums, skyscrapers, and even parliaments that Lord Foster designed are archived and exhibited in a newly restored 1912 mansion in the diplomatic quarter of Madrid. The Norman Foster Foundation opened to the public this month.
Norman Foster is now 82, and he’s done something about it. With the precision of a field marshal operating on several fronts, the London-based architect opened his foundation in an hôtel particulier in Madrid and officiated over a fast-paced, thought-provoking symposium, “Future is Now.” He closed the two-day event with an elaborate banquet for 200 international guests in a wing of the Prado, complete with harlequined jugglers, flame-swallowers, and singers and dancers performing traditional Spanish songs and dances. The Mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, greeted the symposium’s 1,800 attendees, welcoming Foster as an honorary madrileño.
After the fabled Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of old and modern masters, Foster’s foundation marks the second time in recent history that a foreigner has brought a ranking cultural institution to the Spanish capital. At the banquet, the architect said that without his Spanish wife, Elena, the foundation would not exist.
The day-long Friday symposium in the Royal Theater, across a plaza from the Royal Palace, took architecture as the point of departure into the impending global future of massive urban population influx, which is already leading to pressing questions about the environment, infrastructure, public health, and the stewardship of the earth. Instead of creating a vanity project, Foster has dedicated his foundation as a working center for research and discussion to help provide answers through interdisciplinary collaboration between architects, planners, environmentalists, and artists, who all spoke at the symposium. Speakers included New York’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg, Apple’s Jonathan Ive, digital guru Nicholas Negroponte, and artists Maya Lin and Olafur Eliasson. Christiane Amanpour moderated one of the three discussions.
The foundation will function as a major cultural magnet on the world stage, attracting scholars, architects, and especially students, many on grants funded by the foundation. Beyond serving as objects of research, the drawings and models double as autobiographical artifacts documenting the long and remarkable career of an architect who brought the high-tech movement into large-scale buildings erected around the world.