“As an Architect You Design for the Present, with an Awareness of the Past, for a Future which Is Essentially Unknown” : On Foster’s Body of Work and Evolution

Hearst Tower New York, New York, USA, 2000-06. Image © Michael Ficeto / Hearst Corporation

This is an edited excerpt by Philip Jodidio from TASCHEN’s upcoming title Norman Foster.

In a 2007 conference, Norman Foster stated: “As an architect you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.” That talk was about the green agenda, which he termed the most important issue of the day, affirming that it is “not about fashion but about survival.” Admittedly, the rise in public interest in contemporary architecture that followed the creation of the Pritzker Prize in 1979 (Foster was the 1999 winner) has been focused on forms and personalities more than on substance. Philip Johnson, the first winner of the shiny award, made his view clear: “Architecture is art, nothing else.” Essays, magazines, and books have delighted in the foibles, verbal and sartorial, of celebrated architects, the hats, and eyeglasses of genius. Of course, figures like Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier did not wait for a prize to be famous, and it seems fitting that Wright’s literary alter-ego, Howard Roarke, would say: “Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments.” The modern architect/artist as demiurge, responsible for fashioning and maintaining the universe: “…how like an Angel in apprehension, how like a God?”

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