Documentary explores the vision of 'starchitect' Norman Foster

A film on the British architect Norman Foster casts his buildings as cultural icons and helps to define his bold, original design vision. It opens soon in theaters in New York and L.A.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor on

Think of some of the most striking architectural projects of recent years, and you're likely to come up with the work of the British architect Norman Foster and his firm, Foster + Partners.

The world's largest single building, the Beijing Airport. The lyrical Millau Viaduct in France. Apple's forthcoming circular headquarters. The "Gherkin," also known officially as the Swiss Re Tower in London. The zero-carbon, zero-waste Masdar City, under construction in Abu Dhabi. All of these represent Foster's bold and versatile vision.

A recent documentary film, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?, is one of the more detailed--and wonderfully visual and dynamic--portraits of the designer, whose oeuvreis so influential he has been knighted and also declared a Lord. Not bad for someone who was born into a working-class family in Manchester, England, to say the least.

The movie has been making international film festival rounds, and opens at New York's IFC Center on January 25, and then in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theaters in early March. (See here for a list of future screenings in various cities. The poetic title, by the way, is a reference to a question that the late designer Buckminster Fuller asked Foster when Fuller first observed the architect's first high-profile building, the art gallery Sainsbury Centre.)

Directed and filmed by the team of Norberto Lopez-Amado and Carlos Carcas, the movie lovingly and respectfully frames many of Foster's buildings as monumental sculptures, casting them as cultural treasures. They appear as dramatic symbols of particular eras and specific environments. Throughout the film, the cinematography offers sweeping views worthy of a big-budget thriller, and seeing many of the buildings aggregated here is awe-inspiring: the originality and design flexibility of Foster and his team resonates.

To Foster--who, as the movie's production notes state, didn't really want a film made about him, simply because he is so busy and absorbed in his architectural practice--architecture essentially is about drama. "Architecture...works with all of the senses...it moves your spirit," he said to the filmmakers. Perhaps this highly theatrical production is, then, a most appropriate vehicle for capturing and conveying the core of his work.

Having numerous cultural luminaries, ranging from architecture critic Paul Goldberger to sculptors Anish Kapoor and Richard Serra, as well as musician Bono, contribute their opinions further illustrates the power of Foster's designs. Foster, after all, is a celebrity himself. Through the lens of culture that this film provides, it's possible to see how the arts influenced Foster. He's an architect who's also an artist, really, one who pushes not only himself and his colleagues, but also everyday citizens to rethink and ultimately enjoy the buildings--and the world--around them.

Here's the trailer:

Images: First Run Features

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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