Interviewed in London on 22 September 2016
Norman Foster entered the international architectural scene with his realization of the project of Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, in 1985, at the latest, and has remained active to the present day as one of its most relevant participants. The innovativeness of this project in relation to structural expression, spatial organization and progressive technology are features that constantly point to the architect’s diverse and rich practice. Foster, however, does not see the technology as the goal of his work, but as a means of optimizing the conditions and the way of life of recipients of his architecture. His work encompasses a wide spectrum – from the design of utilitarian items to public spaces and large-scale infrastructure projects. Norman Foster has developed a universal method of processing architectural topics, appropriate for our time, but based on the Vitruvian principles – firmitas, utilitas, venustas – enriched by the aspects of sustainability and responsibility towards the social reality.
ORIS — The architecture historian William J. R. Curtis put your position in the history of late modernism somewhere between Rogers and Piano. He says about your work: His ideas are rooted in structure, facts, and metaphors. And then, the nature and human spirit make a fusion which leads into a new kind of creation. Would you agree with such definitions?
Norman Foster — No, but that is all right, I respect them – everybody has an opinion. As an architect I, from the beginning, had a social idealism – a belief that architecture is about making a difference, that it has the power to break down barriers, to improve the quality of life. That is a powerful generator – the needs, the human condition, the things that you can measure, the things that you cannot measure, such as having a workplace where you can enjoy the view and have the contact with nature, but which you intuitively pursue as beauty or another poetic dimension. Very recently, last October, the Harvard School of Public Health published findings which quantified those and said: those who have a workplace which has all the benefits – natural ventilation, changing climate and so on are seen to be more productive.