Scale

I've been thoroughly enjoying the documentary film How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? about architect Norman Foster

There's a great passage in the beginning about the Hearst Tower (2007). As Foster himself outlined the challenge: "it's a very, very small tower amongst the most extraordinary collection of mega-towers. And how do you make this tower have a presence when it's physically so small?"

Sculptor Anish Kapoor has a fascinating insight into this question:

Scale – in a way – is not the same thing as size. Scale is a quantity of somewhat abstract proportions. It bears a relationship at one level to the body. But it bears a bigger relationship to the imagination. The way, if you like, the pyramids in Egypt do. They remain – whatever you do: you walk up them, you walk round them – they remain the scale they are. Which is somehow bigger than what they really are.

I love that insight: that the successful artist is not having a conversation only with the objective circumstances of the world; but rather, more meaningfully, with the imaginations of their audience.

  The Hearst Tower , New York City

The Hearst Tower, New York City

Critic Paul Goldberger has called Foster "the Mozart of modernism"; and in the film's view of him – particularly in his restlessness with conventional decisions – he reminds of Steve Jobs: the inversion of the relationship between the decisions made for functional reasons and those for aesthetic; or, rather, the understanding that the functional is incomplete without the aesthetic.

The film does an good job of outlining Foster's particular sensibility: his striving for space; his sense of drama; his interest in sustainability; his global perspective; the relationship between the scale of his buildings, the world around them, and our own presence. "I believe that the infrastructure of spaces, connections, the public domain – the kind of urban glue that binds the buildings together – is more important than any one building." Well worth seeing.