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.