Foster + Partners is a corporation with more than 20 offices all around the world. His style is easy to identify as ‘global style’. No wonder corporate and political leaders seek out this stylish office: there is a mirroring of self-images, at once technocratic and innovative, that suits client and firms alike. His architecture is one of great panache, with sleek surfaces, usually of metal and glass, luminous spaces, often open in plan, and suave profiles that can also serve as media logos for a company or a state. As a result, high tech and high design corporations are drawn to the practice.
He favours relatively restrained geometries, however expanded, are little more than two arrows laid out point to point i plan. Such structures read as gestalts or given forms, for the practice this graphic simpliciity is all about clarity of program. Even when Foster employs irregular volumes -ovoid and elliptical ones sometimes appear, such as the pinecone of the City Hall in London or the cocoon of the Sage Music Centre in Gateshead -they are just odd enough to be distinctive, and even then we cannot quite say, for example, whether the Swiss Re is a gherkin or a Freudian cigar. This ambiguous abstraction conveys a great faith in advanced technology and international business alike. In the end, it is this dual enterprise, which is also abstract and ambiguous in its workings, that the symbolism of such buildings suits and celebrates.
Indeed, Foster exudes a heady air of refined efficiency that almost any corporation or government would want to assume as its own. The office stresses ecologically sensitive systems as much as technologically advanced designs: clearly, it wishes to be seen as both green and clean. This is both architecture and public relations. For all concerned, it is interesting to see his glass constructions being applied to politics as in the Reichstag or the London City Hall even though when what is going on there is quite opaque.
A comment should be made about the glass-dome-cum-observation-deck conceived for the refurbished Reichstag in Berlin. In the film Foster talks about his experiences as an only child with his mom during the Blitzkrieg. Then, as an adult, he has the opportunity to refurbish an iconic place of Hitler power. I wonder whether the experience of looking over the representatives from on high is actually a recreation of the Blitzkrieg but in the negative . Can politics function under such pressure?
In the quest for the crystal palace, Foster needs neatness and that oxymoronic wellbeing that is a constant reminder of the power structures in place. Watching this documentary I saw many of the traits that Wall Street leaders and figures like Oprah Windfrey privilege. By this I mean a sort of organisation of men from inside out and the other way around. It is very difficult not to feel intimidated by the power of capital in any of these buildings and it is very difficult to do politics in them. Its ecological discourse is pristine but it demands TOTAL organisation and discipline. I wonder whether Foster is more part of the problem than part of the soliution. Just a thought.
WATCH ‘THE PILL’ INTERVIEW WITH SWISS ARTIST ANGELA LYN ON MOTHERHOOD, DOUBTS, THE ART MARKET AND SURVIVING THE EIGHTIES