For decades, Norman Foster has engraved the world around him with his unique sensibility and it is the freehand drawing—his faithful working tool—that opens his retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou in the heart of Paris. On the penultimate floor above the Parisian roofs, his professional career is recounted in detail through projects he developed over more than sixty years.
As you walk through the gallery, you are immersed in a breathtaking “drafting room,” envisioned by Foster himself, which gives you an idea of the extent of the work carried out over a very long period. Drawings for his graduation project, surveys of the vernacular tradition to which he paid much attention and his own firm’s projects—a rich collection of drawings is arranged in white frames and A4 notebooks, giving as much importance to emblematic architecture as to humble and discreet origins.
The exhibition space opens up to a large area, which is framed by a surprising view of the city of Paris to which Foster has paid a great deal of attention by questioning the traditional tower. Models of ‘skyscrapers’ and ‘towers’ at various scales emerge like skeletons in front of the backdrop of this emblematic location in the capital where structure becomes architecture and architecture becomes structure.
Like in an art gallery, where models, plans and cross-sections follow one another like works of art, visitors stroll along a free and spontaneous path, getting as close as possible to the world of Norman Foster. This spontaneous path revolves around a series of objects that played a fundamental role in the architect’s life. More than simple objects, they represent his passions and particular interests in automobiles, aeronautics and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic structures. The architect’s dreams were shaped by technological advances and in-depth research, and in the image of these superstructures his projects reverberate with young and old.
Yet, more than just a look at his personal obsessions, we would have liked to see an insight into his real work as an architect: the Norman Foster who questioned, transformed and reinvented our relationship with the world.
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
curated by Frédéric Migayrou
exhibition design by Foster + Partners