REVIEW – Norman Foster & Deyan Sudjic (Edinburgh Book Festival)

(Norman Foster not present due to cancellation)

Edinburgh Book Festival, RBS Main Theatre, Wednesday 18th August

Writer Deyan Sudjic’s latest book, Norman Foster: A Life in Architecture, marks Foster’s 75th birthday and charts his extraordinary career development to becoming a world-renowned architect, now employing over one thousand people, responsible for some of the world’s most iconic buildings and designs.

Doubtless this session would have been a very different experience if architect Norman Foster had been present, but there is still a great deal of interest in the subject from the audience, and Deyan Sudjic proves to be an entertaining and relaxed speaker in the session, chaired by Nick Barley.

Sudjic spends around forty-five minutes on his talk about Foster, charting his development, from growing up as an only child in Greater Manchester to his time at Yale with fellow architect and eventual colleague, Richard Rogers, then further career progression. He talks us through projects including the Gerkin building in the City of London, the Hong Kong Shanghai Skyscraper, Foster’s designs for Stansted Airport and a current project in Abu Dhabi which features a carbon-free settlement housing project for 100,000 people.

We are reminded that Foster has been responsible for not only setting trends but also transforming how we live and work in buildings. One of Foster’s earliest projects is the amenities block for the Fred Olsen Line in London – at the heart of his ideas of democratic buildings – and one of the first buildings to have changing facilities and showers, and artwork on the walls.

Little time is left for questions from the audience, comprising a fair number of architects, designers and engineers; which is unfortunate, as there is an obvious sense of fascination for Foster’s work. Barley’s tendency to ask several questions at times interrupts the flow of Sudjic’s talk, proving frustrating to some of the audience; although we are reassured that a pod-cast of the session will be made available.

One question prompts debate on green issues and sustainability, which Sudjic argues, has always been at the forefront of Foster’s design ethos, citing the Olsen building as an important example.

Although an enjoyable and informative session, the absence of Foster and the fact that there is so little time to explore his lifetime’s work, leaves us unfulfilled, with not enough of a sense of Foster the man, or the architect, as perhaps we would have hoped for.

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