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A book I wish I had done: Portfolio

Julius Wiedemann reviews this book - a complete account of the first 50 years of the British architecture firm Foster + Partners, and a celebration of their built and unbuilt works.

by Julius Wiedemann Nov 27, 2019

It must not be a coincidence that in the United Kingdom one takes seven years to become an architect, and the fact that the country’s production in the field stands out from so many other developed countries. It is a country where you might be born in poverty, but you will be awarded the title of Sir for the contribution you’ve done to society through architecture. This is the country of Norman Foster, who at the age of 84 doesn’t stop producing, and doesn’t stop learning, and now has partners that will survive him, and will carry a legacy of over 50 years of practice.

It would take someone some effort to list some buildings Foster + Partners have done that wouldn’t sound like namedropping. So, I will refrain myself from doing it. Big brands and billionaires might allow architects to exercise great flexibility and display their creativity, but more often than not the challenges to imagine the world we want to live in, a task that these professionals take very seriously, are resolved around a combination of human and natural sciences, artistic vision, and technological possibilities.

Portfolio by Foster + Partners is a 540-page book with a visual record of the practice's both built and unbuilt works | Portfolio | Foster + Partners | Julius Wiedemann |STIRworld
Portfolio by Foster + Partners is a 540-page book with a visual record of the practice's both built and unbuilt worksImage Credit: Julius Wiedemann

One thing that strikes you at first looking through the Foster + Partners Portfolio 1967-2017 is the variety of projects. By displaying one image per project you get a clear sense that a publication as thick as that is not enough to display every project in detail. From airports to corporate headquarters to residential houses to many others, the endeavors of this creative firm led by Sir Norman Foster has now achieved something that is quite unique. It has created both a school of architecture of its own, and an unmeasurable legacy through its work. The legacy as a whole however, can only stay alive if the responsibility for doing whatever is the purpose of the business is shared with other people, and if they look into the future. It will be a constant exercise of looking not only at the architectural objects in themselves, but also, and specially, at the philosophical aspects of what has been done until today. An architecture firm like this is a living body, which encompasses extremely complex dynamics.

  • The Millau Viaduct, France, by Foster + Partners | Portfolio | Foster + Partners | Julius Wiedemann |STIRworld
    The Millau Viaduct, France, by Foster + Partners Image Credit: Julius Wiedemann
  • (L-R): Preliminary sketches; International Medieval Centre, Chartres, France and Albertopolis' masterplan, London, England | Portfolio | Foster + Partners | Julius Wiedemann |STIRworld
    (L-R): Preliminary sketches; International Medieval Centre, Chartres, France and Albertopolis' masterplan, London, England Image Credit: Julius Wiedemann

Having said all that, this book is not the final destination if you want to know the work of Foster + Partners. Very much the opposite. It is a window into their world and into the path they have taken crossing from the 20th to the 21st century. It is an important perspective of what has been demanded from architects in terms of building technology, urbanism, landscape design, working habits, communication, public spaces and others.

Every project in this book deserves a further search and investigation. The book is a glimpse, a wonderful start, because it gives the reader, or rather the viewer, the sense of expectation about what can be found online and in other more specific publications. The countless drawings in this book also give a sense of craft of the architecture firm. In the world where everything has been so digitalised, from communications to production processes, it is a breath of fresh air to have a book where you can feel that every project is personal and has been taken care of by a group of people that have started by imagining things in their heads and little by little have managed to translate that into a piece of architecture.

  • (L-R): Exploded Axonometric, Congress Hall, San Sebastian, Spain and preliminary sketches; Place Montcalm, Nimes, France| Portfolio | Foster + Partners | Julius Wiedemann |STIRworld
    (L-R): Exploded Axonometric, Congress Hall, San Sebastian, Spain and preliminary sketches; Place Montcalm, Nimes, FranceImage Credit: Julius Wiedemann
  • (L-R): Exploratory sketch sequence; Humana Headquarters, Louisville, Kentucky, United States and Axonometric cutaway; Salle de Spectacles, Nancy, France| Portfolio | Foster + Partners | Julius Wiedemann |STIRworld
    (L-R): Exploratory sketch sequence; Humana Headquarters, Louisville, Kentucky, United States and Axonometric cutaway; Salle de Spectacles, Nancy, France Image Credit: Julius Wiedemann

Two things that stroke me throughout the book are transparency and communication, two aspects of our lives that have been transformed towards the end of the last century, and which transformational potential has been reinforced by the use of the Internet. To translate these two things into liveable in workable spaces is certainly not a quality that can be executed with excellence by ordinary people. The book manages to put every work at the center of the firm’s objective. It goes beyond a catalogue, and it should be a reference publication for architects and all other creative professionals.

(L-R): Asprey Store, New York, USA and Asprey, Bond Street, London, England  | Portfolio | Foster + Partners | Julius Wiedemann |STIRworld
(L-R): Asprey Store, New York, USA and Asprey, Bond Street, London, England Image Credit: Credit: Julius Wiedemann

Author:Norman Foster, Peter Buchanan
Editor: Tom Wright
ISBN: 978-3-00-063546-5
Title: Foster + Partners Portfolio 1967-2017
Languages: English
Publisher: Foster + Partners

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About Author

Julius Wiedemann

Julius Wiedemann

Wiedemann was born in Brazil, studied design and marketing, and has lived and worked in Japan, Germany and UK. He is a Senior Editor for design and architecture at TASCHEN and Chief curator at www.domestika.org; having edited over a 100 books, he is a regular lecturer, juror of countless awards. His main interests reside in the intersection between technology, culture, and communication. He lives and works wherever he has wifi, and is a happy traveller.

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