Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Super Size Foster Must Now Start to Think Small; as Wembley Inches towards Completion and Reports Circulate about a Profit Downturn, Our Critic Asks: What Next for Norman Foster?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Super Size Foster Must Now Start to Think Small; as Wembley Inches towards Completion and Reports Circulate about a Profit Downturn, Our Critic Asks: What Next for Norman Foster?

Article excerpt

Byline: ROWAN MOORE

THIS looks like a Norman Foster moment. He has just completed the Hearst Tower in New York, an angular totem that is the first tall building of note for a quarter-century in the city of the skyscraper, a rare sign of life in a place that has been architecturally moribund since Philip Johnson's "Chippendale skyscraper" in the late Seventies. In London, the latest Foster icon, Wembley Stadium, is nearing completion,

if slowly - the delay reported yesterday has little to do with Foster.

Foster has reshaped the capital's most famous square and most famous museum, created its most famous tower and the seat of its government, and designed a Thames bridge. It only remains for him to remodel St Paul's cathedral and he will have completed the full set of urban landmarks.

He is in demand as a maker of defining contemporary monuments in cities as diverse as Beijing, Florence and St Moritz, not to mention a commission to design a 62-metre-high "Peace Pyramid", a "global centre for religious understanding, the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality", commissioned by the president of Kazakhstan.

He is roofing over the courtyard of the venerable Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC with a more flamboyant version of the glass roof he gave the British Museum, and has just won the commission to masterplan a district of St Petersburg. Back in New York, he is working on a tower on the site of Ground Zero.

Yet at the same time, Norman Foster's practice is reported to be a business at a crossroads. Its profits have dropped in successive years, becoming a loss in the year ending 2004, the last year for which they are available.

There have been cutbacks on takeaway meals and taxis for staff working late at his offices.

It is also reported that he is being upstaged by Make, the freewheeling new practice formed by Ken Shuttleworth, the renegade ex-partner of Foster's more straightlaced company.

Foster, recently so ubiquitous in London's cultural and commercial architecture, is suffering a reaction, and clients and developers are hungry for new people.

Given the roll-call of foreign capitals still clamouring for Foster, decline is a relative concept. Foster's office say that their next set of accounts will look much healthier, but it is time to ask where Britain's most successful and acclaimed architect could and should go next.

Foster himself is 70, an age at which many would be well and truly retired, but not famous architects.

Philip Johnson had another 25 years to go at this age; Frank Lloyd Wright was entering the most prolific period of his career, which included the New York Guggenheim. Frank Gehry, about to turn 77, is not showing much sign of letting up.

Foster's practice now employs 650, a colossal number compared with the 20-odd that leading architects like Sir Denys Lasdun or Sir James Stirling used to have in their offices. Such vast organisations tend to acquire a momentum of their own, requiring more and more work to feed themselves, which is difficult to reconcile with continuous artistic renewal.

Tension can build up between the corporate entity and individual expression. …

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