Full of excitement, a boy waits every day for the train to pass a few meters from his house, causing a jolt that makes his body and the ground beneath his feet vibrate. The scene in front of which a Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalyst rubbed his hands can explain a lot about the adulthood of his protagonist: In the 1940s, in an English industrial district, this child was Norman Foster (Manchester, 87 years) . “I grew up next to the tracks, and when the express came they even shook the windows,” recalls the British architect. “I could spend hours waiting for that train, it was very exciting.”
Eight decades later, when he gives this interview, Foster is in Bilbao Movement. Cars, art, architecturethe exhibition that will be in the Guggenheim Museum to September 18, which he co-curates with Manuel Cirauqui and Lekha Hileman Waitoller, and which relates various historical vehicles to architectural designs and works of art: a sculpture by Boccioni or a mobile by Calder. Eleven automobiles belong to Foster’s private collection, for example the Voisin by Le Corbusier or a Jaguar E Type from 1961. Almost all of the pieces refer more or less explicitly to the idea of the movement that the architect started with because of those childish adrenaline rushes that are caused by caused the passage of the train to be possessed. An obsession that would be amplified thanks to the images Eaglethe comic magazine that infused several generations of teenagers in their country with the promise of a future of aerodynamic shapes and supersonic speed.
“Back then I dreamed of this utopia that never came true, but now, in this exhibition, the timeless beauty of historic cars can be appreciated,” he explains, which is reminiscent of the well-known boulade by the Futurist poet Marinetti: A racing car is more beautiful than the victory of Samothrace. Foster phlegmatically grabs his glove: “Marinetti exaggerated, as Roland Barthes did when he said the Citroën DS [presente en la exposición] It was the modern equivalent of the Gothic cathedral. But that was his way of emphasizing the cultural and aesthetic dimension of the car.”
Predecessor cars, commercial vehicles, sports cars and even bodywork miracles from the 1930s and 1970s can be seen in the exhibition. A passionate vision at a time when more than one observer predicts the disappearance of the automobile due to social and environmental causes. As Foster argues, “In a way, we’re going back to the transition of the 20th century, when automobiles rid cities of the pollution and diseases associated with horse use. With current phenomena such as mobility through on-demand services; or future ones, like autonomous vehicles that move side-by-side like railroad cars, eliminating human error.” Would it be frustrating for amateur drivers? “That’s true, but the same thing happened to those who grew up in a world where people got around on horseback. There was a shared energy between the human and the other being, and when they were told that the horse would be mechanized, the scenario must have seemed very boring too.
This passion for vehicles has found a generous channel in the Guggenheim, but we mustn’t forget that his own architectural practice constantly returns to the ambition to suggest movement. “A lot of my work deals with the dynamics of movement and the changing of spaces,” he admits. “So it was in the Reichstag in Berlin (1993), where the spiral surrounding the dome guides the visitor, which also happens in the ramp of Bloomberg’s headquarters in London. It’s about celebrating the flow of people and letting them navigate intuitively.”
The spiral appears, almost as a stylistic feature, in at least another of his emblematic buildings, London City Hall in Southwark (2002). The idea that architecture serves to guide its users has seldom been more clearly developed than in Bilbao Metro (1995), which remains one of his masterpieces thanks to its grandiose form and unrelenting refinement. At the same time the most humble and the most ambitious. “I did this project together with the designer Otl Aicher with two very small teams,” he recalls. “We looked for spaces that can guide you intuitively. And we also wanted to celebrate the excavation of the tunnels themselves, a force of nature so beautiful it didn’t need to be decorated. We manage to carry out a quality project because quality is a mental attitude: it’s not about what you spend, but how smart you do it. In return, I have to say that we invested a lot of time in making sure that if someone painted graffiti on the cement, it was easy to clean, which in the end turned out to be unnecessary because to date nobody has attacked it or tried to to deface him with graffiti.”
In fact, the city immediately embraced this infrastructure with a combination of pride and attachment—Fosterito It’s the unofficial name that every Bilbaoese uses to refer to their subway entrances – which hasn’t spared even the great local icon of contemporary architecture, Frank Gehry’s own Guggenheim. It is tempting to think of the capital of Biscay as the scene of a war between two star architects, a rivalry that reality however denies: beyond this symbolic collaboration, both have collaborated on projects such as the buildings in the area of the Battersea power station in London, commemorated himself Foster. “Frank and I have worked together more than once and we met again for this exhibition. As a tribute to him, we have not added any architectural interventions so that his spaces can be freely enjoyed.”
But Bilbao is also the city where his studio, care + partners, is developing one of its two major museum projects in our country, the expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts – the other is the reform of the Salón de Reinos del Retiro in Madrid – due to be completed by mid-2024 The unanimous approval that generated the metro , has been described by some critical (and particularly imaginative) voices as a UFO landing on the original building. Foster offers a very different take: “It’s about recycling and expanding the building rather than creating a whole new one. We intend to restore its historical importance and respect subsequent additions with minimal disruption. The visitor becomes aware of the different layers of history and at the same time gets a space that doesn’t exist in the city now.”
Beyond the potential iconic value of his interventions, the relationship with the city has always been essential for him. He sees himself more as a city planner than as an architect. “The combination of buildings, this structure that is the urban glue, is more important than the individual buildings,” he says. “And my goal is to raise awareness that design affects the quality of our lives. When we connected the two banks of the Thames with the Millennium Bridge or built the Shade Pavilion in Marseille’s Vieux Port, the quality of life for residents and visitors of these cities improved. More than any tower we’ve ever designed. With projects like these we can contribute something to the community.”
It is an unexpected social reference in an architect who is usually perceived as the paragon of genius, the author. At this point the conversation turns to the spring (1943), Ayn Rand’s novel with a visionary architect, which was an ode to individualism, in keeping with the author’s ultra-liberal thinking. Foster moves away from this cliché, preferring to highlight the work of the professionals in his studio, along with those who make each project a reality. “This popular idea of the architect as a loner with dazzling flashes of inspiration is completely wrong,” he explains, and here too he cannot avoid kinetic parallelism: “The creative process is not an enlightenment, but a long-distance race. The same thing happens as in trip from France. The winner has benefited from the platoon’s work, even if only he gets it jersey yellow”.
Realization: Pedro Canicoba.