Laudatio Wilhelm Vossenkuhl

[.] Any description of his work has got to be filled with superlatives: The most expensive bank building of its time (the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank), the biggest airport so far (Chak Lap Kok, Hong Kong), the highest building in Europe (Commerzbank Tower Frankfurt), the highest bridge world-wide (Viaduc de Millau), the most ambitious series of urban projects in London recently (Millennium Bridge, Swiss Re Building, Canary Wharf Underground Station), the highest amount of architectural projects world-wide, and, finally, 269 awards and prizes, 270 including the present one. This and a lot more of the same seems to be more than enough. [.] [.] The virtues which are – at a closer look – obvious in [his] buildings are not primarily architectural in a technical sense but they form Lord Foster’s architectural identity. Foster is seeking thoroughness in his understanding of all that matters in his work. In many of his projects psychology meets economics, and sociology meets engineering, and sometimes [.] history

meets everyday life. His architectural mind not only stimulates dialogues between these fields. He bridges the gaps between them by focussing all the expertise needed from all these fields for each individual project. He wants to answer the needs of all the parties involved in a sustainable way. He will not move the pencil in his left unless he has fully understood his task and his architectural freedom to fulfil it. His mind has to be absolutely clear before he starts with his design. His historical reconstructions are therefore unobtrusive, subtle and truthful. [.] [.] He wants to do justice to his projects and not to architectural ambition or narcissism. All those virtues comprehensively generate the special qualities of his projects and his own identity as an architect. [.] Lord Foster was not always praised for these virtues, especially not by those of his critics who didn’t even realize their existence. His modesty and truthfulness were mistaken as evidence for indecisiveness, changeability, pragmatism and insecurity. [.] [.] Over the decades of his work some criticisms and misunderstandings form intriguing bundles of contradictions. Some time in the past Foster was, for example, blamed for high-tech architecture. It’s not quite clear what this label altogether means but apart from this it is certainly true that his use of modern engineering deserves the label ‘high-tech’. [.]

[.] An especially telling example of incoherent assessment concern Lord Foster’s integration of political ideas into his design. His democratic political ambition that the architecture of the Berlin Reichstag, for example, should serve the public interest in transparent political institutions met incredulity, sneers and reproaches, especially among some of his fellow architects. Finally, almost a decade later, after he rebuilt the Greater London Town Hall, Foster was praised for the very same democratic ambition. One of the weekly German journals said that Foster gave evidence that democracy can gain immensely from architecture.There you are, and the vast amount of daily visitors to the dome of the Berlin Reichstag will probably agree. [.]

[.] Foster’s architectural mind has always been in motion. He saw the need for ecological solutions and tried to integrate daylight into his buildings well before it became standard practice.The huge glass roof across the Berlin Reichstag full of photovoltaic cells, which he first proposed, was daring, too daring for the political majority. His mind keeps moving as his use of wood for the Chesa Futura project at St. Moritz shows. I only know of one other designer with similar curiosity and inquisitiveness for new and sustainable solutions in building, Otl Aicher. It is no surprise that he and Foster made a unique team of close friends full of innovative ideas until Aicher’s death in 1991. Like Aicher, Foster is an intellectual who tries to change the world with his ingenious use of a pencil. I once asked Aicher what he thought about Foster. His account was brief and to the point:”He is the best”. [.]