Friday, 18 May 2007

Norman Foster and Aviation

Besides being an accomplished architect Norman Foster is also an experienced pilot. He flies anything, from light jets to helicopters and gliders. He writes extensively about the relationship between aviation and architecture, not so much in the technical sense, but more on a conceptual level. In his book ‘On Foster…Foster On’ he writes: "… If at their peak architecture and flight are about the spirit as well as the physical practicalities, and the outcome of that fusion is a beautiful object, then there are links between architecture and aviation - even if one is earth-bound and the other traverses the earth…”

Norman Fosters writes about the paradox that although architecture usually uses standardized technologies that have been developed over a long time, and aviation uses technologies that are relatively new, the life span of an aircraft is usually much longer than the lifespan of a building. According to Norman Foster one of the reasons could be that in aerospace one is used to continuously improving the product. He takes as an example the Boeing 747 which made its first flight back in the sixties. Due to a continuous process of improvements there are still 747’s flying today.


In the same book he talks about the Boeing 747 as a piece of architecture and a special one as well: it flies. He refuses to believe that the 747 was just shaped by its aerodynamic forces. There is still a factor that makes the difference between just an object and a being a beautiful one: that is where design comes in.

Norman Foster writes about gliders: “I have flown many hours in high-performance sailplanes which must be the ultimate solar powered vehicles-capable of using natural up currents of air to traverse hundreds of kilometers at very high speed. For pilots it is difficult to separate the spiritual uplift from the experience of flight from the satisfaction of delicately balancing the physical forces involved in the process”. In the book ‘Sir Norman Foster’, Foster tells that he used to fly gliders in competitions but that he had to quit due to lack of time. In connection to the restructuring of Foster and Partners as mentioned on their website I hope Norman Foster will be able take up gliding again. After all it is one of the purest forms of flying…

1 comment:

Maurits said...

Martin, how exactly is lifespan defined?

If we regard the product itself, it seems to me planes and buildings have a comparable lifespan – about 50 years. If we regard the concept, it is said a 747 has a longer lifespan because of adjustments to the concept, something that isn’t done within the architectural concept. But isn’t that a false comparison? The 747 is constantly reinvented because of its high production rate. But if we consider for example supermarket chain Albert Hein in The Netherlands, it has also been reinvented over and over again since it was established in 1887. The core concept is still retail though. So also in this perspective, the life spans of an architectural concept and an aircraft concept – like the 747 – actually do not differ that much.

We could go even further: if we regard the typology of the plane, it is obviously relatively young in relation to the ancient typological architectural concepts like the home, the theatre and the church.