Norman Foster and Cartier in Motion at the Design Museum

 

Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition
Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition

It is no exaggeration to say that Norman Foster is one of the goliaths of modern architecture. His practice, Foster + Partners, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has helped to shape our modern urban landscape. In the 1960s, Foster and his late wife Wendy, as well as a small team of associates, wanted to create a more integrated infrastructure through design and construction. Their goal was to improve people’s lives through progressive and inspiring design that also harnessed efficient energy consumption, light distribution and ergonomics. It may today sound like a simple concept, but in the late 60s and 70s, the landscapes of European cities were still defined by post-war eyesores that had been built quickly as functional habitats for workers and denizens. Few people were challenging the status quo and championing the idea that places of work, play and sleep should also benefit human interaction, integration and idealism.

One of the firm’s first breakthrough commissions was for insurance company, Willis Faber & Dumas in Ipswich. Today, we take open plan offices for granted but in the mid-70s, managerial hierarchy was still very much in place. Work spaces were compartmentalised according to ‘rank’ and employees did not mix unless their job required it of them. Foster conceived the building as a kind of glass-fronted spiral hub, with open and airy spaces that encouraged democratic movement and interaction between workers. He added a swimming pool and a rooftop garden and restaurant.  The Willis Faber & Dumas building marked an evolution in corporate working environments in the UK and simultaneously set the Foster revolution in motion.

Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition
Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition

Over the past five decades, Foster + Partners has created some of the most impressive architectural wonders of the world: the Millau Viaduct in France (the largest bridge on Earth which still looks positively futuristic despite its completion in 2004); London’s Gherkin and Millennium Bridge; Berlin’s Reichstag and its equally democratic glass cupola open to visitors; Terminal 3 at Bejing Airport (again, it looks like something out of Ridley Scott sci-fi film) and most recently the new Apple ‘spaceship’ campus in California. If one design concept links all Foster + Partners buildings – be they great or small, like the elephant enclosure at Denmark Zoo – it is their use of light and space as beneficial to the people (or indeed animals!) who live or work within them; not as individuals, but as a socially active communities.

Lord Foster (he was knighted in 1991) remains an enigmatic character. While he has delivered many public speeches, including a fascinating TED talk about ‘green’ architecture, he remains relatively media shy, preferring not to talk about his own life outside the studio. He is however known to be a thrill-seeker who has always enjoyed the great outdoors, running marathons, completing cross country skiing circuits and flying all manner of aircraft well into his seventies. Now in his early eighties, Lord Foster shows no sign of slowing down. He has just curated and designed an exhibition for Cartier at the London Design Museum, not a building he can call his own but one that he nonetheless admires for its use of light and spacial integrity.

ALSO READ:  Palace X adidas Originals for Spring Summer 2017
Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition
Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition

Norman Foster Cartier Exhibition

Cartier in Motion is the perfect fit for Foster who has a boyish fascination with gadgets, vintage cars, aircraft, modernist art, watches and speed in general. The exhibition places Cartier – its timepieces, its jewellery, but also its founders and design heroes – in the wider context of history. Along with Deyan Sudjic, Director of the London Design Museum and co-curator of this exhibition, Norman Foster has created a universe that demonstrates how Cartier watches and jewellery have developed in tandem with aviation, modern architecture, construction and indeed art, from the late 19th century through to today.

The exhibition – designed to be easily transportable and one which will subsequently travel abroad – will focus on early 20th century design and the great pioneers of the modern age including Gustave Eiffel, Roland Georges Garros, George Pullman and the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was a close friend of Louis Cartier and for whom he created his first male wristwatch in 1904. The exhibition gathers together some spectacular pieces from the Cartier archives including early Tonneau watches and Santos-Dumont’s original timepieces. But it’s a truly eclectic and eye-opening mix of objects and models – which gives some insight into Lord Foster’s ever-curious mind. Highlights include a miniature Eiffel Tower, a replica of the Alberto Santos-Dumont’s pioneering Demoiselle aircraft, art by Picasso and Andy Warhol and even one of the solid gold replicas of the Lunar Excursion Module produced by Cartier for the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Small it made be compared to Lord Foster’s Apple HQ project in California, but the Cartier in Motion exhibition is nonetheless a fascinating lesson in design history as well as a window into the world of the one of the greatest architects of our time.

Cartier in Motion at the London Design Museum runs from the 25th May to the 28th July 2017

 

 

 

 

.