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Sir Norman Foster was the honoured guest at Cersaie 2016, continuing on the tile and bath show’s tradition of inviting the world’s most renowned architects to discuss the themes and philosophies of their work. Called “10 on 10: Ten Fosters and Ten Others,” Foster spoke for nearly an hour-and-a-half about diverse projects from his own portfolio, and buildings by other architects that have inspired or fascinated him throughout his life.

Hundreds of show attendees packed the Europauditorium, as well as overflow rooms, to hear the 81-year-old Pritzker Prize-winner speak. Here, five highights from Norman Foster at Cersaie.

Levenshulme Library, Manchester 1903. Credit: Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

1 Early inspirations
Foster began chronologically, explaining that his “journey into architecture began at the age of 16,” when he left high school. He took a job at the Manchester Town Hall, a building he described as a masterpiece, and became fascinated with the architecture of the English city. But it wasn’t only the architecture of the buildings that captivated the young Foster, but what was within them – specifically, the books within the city’s Levenshulme Library. “Before I went to university, I discovered a different kind of architecture in a humble building … my local library in Manchester,” Foster explained. “I discovered the books of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.”

The discovery was the catalyst for decisions that came to change Foster’s life: visits to Verona and Vienna, education at the Yale School of Architecture, and a pilgrimage across the United States, visiting the Case Study Houses and other architectural works.

2 “Architecture of the sky”
Foster spoke passionately about his enthusiasm for buildings that “breathe with the city,” pointing to Foster + Partners’ Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) headquarters (pictured below, right) and the firm’s famous “Gherkin” tower in London as examples. He describes both buildings as examples of his “quest for architecture of the sky” – towers that “give something back” to the cityscape, at both sky and sidewalk level.

Left: Maggie’s Cancer Centre Manchester, 2016. Credit: Nigel Young / Foster + Partners. Right: Hong Kong Bank HQ, atrium, 1986. Credit: Ian Lambot.

3 Building for people
Foster + Partners recently completed a new Maggie’s Cancer Centre location in Manchester (pictured above, left). The centres, located in the UK and Hong Kong, serve as a place of refuge for cancer patients, and consider the architecture of their buildings as key to therapy and healing.

At Cersaie, Foster spoke about the importance of “creating spaces for people, and their needs, who want to be seen or not seen.” He pointed to the centre’s communal kitchen, low profile, gardens and greenhouse as examples of how the building allows for both gathering and private reflection.

4 Designing Apple
Speaking frankly of his experience designing the in-progress Apple Campus 2, Foster described late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as an unusual client, who asked that Foster consider him not a client but as “a member of your team.” He also highlighted the incredible size of the spaceship-like structure, applying a to-scale ring over a map of Bologna, the host of Cersaie. The ring overtook the city centre.

5 Foster and Marina Abramović
Earlier this month, Foster was presented with a 2016 Scopus Award, a high honour presented by the Friends of the Hebrew University of Jersualem, recognizing his “exceptional cultural contribution and humanitarian concerns.” The awards ceremony took place in Geneva and was attended by Lily Safra, benefactor of the Foster-designed Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the university.

Foster chuckled, and got the Cersaie audience laughing with him, as he described the award, designed and presented by artist Marina Abramović. Using a 3D scan of Foster’s brain, Abramović created a golden replica. She then designed a custom, LED-equipped cap, which she told Foster was a “brain cozy” modelled after a tea cozy, because Foster “is British, so you drink tea, and a cozy is what keeps the tea warm.”

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