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It’s all about the art. It’s not about the architecture. End of review—except for some persistent questions about museum design. Already judged a smashing success since its opening in late November, the $504 million, 121,307-square-foot Art of the Americas Wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, designed by the London firm of Foster + Partners, does exactly what it was meant to do: This discreet addition at the east end of Guy Lowell’s original 1909 Beaux Arts building houses a radical reorganization of the museum’s American holdings, defined in the broadest possible terms.

Fifty three new galleries bring together the arts of North, Central and South America, spanning centuries and cultures. This vast expansion of the conventional definition of American art includes pre-Columbian artifacts, the museum’s unparalleled American collection from the prerevolutionary period and the years of the Early Republic, examples of Latin American art and Native North American work from ancient to modern times, and contemporary American art through the mid-1970s. Embedded in these exhibition areas are newly refurbished period rooms. And while it is a questionable stretch to enforce a geographic and aesthetic logic on arts with totally different cultural roots and influences, the case has been well made in a handsome accompanying book, “A New World Imagined: Art of the Americas.” Weaknesses revealed by the reorganization are acknowledged up front, with the promise of future acquisitions.

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Ada Louise Huxtable
Wall Street Journal


Sullivan Center, Chicago (Photo: Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune)

A towering achievement: The record-shattering Burj Khalifa, which soars a half-mile above Dubai’s desert floor, took its place as one of the world’s great skyscrapers — not simply a technical feat but an aesthetic one as well. Chicago architect Adrian Smith and his former colleagues at the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill avoided the trap of a Frankenstein monster with a classic Chicago synthesis of architecture and engineering.

A dialogue of masters: London architect Norman Foster struck up a marvelous architectural conversation with the late Frank Lloyd Wright in his precisely honed Fortaleza Hall in Racine, Wis., the first major construction on the S.C. Johnson campus since Wright’s iconic research tower of 1950. Foster’s multipurpose building, whose centerpiece is a luminous atrium housing a replica of a historic plane, superbly juxtaposes today’s extroverted, lightweight construction with Wright’s conspicuously inward-turning architecture.

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Blair Kamin
Chicago Tribune


Driving ambition … Norman Foster and his Dymaxion. Photograph: Nigel Young

Richard Buckminster Fuller had a lot of nerve. In the 1930s, the great US inventor secured the first $1,000 he needed to build a giant futuristic car, called the Dymaxion. The socialite who gave him the cash was told: “If I want to use it all to buy ice cream cones, that will be that – and there will be no questions asked.”

Fuller, born in 1895, is best known for his geodesic domes, but his ultimate hope was that the three-wheeled Dymaxion – which looked like a VW camper van crossed with a pinball flipper – would fly, allowing Americans to leave the highway vertically and touch down at lightweight aluminium homes, scattered wherever they fancied by a fleet of Zeppelins.

The Dymaxion was meant to be phase one of a social revolution, fuelled by the latest technology, but only three were ever built. No 1 caught fire and No 3 was turned into scrap; only No 2 survived. It now sits in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada – or it did until 18 months ago, when the architect Norman Foster decided he wanted to fulfil a dream, and build Dymaxion No 4. So he borrowed No 2 for inspiration.

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Jonathan Glancey
Guardian


Foster’s Reichstag in Berlin

“The other day,” says Norman Foster, “I was counting the number of aircraft I’ve flown: from sailplanes and a Spitfire to a Cessna Citation. By chance, it comes to 75.” So Foster, who turned 75 this month, has decided to make models of all 75, to hang in his own personal museum, which he keeps at his Swiss home, an 18th-century chateau set in vineyards between Lausanne and Geneva.

These model aircraft will hover over his collection of some of the 20th-century’s greatest machines, cherished for both their engineering brilliance and streamlined beauty; many of them look like winged or wheeled versions of Foster’s most innovative buildings. “At the moment,” says the architect, “I’m restoring a Citroën Sahara, designed to tackle north African dunes. I’m also thinking of getting a Bell 47 helicopter as a focal point. And I’ve had a model made of the Graf Zeppelin airship.”

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Jonathan Glancey
Guardian

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Photo: Foster and Partners

It is difficult to fathom at first why a famous architect with one of the largest practices in the world would personally want to take on a sliver of a building on the Bowery.

This is Norman Foster, after all, who redesigned the Reichstag in Berlin and the British Museum and created Beijing’s new airport. He has already made his mark on Manhattan, with the bold Hearst Building on Eighth Avenue at 57th Street, and has also designed three other major projects not yet under construction: the expansion of the main branch of the New York Public Library, Tower 2 at the World Trade Center site and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

But architects often say the possibilities of a building lie in its limitations, and Mr. Foster was drawn to the challenge of designing what is essentially a vertical art gallery on New York City’s former skid row, a landscape dominated by restaurant supply stores. The building, at 257 Bowery, just south of Houston Street and one block away from the New Museum of Contemporary Art, will be the new Lower East Side home for Sperone Westwater. The gallery, now on West 13th Street in the West Village, represents artists like Bruce Nauman, Richard Long, Guillermo Kuitca and William Wegman. At its new address it will rise eight stories on a site of just 25 by 100 feet.

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Robin Pogrebin
New York Times

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Bubbles in space … Norman Foster may take Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes as his inspiration. Photograph: Tibor Bognar/Corbis

A permanent structure on the moon? The dream of building a base on the Moon where astronauts, scientists (and Richard Branson) can study the Earth’s most haunting and beautiful satellite is as old and as compelling as the dream of space exploration itself.

Now, the European Space Agency’s Aurora programme envisages a necklace of such bases strung out across the face of the moon. It’s a thrilling thought, but who – which architect – should design the first lunar structures? Why, Norman Foster, of course. Already working on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico, due to open in 2011, Foster is the natural – and scientific – choice for such challenging new architecture and habitation. The European Space Agency certainly thinks so, too.

Over several decades, Foster has tried, often successfully, to fuse the materials, technology, forms and spirit of space adventure into the design of his world-renowned hi-tech buildings. Arguably more than any other architect, Foster has brought the world of Nasa into our towns, cities and university campuses – whether with the design of the gleaming Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, on the edge of Norwich, or with the very shape, as well as the structure, of the Swiss Re building, better know as the Gherkin, in the heart of London. This skyscraper – it looks nothing like a gherkin – even resembles a space-rocket.

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Jonathan Glancey
Guardian

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Routemaster bus redesign The Routemaster bus, as reimagined by Foster and Partners and Aston Martin. Photograph: Foster and Partners

If Norman Foster’s design for a new London bus to replace the Routemaster really does happen in 2012, it’ll be a first. Not the first London bus to ever arrive on time, but the first time an architect has successfully designed a motor vehicle. The fact is, while architects are fine at designing chairs, tableware, even earrings, when it comes to automobiles, their efforts are usually flawed, if not just plain laughable.

You can judge how Foster and his peers did at a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum, displaying the winners of Boris Johnson’s New Bus for London competition (they shared first prize with Capoco), and 50 other entries – including one by architects Future Systems. Jan Kaplicky, who died last month, will be missed, but there are many things we’ll miss him more for than this frankly ugly design. It looks like an octopus on roller skates.

Yet it’s by no means the worst vehicle an architect has ever designed. Check out, for instance, Zaha Hadid’s Z Car from a couple of years ago. “Concept vehicle” is the right term here, as it’s only really suited to a virtual road in an imaginary city in a big budget sci-fi movie. Drive that in a real British town and its pristine curves would be spattered with mud and scarred with parking scrapes in no time. But then that’s what happens when your car has no bumpers or mudguards. Not to mention headlights, windscreen wipers, or any of those other dull little details that clutter up conventional cars. You’re better off with a Sinclair C5.

If Norman Foster’s design for a new London bus to replace the Routemaster really does happen in 2012, it’ll be a first. Not the first London bus to ever arrive on time, but the first time an architect has successfully designed a motor vehicle. The fact is, while architects are fine at designing chairs, tableware, even earrings, when it comes to automobiles, their efforts are usually flawed, if not just plain laughable.

You can judge how Foster and his peers did at a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum, displaying the winners of Boris Johnson’s New Bus for London competition (they shared first prize with Capoco), and 50 other entries – including one by architects Future Systems. Jan Kaplicky, who died last month, will be missed, but there are many things we’ll miss him more for than this frankly ugly design. It looks like an octopus on roller skates.

Yet it’s by no means the worst vehicle an architect has ever designed. Check out, for instance, Zaha Hadid’s Z Car from a couple of years ago. “Concept vehicle” is the right term here, as it’s only really suited to a virtual road in an imaginary city in a big budget sci-fi movie. Drive that in a real British town and its pristine curves would be spattered with mud and scarred with parking scrapes in no time. But then that’s what happens when your car has no bumpers or mudguards. Not to mention headlights, windscreen wipers, or any of those other dull little details that clutter up conventional cars. You’re better off with a Sinclair C5.

In the early days of the 20th century, architects eulogised motor vehicles, both for their functional beauty and their utterly modern manufacturing processes. It was inevitable that trailblazing modern architects would try their hand at them. Le Corbusier admittedly came up with a radical new shape for his Voiture Minimum, in 1929, but that was really all he bothered to think about – the shape. How such a thing would actually work he left to others, like André Lefèbvre and Flaminio Bertoni, designer of the remarkably similar Citroen 2CV. It’s a similar story with Adolf Loos’s back-of-envelope design for a new Lancia. Except one look and it’s clear why it was never built: it’s the ugliest thing on four wheels.

Others wisely stuck to pimping existing rides. Bauhaus head Walter Gropius did some rather elegant coachwork for the Adler Standard in the late 1930s. And Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably architecture’s greatest car nut, attempted to restyle existing models to suit his own brand identity. Let loose on a 1940 Lincoln Continental, his “improvements” included slicing off half the roof, filling in the rear window, lowering the front windscreen and painting the whole thing a ghetto-fabulous bright orange. He was the Westwood of his day.

Perhaps architects are secretly jealous of automobiles. Cars reduce architecture to mere background. Buildings will never mimic their mobility and their freedom. All they can do is stand still and watch. Cars still need architecture, though, to accommodate their factories and to park in front of for their glossy adverts. Many an architect has benefited from the big manufacturers’ desire for buildings that reflect their prestige marques. You can pair them up: Zaha and Co-Op Himmelblau with BMW, UN Studio with Mercedes, Massimiliano Fuksas with Ferrari, Future Systems with Maserati and so on. And let’s not forget Foster and McLaren. And Foster and Renault.

here is one architect, however, who really took car design seriously, and who really did succeed in reinventing the wheel: Richard Buckminster Fuller. True to fashion, Fuller rethought the automobile from first principles, and came up with the amazing Dymaxion Car, a smooth, three-wheeled aerodynamic torpedo. It beat conventional cars hands down when it came to efficiency, visibility, manoeuvrability, spatial efficiency and many other aspects. It still looks way ahead of its time today. Fuller tested prototypes and was ready to go into production, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The Dymaxion Car was involved in a collision with another vehicle that killed its driver. The other vehicle was allegedly driven by a politician, and was removed from the scene before reporters got there. Fuller got all the blame, and even though he was later exonerated, the damage was done, and the Dymaxion Car remains a curious dead end.

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A glimpse of the future … The 1934 Dymaxion by Buckminster Fuller. Photograph: Getty Images

Foster and Partners have wisely played it safe. For one thing, they teamed up with Aston Martin for their London Bus. Also, they’ve not departed too far from the original Routemaster design. They have reinstated the popular “health and safety be damned” open rear platform, and the facing benches inside, but updated the design with rounded off bodylines and maximum glass. There are also new features, like a solar-panelled roof and a central ramp entrance for wheelchairs and pushchairs. “We wanted to change people’s image of the bus as just something for getting across the city,” says Foster partner Alistair Lenczner. “The idea was to make it a more social sort of bus, where people felt free to interact with each other. A sort of roving living room.” Tellingly, the architects extensively consulted drivers, conductors and actual punters about what sort of vehicle they’d like – a simple step that seems to have slipped the minds of most other architect-car designers. Let’s see if they actually get the thing built. If they don’t, I’m catching the first Dymaxion out of here.

Steve Rose
Guardian

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The al-Haram mosque can hold 900,000 people (Getty Images)

Two of Britain’s most-renowned architects are in the running for the single most audacious renovation in history: the redevelopment of Mecca.

Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid are among 18 architects to have been approached about redesigning Islam’s holiest city by building a mosque complex to host the three million Haj pilgrims who visit every year. The development would more than triple the central al-Haram mosque’s current 900,000 capacity, making it the highest-occupancy building in the world.

The plans are thought to be backed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. The remit is to “establish a new architectural vision” for Mecca’s 356,800sq m mosques complex. The King is to be presented with the proposals by Hadid, 58, and Foster, 73, with those of the other designers at an exhibition at the end of the month.

Sources close to the project told The Architect’s Journal the scheme is likely to be phased, the first stage taking the al-Haram mosque capacity to 1.5 million. That would rise gradually until three million was reached. Neither Foster nor Hadid wanted to comment on the project last night. Hadid’s spokesman said he “could neither confirm nor deny” speculation, while Foster’s office said: “It has been leaked and not from us so I’m unable to comment.”

Other sources describe the project as divided into two “tracks”, one looking at various alternatives for the northern expansion of the al-Haram complex, and the other at the al-Haram itself. Lord Foster’s firm, Foster & Partners, has been invited to partake in the former with 10 other firms including, reportedly, Atkins Design.

Zaha Hadid, with six other world-renowned firms, has been given the task of re-envisioning the al-Haram mosque itself, as well as “revisiting the whole area of the central district”. British engineers Adams Kara Taylor and Faber Maunsell are also thought to be under consideration.

Alice-Azania Jarvis
The Independent