How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?

Pic will appeal to upscale viewers in specialized theatrical settings before a sturdy life in ancillary.

In the terrific-looking globe-trotting docu “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?” Spanish helmers Norberto Lopez Amado and Carlos Carcas worshipfully trace the career of prolific English architect Norman Foster from his humble origins to the top of his profession, visiting some of his most iconic structures and exploring how the “Mozart of Modernism” has been influenced by the art world and incorporates art into his designs. Pitched to a lay audience, the pic, like Sydney Pollack’s “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” will appeal to upscale viewers in specialized theatrical settings before a sturdy life in ancillary.

Alternating soaring, sensuous aerial and interior cinematography of landmark projects (including the Hearst Tower in New York and the reconstruction of the Reichstag in Berlin), expert talking-head commentary and interviews with the man himself, the film outlines the major turning points in Foster’s life. Black-and-white photos and archival footage help depict his early years in Manchester, England; his graduate study at Yale; and the formation of his first firm with classmate Richard Rogers and their first wives.

When the firm dissolved after three years, Foster moved into socially utopian industrial architecture. Sharing his visionary friend Buckminster Fuller’s philosophy of “more for less,” he soon earned acclaim for his spare, expressive designs and new ways of dealing with materials.

As Foster’s practice has gone global, he has moved beyond individual buildings to create entire urban living environments. One of the most interesting sections of the docu shows plans and digital models for Masdar in Abu Dhabi, which is designed to be the first zero-waste, zero-carbon city in the world, complete with driverless vehicles and elevated walkways.

Although he has won more than 500 awards and citations for excellence (including a knighthood and life peerage in his native land), the now 75-year-old Foster comes across as both generous and modest. His private life is barely touched on, but his passion for drawing, flying (he has a commercial pilot’s license) and athletics is made viscerally clear.

The architects, artists, journalists and colleagues offering commentary here are unanimous in their praise of Foster, though scripter-narrator Dejan Sudjic (director of London’s Design Museum and writer of the authorized biography of Foster) casually mentions that other critics have accused him of repeating himself. In a small way, that same criticism might be applied to the visual style of the film as the helmers employ the same pattern of beautiful shots to showcase the architecture (which also includes the Great Court of London’s British Museum and Terminal 3 of the Beijing airport, the largest building on the planet).

Crisp and dynamic, the outstanding visuals do justice to the subject, while Joan Valent’s classical score elegantly matches their rhythms. The docu is the first of a planned series on key figures in 21st-century art and culture from U.K. production company Art Commissioners.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?


  • Production: A Dogwoof (in U.K.)/Sherlock (in Spain) release of an Art Commissioners, Aiete Ariane Films production, with the participation of Canal Plus, with the support of the Spanish Ministry of Culture. (International sales: Latido, Madrid.) Produced by Elena Ochoa. Executive producer, Antonio Sanz. Directed by Norberto Lopez Amado, Carlos Carcas. Written by Dejan Sudjic.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD-to-35mm), Valentin Alvarez; editor, Paco Cozar; music, Joan Valent; associate producers, Imanol Uribe, Andres Santana; sound (Dolby Digital). Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Documentaries of the World), Sept. 1, 2010. (Also in Berlin, San Sebastian film festivals.) Running time: 78 MIN.
  • With: With: Norman Foster, Dejan Sudjic, David Nelson, Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, Paul Goldberger, Carl Abbott, Alain de Botton, Nigel Dancy, Loretta Law, Mouzhan Majidi, Stefan Behling, Jurgen Happ. Narrator: Dejan Sudjic. (English dialogue)