How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? (2012)

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

  

Documentary Featuring Norman Foster, Paul Goldberger, Bono, Anish Kapoor, Richard Rogers.

Narrated by: Deyan Sudjic.
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Director: Carlos Carcas, Norberto Lopez Amado
Rating: Unrated

Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2012
Home Video Release Date: August 14, 2012
Box Office: $13 Thousand
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Aiete-Ariane Films, Art Commissioners, Arthouse Films, and First Run Features.


 

“The essence of Norman’s design is that design can make things work better…” – Deyan Sudjic. 

With all the sincerity I can muster, I have nary a reaction to the architectural documentary How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?  Rare is the film that registers next to no emotion – good, bad, or indifferent – within me, but alas…here is the one.  While that might sound rather disparaging, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?is curiously watchable and despite not moving my needle at all, I still found myself paying attention while it played in front of me.  Then, I lost all knowledge of the film the moment it concluded.  What a vexing little film this is.The titular Mr. Foster is 76-year old Norman Foster, an iconic British architect, who is widely revered as Britain’s greatest living architect.  His fingerprints and bold visions are found around the globe as Foster and his architectural firm of Foster + Partners have created and realized structures and designs in Germany, New York City (Manhattan), and all around Europe.  Perhaps Foster’s greatest achievement,  the Millau Viaduct in France, which serves as the tallest one-mast bridge in the world and was for a brief time, the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world.  Foster, by and through his firm, has been the designer and creator of nearly 50 recognizable and memorable building structures and his work is nothing short of extraordinary, even to a layman like me.

Foster is affable, appears genius-level smart, and the cinematography employed by Valentin Alvarez for co-directors Carlos Carcas and Norberto Lopez Amado is among the finest achievements I have seen from any recent documentary.  Alvarez captures the scope, the grandness, and the awe of many of Foster’s creations and within minutes, it is easy to see that Mr. Foster is indeed the best at what he does.

We do get some perspective on Foster’s life – he grew up in a poor community and a railway line separated his neighborhood from a more affluent one and it is interesting to theorize that those restrictive elements of his upbringing brought forth the desire to create something bigger than what was in front of him.  He has four sons, lost his first wife to cancer, and has spearheaded a successful design company for several decades.  And he keeps working.

A little Internet research shows that after production wrapped on this documentary, Foster + Partners completed work on a new wing of the Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, and they are no less than 30 projects in various stages of development, including rich and diverse projects for Apple Computers, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, as well as clients in Kuala Lumpur, Canada, and Dallas, Texas.  In Moscow, Russia, Foster + Partners are the lead designers on a project known as Crystal Island, which when completed will be the largest structure ever created on Earth.  Yeah, Mr. Foster is one ambitious and restless visionary for sure.

And an incredible man victimized by a subpar film.  Architecture may not lend itself to riveting filmmaking, but as was the case with a documentary released in 2011, Eames: The Architect & The Painter, this type of subject matter can be presented in a compelling and riveting manner.  For a time, Norman Foster is a good listen, he is well-spoken and incredibly easy to listen to.  But, the talking heads and the decisions made by directors Carcas and Amado are underwhelming to say the least and despite running under 80 minutes, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? fails to truly ignite.  How this movie could ever undersell this man’s accomplishments is baffling, but the film never takes any bold steps, stays insular, and fails in reaching beyond the scope of its target audience.

I like learning about Norman Foster and after seeing this documentary, I guess I was somewhat compelled to learn more about the man.  In that regard, I acknowledge the film did leave some type of impression upon me.  And yet, it is one thing to learn about something new and marvel at what you are learning about, but another thing entirely when it comes to retaining and comprehending that new information.  Verging on hagiography and never saying anything insightful or intriguing other than simply rewarding Norman Foster’s extraordinary successes in life, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?? is a beautiful shell of a movie with a impenetrable middle for those who do not design or create structures for a living.  Mr. Foster deserves a much better and less congratulatory tribute.

Should I See It?

YES

Those familiar with Norman Foster and his life’s work will be immediately intrigued to see an in depth look at the man, who is rightfully revered as one of the greatest architectural minds of the modern design era.

Not a critical or analytical bone in its body, this film simply loves and praises its subject and features some breathtaking imagery that is easy to be swayed by.

NO

Dry and feeling full at a mere 78 minutes, the film does nothing more than inform us that Norman Foster is great.  I get it and maybe even agree, but this is instantly forgettable and offers nothing truly insightful.

That title is perhaps an in joke amongst Norman Foster and his colleagues, but how you would every get anyone to watch this film with that title is something no one bothered to consider.

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