“I’ve probably got thousands of them,” says architect Norman Foster, as he leafs through the sketch-filled pages of a notebook. Once full, this compendium of ideas will be archived inside his eponymous new foundation in the Spanish capital. “Sometimes I might consume an entire notebook in a week,” he says, as he snaps the leather covers closed.
While it’s hard to ignore the smattering of other artefacts on show here (from Le Corbusier’s 1927 Avions Voisin C7 car to a large section of the Berlin Wall), the foundation’s raison d’être goes beyond a celebration of design and art history. Since June 2017 its mission has been to promote its own strain of interdisciplinary futurism with seminars and workshops between architects, designers and urbanists – both young and old.
The refurbished 1912 palace and its gleaming new rear pavilion may represent a juxtaposition between past and present but inside the discourse is very much fixed on the future. “Paving an optimistic path is about engaging and empowering young minds,” says Foster.
This same outlook helped with staffing his Madrid outpost, which operates separately from his London-based architectural practice. Apart from an emotional connection to the city (he met his wife Elena here), the decision to establish a foothold in the Spanish capital was inspired by its talent pool and the city’s commitment to quality infrastructure.
“As we build the team, we’re looking for enthusiasm, attitude and the optimism of youth,” he says. “This was how I grew my practice, favouring the idea that if you didn’t have the experience but showed energy, commitment, curiosity and a burning desire, you’d be able to engage with the experts in the field and everything else could follow from that.”