“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.”
Born in a working-class district of Manchester in 1935, Foster was infatuated with a more edified future from an early age. Self-financing his architecture studies with a carousel of colourful side jobs, including selling ice cream and baking crumpets, he opened his first practice Foster Associates (now Foster + Partners) in 1967. Championing hi-tech architecture and infrastructure projects garnered a raft of prizes, a knighthood and the 1999 Pritzker. His most envelope-pushing projects include the Reichstag Building in Berlin, the sci-fi-esque Apple Park in California and Mexico City’s New International Airport. In 2017 he established his “globally minded” foundation in Madrid.
Angel Jaramillo Architect.
Lourdes Nadal Lisa and Richard Cashin research fellow.
Mireya Cáceres Archivist.
Margarita Suárez Archive general consultant.
“Having dedicated her life to historical architectural archives, Margarita now oversees my own collection of digitised drawings – she shares the key to my memory.”
Diego Tobalina Designer.
Santiago Riveiro Head of marketing & communication.
“An integral part of the team and incredibly engaging. He comes from the outside but brings another very powerful, local dimension.”
Alberto Cendoya Architect.
David González Márquez Secretary-general, Norman Foster Foundation.
“David has all the local knowledge of a city but his background is in finance, which brings another perspective to bear on the foundation’s objectives.”
Tamara Gergaulova Executive assistant.
Ricky Burdett Trustee.
“Ricky has devoted his academic life to the city so I’ve always had a sympathetic rapport with him on issues that don’t naturally engage architects.”
Hernan Kraviez Head of architecture, design & technology unit.
“A natural talent, Hernan has this engaging enthusiasm and a rare combination of gravitas with the youthful energetic mind of a designer.”
Luis Fernández Galiano Vice-president.
“He has an encyclopaedic awareness of the past and vision for what’s happening now. He’s a good critic who makes me stop and see things in a different way.”
Elena Ochoa Foster Wife and trustee.
“I met Elena a little over two decades ago. We married and, ever since, I always seem to be running to catch up but I am destined to never catch her.”
Bárbara Rodríguez Archivist.
Gabriel Hernández Head of education and research unit.
“Overseeing the educational programme is an integral part of the foundation’s mission.”
Jorge López-Conde David and Nina Fialkow research fellow.
Claudia Mordt Archivist.
David Buelta Administration and accounting.