"Sacred Cows and Good Architects"

Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño. Rector. IE University

2 June 2009

Doing things better doesn’t mean they have to be more complicated. It just means doing things the right way, on time and on budget. This is something many architects tend to forget, and something that Sir Norman Foster defends by way of example.

"We need to sacrifice some of the sacred cows of architecture" Sir Norman Foster commented to me recently, with a certain amount of irony in reference to some of the generalised beliefs at a meeting where we spoke of the teaching of architecture and the profession of architect. One of these sacred cows is the idea that design and economy are incompatible, that the development of a large project can never be completed within budget and on time, as has been the case of many a modern-day iconic building or project. Indeed, we are no longer surprised to hear that the budget for the construction of an important piece of public infrastructure or a large building has multiplied by more than three times the original amount.

Yet one of the things Sir Norman and his firm, Foster and Partners, can boast is that they comply with the agreed economic terms and delivery dates. Any architect who has worked on social housing, an acid test of the capacity to combine design and budget, knows the importance of these oft-ignored issues. Sir Norman has also personally experienced the need to combine efficiency with excellence, a skill he acquired when he studied architecture at Manchester and had to work to pay for his degree. He still thinks this experience was good for his professional training and it is something he would recommend to every university student.

The presentation of the Prince of Asturias Prize for Arts to Sir Norman is a recognition of quality, innovation and globalisation in modern architecture, and also of the professional ethics of architecture. It is worth noting that good architects have been intelligent but modest and very close to their clients. Again, Sir Norman is a good example of this. He is one of those intelligent people who, when they hear a new speaker, listen for a good while before forming their opinion.

Sir Norman is a prolific architect, with a lengthy career that has seen him design and build on every continent. His work is also present in Spain, and includes the emblematic Collserola Tower in Barcelona, the Metro of Bilbao and, more recently, the Caja Madrid Tower. The fact he is in good physical shape allows him to continue his involvement in the development and practice of architecture. This good physical shape probably has to do with his enthusiasm for cycling, his balance between professional and private life and his excellent personal synergy with Elena Ochoa, or "The Lady", as he refers to her when she is not there. Together, they continue to come up with interesting initiatives in the area of the arts. The profession of architect is ready to be reinvented and Sir Norman still has a lot to give.

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