Norman Foster talks with Michael Boodro at Hearst Tower.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of its New York-based headquarters, Hearst brought in Norman Foster, the architect who designed its celebrated Tower in Midtown Manhattan.

Elle Décor editor in chief Michael Boodro led a spirited conversation with Foster about his views on culture and how the urban landscape impacts his work, before a full auditorium in Hearst Tower.

Foster has designed a host of renowned structures, including the restoration of the Reichstag Building in Berlin; the London skyscraper 30 St Mary Axe; London’s City Hall and the redevelopment of Trafalgar Square; the Palace of Piece and Reconciliation in Kazakhstan, and the HSBC building in Hong Kong and others.

On Thursday evening, the main topic of conversation surrounded his design process for the sleek, yet jagged design of the Hearst Tower, which, Foster said, was inspired by Richard Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome.

“It’s unmistakably Hearst. It’s different from any other tower before or since,” Foster said, adding that part of his process was to create a “physically lighter” structure that sprung out of the cast-stone six-story base designed by Joseph Urban.

Foster called the LEED-certified Tower “trailblazing,” as it includes a three-story atrium replete with a cascading waterfall sculpture at the entryway, which nods to nature.

“There are a lot of things as architects — there was an intuitive feeling that it would be good for the well-being of people in the building,” he said, referring to the melding of nature, energy and design as helping to boost “productivity and creativity.”

“One of my colleagues said to me, when she heard I was doing this, she said, ‘It’s such a thrill to come into this building every day. It puts a smile on my face.’ You know, considering the status of the print business today, that is quite a feat,” said Boodro to laughter.

Before moving on, the editor talked about the cafeteria, which acts as an open meeting space near the elevator banks. One employee had Boodro ask a long-winded question about why Foster hadn’t designed bathrooms on that level, and wondered if he would “do it differently” now.

“Yes, I would do it differently and add more bathrooms,” Foster said with a chuckle.

Other questions centered on the importance of architecture in an increasingly digital world where people are glued to their phones and hardly pay attention to their surroundings.

“I never really thought about the impact of that kind of technology,” Foster said. “I’ll have to think about that in terms of a new design direction. Things to trip over, deliberately perhaps.”

Foster also addressed New York’s landscape with its abundance of skyscrapers, offering: “The overall vibrancy of the city is robust enough to take extensions of scale here and there.”

Later Foster would address how the political environment — in the United States under a Donald Trump presidency and Brexit in the United Kingdom — could change architecture.

“If I take it out of the political exchanges, I think that interestingly, within the first minutes of Trump’s speech when the election results came through, was about infrastructure, was about inner cities,” he said. “I spend a huge amount of my time talking about infrastructure.”

He noted that “anything that awakens the need for improving infrastructure” is a positive.

“There may be political blips, there may be a Brexit, but I think that human nature, being what it is, there will always be crossing boundaries,” he said, pointing to examples in history where different towns faced globalization and changed architecturally as a result. “Globalization is not a new word; some of the recent effects of that may be more noticeable.”

Foster concluded with some thoughts on inspiration and fashion as an element in his work.

“As a designer, I think you are interested in design in all of its aspects, and you’re interested in linkages between fashion, between jewelry, between watches, between aircraft locomotives; it’s a continuum. I’m fascinated by the links,” he said. “They are all connected.”

Norman Foster with a model of the Reichstag building.

Norman Foster with a model of the Reichstag building.  Nigel Young

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