Norman Foster

Architect norman foster designed the glass canopy at the Smithsonian’s Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. He spoke with Jess Blumberg.

The courtyard at the Reynolds Center appears brighter than ever.

I'm intrigued that you felt there was more light. When you do modify a space, you transform it in terms of all of the senses. It not only feels different in terms of climate—it also smells, sounds and feels different in ways that you can't define.

You wanted the canopy "to look like a cloud settling over the courtyard."

It is a change in the life of the building. Unlike some courtyards, where you glaze them over, here you couldn't rest the new glass ceiling on the existing walls. This is something that, ideally, can float above the building supported on columns. You had to create support because of the nature of the building. We worked at great pains to preserve that.

Your career covers 40 years. What has been your favorite design?

It's like asking somebody about their favorite child [laughs]. I can say that some buildings do stand out because they address more issues than others.

Such as?

The Reichstag, for example, is completely powered by renewable forms of energy. So, it's an energy manifesto. But it's also a political manifesto in the sense that it retains the history of the past—it doesn't cover it up for good or for bad. It establishes a new relationship between the body politic and the public.

What are you working on now?

I just got back from Beijing where the [Beijing Capital International] airport is near completion, which is the largest building that's ever been undertaken on the planet, so it's truly epic in scale.

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