How much does your building weigh…?

There is a film on tonight at the Paramount, and repeated on Saturday morning, called: How much does your building weigh, Mr Foster. We haven’t seen it yet as it is part of the International Film Festival on at present in the capital.

Afficionados of architecture will of course recognise the source of the title’s quoted line – the late, great Buckminster Fuller, inventor and huge advocate of the Geodesic Dome. Norman Foster, aka Big Norm, Normski, or Lord Foster of Quarry Bank, is the name behind one of the planet’s biggest and most successful architectural firms, which now has well over a 1000 employees – but he started off in quite a different way. As a student, Foster was a hard-working lad from Manchester who was well handy with a sharpened pencil, and gained a scholarship to the US where he completed his degree at Yale. He worked with, and became great friends with Buckminster Fuller – they shared a mutual love of buildings as machines, as well as high performance design in the fields of architecture, design, even to the extent of car design.

Although “Bucky” died a couple of decades ago, Foster has now continued on the love affair with the Dymaxion car, faithfully creating a new car from the remains of one of the last few remaining. Foster’s team worked through the Buckminster Fuller Archive at Stanford University: The Dymaxion, says King, “was unlike anything I’d seen before: you almost have to forget everything you’ve learnt about car engineering to understand how it works.”

Jonathon Glancey notes that this was because: “as with the originals, No 4’s shell comprises an ash frame sheathed in hand-beaten aluminium. This sits on the chassis of an old 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan, but front to back, so the back wheels of the Ford form the front wheels of the Dymaxion. Much of the detailing echoes Zeppelin design, while its V8 Ford engine is a mounted at the rear, under a long tailfin designed to both cool the engine and increase stability. It is steered by the single rear wheel, which acts like a boat’s rudder. This is, without doubt, the Dymaxion’s weakest point.”

So – although the film is undoubtedly going to be mostly about the buildings of Foster and Partners, and whether many have kept hold of the maxim “tread lightly on the earth”, I’m hoping we’re going to see a bit of the old Bucky wagon on screen tonight as well.


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