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Machine Love: Sir Norman Foster's Courtyard Canopy
May 17, 2006

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
Ten tons of steel finally flying free.

—With apologies to Muhammad Ali

Hoisting the framework for our courtyard canopy. Construction begins. Click on the image to begin the video (Quicktime, 14.2 MB).

One fine, crisp morning last week, as you were comfy at home reading Time Magazine’s feature on architect Sir Norman Foster, I was outside the museum in my hard hat and steel-toed boots shivering through a stakeout of our own Foster project.

This little video—the result of my morning—gets my heart pumping for a number of reasons.

  1. Fun toys. The video shows a heavy, weird-looking piece of steel being hoisted by a big crane, which is just plain cool any day of the week. The fact that the crane is in my museum’s front yard is icing on the cake. The fact that the piece of steel is part of our new courtyard covering designed by Sir Norman Foster is a bunch of fresh strawberries on top of the icing on the cake.

  2. Strangeness. The section of steel—this thing—which from a distance appears to be a simple grid is, upon close inspection, an unbelievably complicated assembly of curves, plates, pipes, and joints. It doesn’t look like there is a straight line or right angle in the whole thing. It screams "I am alien and unique. Designed for a purpose you cannot quite imagine and made by engineers and artisans from another planet." As an object it simultaneously has the whimsy of a Dr. Seuss boo-bangler and the seriousness of a surgical blade.

  3. Deception. It’s all about deception. How do architects make something so big and heavy look light as a feather? Look at the Duomo, Washington’s National Cathedral, and the Golden Gate Bridge and you know that it’s the masters’ favorite game.

  4. Teamwork. We think of Big Architecture as if it’s done alone by Big Architects, but I didn’t see Sir Norman anywhere on site. The fact is that he’s not here—he’s back at the home office taking care of the Big Picture while a team of very careful very agile people in hard hats work locally to implement his vision. There was a lot of creativity and problem solving on display as the local team stepped through the practical challenges of trying get huge chunks of metal from one place to another without killing anybody or damaging anything. An architect's vision is useless without a good team to make it real.

  5. Machine love. I think the crane and the grid were secretly thrilled to be joined in a common task for a few moments. Those two pieces of technology—both masterpieces, both born as ore dug from the earth then forged, wrought, bent, and welded—held a little seminar about the great things that can happen when you blend art, craft, technology, and sweat. Those lessons are being taught everywhere people are making things with passion and care, and while sometimes you have to get up early in the morning to hear them it’s always worth the price of admission.

Posted by Michael Edson on May 17, 2006 in Museum Opening


I agree 100% with this article.

What has been his inspiration?

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