As President of Manchester Society of Architects, Practice Owner Nick Moss was tasked with presenting the MSA Lifetime Achievement Award to Lord Norman Foster.I imagine meeting a legend and personal hero such as Lord Foster is a daunting prospect for anyone. Such people often become giant, mythical entities in our minds. Therefore, come 8.15 am, it was with more than a little trepidation I sat in the café in Foster and Partners, waiting for the giant. The view over the Thames was impressive, but did little to calm me. In a moment, I’d gone from being confident practice owner to nervous acolyte.
He kept me waiting, of course.
His desk was at the far end of the office, necessitating a self-conscious procession, accompanied by his personal assistant. He was inevitably smaller than I expected, but smart in appearance and gracious in demeanour. As soon as we started talking, my nerves abated, although not enough to allow me to remember exactly what was said. I do recall that he asked me about the role of the architect. When I talked about some of the challenges that the architect faces in the current environment, he looked disappointed. To this day, I’m not sure whether he was disappointed by the challenges, or disappointed with me for mentioning them. In any case, I felt privileged to engage in the discussion. And I should say that I felt he was really listening, not just being polite.
When it came to the presentation, which was being filmed to be shown at the MSA Awards, he was clearly impressed by the beautiful carving of Levenshulme Library that adorned the box and I could tell it meant a lot to him. He spoke eloquently and with affection about Manchester and the buildings that had inspired him. It was a memorable experience for me, but I believe the greatest impact of the encounter came later, at the MSA awards night.
From my vantage point on stage in my role of Master of Ceremonies, I could clearly see the room was imbued with the spirit of Lord Foster. As well as receiving an award, he had taken part in the judging, which created a real buzz of excitement and inspiration. The younger architects especially felt honoured and delighted to know that an architect of such calibre and reputation had looked at their work. Lord Foster is a busy elder statesman, and it would have been all too easy for him to decline our invitation on the grounds of other commitments, but he didn’t and for that, Manchester Society of Architects will always be grateful.