Practice Note 7: Being Norman Foster

— 3 minute read

Sport is good. So is Reading the Journals!

I took my RIBA Part 3 exams while I was living and working in Berlin. The examiners, who were based here in the UK asked me to find a way to prove that I was up to date with what was happening in Britain. So I started to write a journal documenting my views on articles in the architectural press. This was long before on-line magazines so I had them sent to me. (At that point I had seen computers in offices, but never actually touched one.) Writing the journal was a great thing to do as it forced me to think about what I was looking at – and it made sure I read some of the articles rather than just looking at the pictures. At the time I thought I might continue for years to come and while it didn’t happen quite like that, it did go a long way to helping me with the interview part of the examination.

One of the articles I read at the time was an interview with Norman Foster where he mentioned that he jogged 3 miles a day. (I think it was 3 miles, what ever it was, it seemed like a pretty long jog.) This was in the early 90’s and I don’t think jogging was quite as big then as it is now, so it seemed interesting.

This news, combined with the arrival of a small German beer inspired beer gut encouraged me to get in shape myself. I didn’t take up jogging but I did take up martial arts and I have been doing it ever since. I am convinced it has helped me get through the inevitable ups and downs of an architect’s career.

I have tried out a number of martial arts and for a few years I was training with British Light-welterweight boxing champion Darren Hamilton. Darren’s emphasis on defense, movement, patience and being relaxed under pressure has definitely translated itself into a part of my architecture persona. It’s difficult to be relaxed when someone is charging forwards trying to hit you, but if you can do it, you gain time and insight into the situation that is amazingly helpful. I should stress that I have never felt physically threatened during my work as an architect; the principle of keeping calm under pressure is the important bit here!

The other important thing I brought over from boxing is staying fixed on the game plan – it is very tempting under pressure to drift back towards old habits that might not necessarily be bad in themselves but are the kinds of habits that stop you progressing. The definition of the game plan and the discipline required to stick to it are important aspects of any practice manifesto. My diary notes made while setting up are littered with references to defining exactly what I am trying to do and three years after setting up I’m still defining it. What I am better at now is knowing what I don’t want to do, which I believe is a good start.