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Originally published Friday, January 13, 2012 at 5:32 AM

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Movie review

'How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster'?: A life's worth of groundbreaking architecture

A movie review of "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?" — an informative and inspiring documentary about British architect Norman Foster's life and work.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?' a documentary directed by Norberto Lopez Amado and Carlos Carcas. 80 minutes. Not rated; for general audiences. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center, through Thursday.

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"Sometimes I think I see things others don't," reflects British architect Norman Foster, gazing back at his long career. Indeed he does: a bridge that floats, seemingly weightlessly, across water; a cross-hatched skyscraper that sparkles in the night like a multifaceted jewel; a shingled, round building, seeming to crouch over its ground like a hovering spacecraft.

"How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?" (the title is a whimsical question once posed to the architect by mentor Buckminster Fuller) is an informative and inspiring documentary about a man's life and work. Foster, now in his mid-70s, still presides over Foster + Partners, an architectural firm founded on a shoestring in 1967 that now has offices in more than 20 countries. Though he's experienced several recent health crises, including cancer and a heart attack, he appears strong and hearty, and the film is book-ended by footage of Foster, focused and peaceful, competing in a cross-country ski marathon. ("A state of denial is perhaps, at times, helpful," he says.)

The film takes us through Foster's childhood in working-class Manchester (in a neighborhood where "you can smell the damp") and his early career, and ultimately gives us mini-tours of many of the buildings for which he and his company are acclaimed: Beijing Airport (said to be the largest single building in the world), the Great Court at London's British Museum, Wembley Stadium, the Millennium Bridge, the Hearst Headquarters in Manhattan and many more.

Many renowned architects and writers speak briefly to the camera about Foster's work, and Foster himself, precise and well-spoken, frequently chimes in. But ultimately, the buildings speak for themselves, illustrating a mantra that Foster repeats in the film: Architecture, he says, can make your life feel better.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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