Design Review: Norman Foster and Ai Weiwei Exhibitions

With Norman Foster’s retrospective in Paris and Ai Weiwei’s design-focused London exhibition soon ending, the question hangs in the air of what and how design and architecture impacts our lives and the surroundings we inhabit.

Norman Foster Retrospective at Centre Pompidou

Simply titled Norman Foster, Centre Pompidou worked alongside the British architect Norman Foster and his architectural studio, Foster + Partners, to create the exhibition displaying over 130 of Foster’s projects since the 1960s. The show also features designs that Foster has been continually inspired by, including that of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the French painter Fernand Léger.


The exhibition seeks to highlight the beauty of Foster’s innovative designs through grouping them into seven themes: Nature and Urbanity, Skin and Bones, Vertical City, History and Tradition, Planning and Place, Networks and Mobilities and Future Perspectives. Throughout the exhibition Foster also lays the groundwork for his thoughts for the future of the built environment. One particular highlight of the show included his design of IBM’s ‘provisional’ Pilot Head Office which ended up becoming a part of its permanent headquarters due to its unconventional and innovative structure. Throughout the exhibition there are strong links between art, design and architecture.

Foster White DomeFoster On Wall

Making Sense is a collaborative exhibition between artist, architect, activist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei and the Design Museum exhibition curator, Justin McGuirk. This multi-medium exhibition consists of photography, sculpture, ceramics, glassware, textile installations and film to display realms of design that you’ve never experienced before. Featuring a Lego reproduction of Monet’s famous Water Lilies series (below left), an intricate porcelain takeaway box, a tangy orange glass helmet and re-purposed state-destroyed sculptures, amongst other works; together they act as commentary on social justice and how design shapes and reveals our values.

Image00018Teapot Spouts

The image above (right) consists of a field of broken teapot spouts dating back to the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE); when a teapot was not ‘perfect’ the spout would be broken off, resulting in this mass of fragmented ceramics. In this piece, Ai is suggesting that the broken spouts are synonymous with the suppressed freedoms of the Chinese public, with the spouts – or mouths – having been removed. 

Fragments of porcelain are all that remains of Ai’s sculptures that were destroyed by the Chinese state in 2018 (displayed in the background in the image below). In the foreground there is one (and the only) of these complete and undamaged porcelain sculptures, depicting how these once were. These sculptural remains have been subverted through Ai’s display methods to turn destruction into a form of powerful  design art.

Both exhibitions explore how the origins of design are embedded in survival in both past and present; Ai Weiwei through his display of man-made stone-age tools, and Foster through his strive for sustainability. The two exhibitions explore both the beauty and the future of design in architecture and art. Ai Weiwei’s Making Sense ended July 30th and Norman Foster ends August 7th at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.



24th AUGUST 7-8PM

More info to come soon so keep your eyes peeled!