Maybe it is something about the sheer scale and incomprehensibility of the contemporary metropolis, but whenever an architect writes about architecture and urbanism it seems that the book itself has to take on some of the gargantuan qualities of its subject. This On Foster . . . Foster On heavyweight is no different, with a fearsome 814 pages and hundreds of images fronted by an extensive CD-ROM.
Overall, it has the same kind of bulk and presence as Koolhaas' S.M, L, XL, whose silver cover it also (surprisingly) mimics.
Inside, Deyan Sudjic's essay on 'Exploring the City' gives a competent overview of urban themes in Foster's architecture and masterplanning.
These include the development of Pacific Rim cities to Buckminster Fuller, globalism, postindustrialism, environmental issues and the like.
The best, though, is yet to come. The main part of the book is divided up into two.The first section contains 47 essays about Foster ('On Foster'), and if the selection does not always stick to Sudjic's opening theme of urbanism, this is no bad thing.
Reading the thoughts of Fuller, Lampugnani, Frampton, Maxwell, Buchanan and the like is entertaining stuff, and gives the kind of varied insight into Foster's work that is usually missing from the more common authorised monograph study: Peter Reyner Banham on the connection between the structural system and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, for example, or Otl Aicher on Foster and tree-houses.
Likewise, the second section with 46 essays by Foster himself ('Foster On'), gives the architect's own views on subjects from Aalto and Gaudi to Commerzbank and the Nomos table, many of which make for fascinating reading. I particularly liked Foster when dealing with subjects not produced by his office, such as the famous Building Sights Boeing 747 piece, or crop circles in Wi ltshire.
As for the CD-ROM, this does what CD-ROMs do well, packing a load of information (words, data, figures, images) into one, easily accessible source.
Whether anyone would ever systematically trawl through all of this material is debatable, but that is not really the point. Rather, it is a good place to check a fact, plan or other design detail.
While On Foster . . . Foster On is not the best introduction to Foster's work, for those who feel they already know the projects this is a good place to learn some more. It even contains a few surprises.
Iain Borden is director of architectural history and theory at the Bartlett, University College London.
An exhibition on the work of Foster and Partners continues at the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia, Norwich until 10 September