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Foster: 'Manser embodied everything architects can contribute to society'

Michael 1
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Norman Foster pays tribute to the ’generous, outgoing, optimistic and intense’ Michael Manser who died last week, aged 87, following a stroke

Norman Foster

Norman Foster

Source: Ben Blossom

Norman Foster

I heard about the passing away of Michael Manser when I arrived in Madrid from London that same day. Afterwards with a group of young Spanish architects I tried to explain why Michael was so important in his lifetime and why he should be an inspiration for them and their generation.

Michael was a force for good in his tireless support for modern architecture and design, and the positive contribution that they can make to our society. He achieved this through many channels: by his private practice with distinguished projects; promoting prizes for good house design; writing intelligently as a journalist for the national and technical press; and by being president of the RIBA and presidential in that role – especially in his handling of Prince Charles’s ‘carbuncle’ attack on ABK’s proposal for the National Gallery, which overshadowed the Gold Medal Award to Charles Correa at that time.

Michael was notable for his youthfulness. His complexion, wit, slim and trim figure, boundless energy and breathless commentary made him unlike any other architect you might meet. He was a tireless advocate for good causes that he believed in, and these were central to his character.

For me there were many unforgettable moments with Michael. Once he called me out of the blue to say he would be launching a design for a new hotel near Heathrow and that in part it was inspired by the Sainsbury Centre. He expressed the hope that I was OK about the association. I responded that, on the contrary, I was absolutely delighted with the link and that it could not be better.

Hilton hotel heathrow T4

Hilton hotel heathrow T4

Michael Manser’s Hilton hotel at Heathrow

In 1983 he called me from the RIBA to say that I had been nominated for the Queen’s Royal Gold Medal Award, and touchingly he talked about the importance of one receiving such awards early enough in a career to be able to enjoy them.

I share these recollections because, although they relate to me, they are far more illustrative of Michael’s great qualities of grace, civility and passion for youth.

Michael was generous, outgoing, optimistic, intense and the very embodiment of everything that architects and architecture working together can contribute to society.

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