Lord Foster explains his quest for sustainability

Lord Foster explains his quest for sustainability


30 Nov 10

World-renowned British architect, Professor the Lord Foster of Thames Bank OM, has outlined why sustainability and performance are essential to good design for modern cities.

Norman Foster was giving an inaugural lecture as Humanitas Visiting Professor of Architecture at the University of Oxford to a packed audience, presided over by the University Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton.

The lecture, entitled ‘Performance’, addressed a key question facing societies today: ‘How do we accommodate growing populations in cities in a sustainable way?’ His vision is already becoming a reality in the master plan he has drawn up for Masdar City, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

In Masdar City, sustainable technologies and the planning principles of traditional Arab settlements have come together to create a zero-carbon, zero-waste community on an urban scale.

Only last week, Lord Foster was at the opening of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology campus, the first building of its kind to be powered entirely by renewable solar energy. It will be used as a pilot for the sustainable technologies that will be explored for future Masdar City buildings. The city is designed to encourage walking, with shaded streets and courtyards offering a pedestrian environment, sheltered from climatic extremes. The surrounding land contains solar and photovoltaic farms, research fields and plantations.

Lord Foster said the quest for sustainability was ‘essentially a challenge to preserve and extend quality of life globally, and to achieve it by doing more with less’. He said, ‘in this way, efficient performance and sustainability are inextricably linked.’

He spoke about the range of influences that inspired his designs and the potential for such approaches to inform low-carbon societies. A major influence was Richard Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller (1895-1983), an American engineer, inventor and futurist. Lord Foster talked about how he had had the privilege of working with ‘Bucky’ before he died. Recently, Lord Foster paid tribute to ‘Bucky’s’ vision by completing a recreation of his mentor’s futuristic Dymaxion Car, based on Fuller’s original drawings.

Using examples of his completed and current projects, Lord Foster illustrated how sustainability is an integral part of his designs: the Commerzbank and the Reichstag in Germany both set standards for low energy consumption; and Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, a reclaimed harbour-front site, boasts many energy-saving, high-efficiency features.

Humanitas is a series of Visiting Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Created by Lord Weidenfeld, the Programme is managed and funded by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue with the support of generous benefactors, and administered by the Humanities Division in Oxford and its equivalent in Cambridge.

Lord Foster is Chairman and founder of Foster and Partners, based in London, with offices around the world. He became the 21st Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate in 1999 and was awarded the Praemium Imperiale Award for Architecture in 2002. In 2009, he became the 29th Laureate of the prestigious Prince of Asturias award for the Arts.

Lord Foster is Visiting Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment where he will give annual lectures over the next four years. He is also a Visiting Fellow of Brasenose College.

A recording of his lecture will soon be available on this news page.