«The future of architecture? Do more, with less, ”says Norman Foster

Lord Norman Foster has devised some of the most iconic buildings in the world: the Gherkin in London, the Reichstag in Berlin, the Apple Park in Cupertino and the headquarters of Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. But if you ask him what future he would plan with unlimited resources at his disposal, his ideal is not an ordinary skyline Blade Runner, with kinetic skyscrapers and flying cars, but somewhat simpler and more sustainable, built around the concept of community. “A self-sufficient neighborhood,” he says from his home in the United States. Eighty-six, tanned, he is flawless in his casual, all-white look. “Design is a continuous pursuit of perfection, so there should be synergy between the life lived and the waste generated: instead of being buried, they must be treated in such a way that they produce energy or become something. second, for example manure “, continue in the confident, measured tone of an experienced speaker. “In this way, clean energy would be produced that overcomes the old notion of large power plants and high-voltage power lines, just as happened with the old infrastructures with telephone poles, cables and switches in communications. This hypothetical neighborhood would function in a more elegant way, as well as do more with less ».

Foster’s claims about sustainability are not surprising: it’s a concept he’s been working on for some time. Nor is it surprising his belief that cities are the future despite the paradigm shift brought about by the pandemic. He spoke about it at some recent meetings, noting how cities are constantly evolving, drawing parallels with other traumatic events in history that have amplified and accelerated change. “If we think of London’s DNA, with Georgian townhouses and brick buildings, we do not think of fire systems, London’s great fire, the building codes of the border walls. Let’s think of squares, majestic public spaces and an intense, walkable, sustainable city. Wisely, Foster is careful not to make any predictions; rather, it suggests a possible future in which changes in mobility (the disappearance of cars that drink liters of petrol) and in the intended use of buildings can improve the quality of life: to transform an outdated city car park into a farm, to allow residents to use less water, less fertilizer and to reduce their ecological footprint; to turn abandoned offices into homes for the important workers who have been relegated to the extreme suburbs of the metropolis.

Foster opposite Edward P. Evans Hall, the new headquarters of Yale’s School of Management, designed by Foster + Partners and inaugurated in 2014. Photo Weston Wells.

These claims may seem to contradict his studio’s latest London project: the renovation of Whiteley’s billion-pound department store – a piece of the city’s history, conceived in 1911 as one of the first luxury multi-store stores – to come. transformed into the UK’s first six stores Senses hotel & spa, complete with exclusive shops and apartments. But it all makes sense when Foster talks about The Whiteley as a “recycling building.” “It will be the ultimate in sustainability: it is an element of the past that can be regenerated – and that means investing in the future,” he says. Foster developed a love for cities and their infrastructure, what he calls “urban structure”, as a boy. He grew up in a townhouse in Manchester when the city was filled with smoking chimneys and red brick factories and smiles when he remembers dropping out of school as a 16-year-old to work at Manchester City Hall, where he had stayed in two years before to be called to. serve in Raf. “I had always had a passion for buildings and found myself immersed in the extraordinary Victorian-Gothic architecture of the town hall. I walked around, I learned, I sketched”: this is how he describes his life in the city after his military service. “That was then, the love of “architecture, machinery, drawing and modeling found a synthesis: the dots joined in, and I managed to get into university. I was very lucky.”

The Whiteley, in London, is set to open in 2023. Foster & Partners

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