CGBC Inaugural Lecture: Norman Foster

On November 5, 2015 the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) welcomed Norman Foster as the inaugural speaker of its annual lecture, a new fixture of Harvard GSD’s prestigious speaker series. “Green is a shorthand for environmental awareness,” Lord Foster began his talk, observing that the green movement started 50 years ago, coinciding with the founding of his own practice in the 1960s. “Sustainability has been a guiding principle [of my practice] since the beginning,” he continued, referencing Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring which built an awareness of the fragility of the planet, the Whole Earth Catalogue which disseminated the first image of earth from afar, and Buckminster Fuller, his former mentor, who regarded buildings as part of larger systems that played an important role in shaping the future.

As a preface to his hour-plus-long talk, Foster emphasized that “green is at the core of design, but is one thread among many,” entangled with social agendas, technology as a means to various ends, the constraints of resources, among many other issues. Noting that there are 28 different green building rating systems used in the world today, he acknowledged the value of being able to quantify various aspects of buildings’ environmental impact while espousing the notion the green building is, above all else, about a holistic view of design that takes into consideration broader rubrics of concern, including human health and well-being. Foster is widely recognized for his technologically innovative architecture, but in the course of his talk, he made evident his embrace of the “humanistic, poetic, spiritual dimension of design”—in other words, the more “intuitive” aspects of architecture which, for him, are intimately tied to the technology how a building “breathes and communes with nature.”

In this talk, he discussed several projects, including the winner of the 2015 Norman Foster Solar Prize Winner; early projects such as his Hong Kong and Beijing airports, which revolutionized the building type; 30 St. Mary’s Axe (aka, the Gherkin) in London; the Masdar City development in Abu Dhabi; an investigative approach to 3D printing to create lunar dwellings; and a drone port in Rwanda.

View Lord Foster’s lecture here: