Foster + Partners

Innovative Architecture and Integrated Design Practices


Ahmad Zohadi:

How would you define in your own words ‘sustainability’?

Sustainability is about people and balance. It is about the allocation of finite resources over time to generate maximum social benefit. Foster + Partners’ mandate is to produce humane and uplifting buildings, but also to safeguard the interest of the urban context, its people and the environment at large.

Should sustainability be controlled by government / global legislation or should it rely solely on architects’ ethics and why?
While it is the responsibility of governments and global legislative bodies to bring all new construction projects to a minimum environmental standard, it is architects and forward-thinking clients that create truly groundbreaking sustainable designs and put these ideas into practice.
Organizations such as BREEAM and LEED can assist in the process of making sustainable design principles accountable and measurable against comparable projects and can also play an important role in the larger picture of sustainable design. We cannot ignore the fact that the majority of new developments are driven by an economic imperative – these benchmarking initiatives are useful tools in changing the perception of environmental issues with quantifiable, marketable goals.

Can sustainability be compatible with experimental / progressive / innovative design and why?

As with anything, sustainability is about finding a balance. The architect or planner does not work in isolation, but feeds on the needs of those who will live and work in the buildings and the infrastructure of spaces and connections that binds them together. Therefore the urban designer is never free – unlike the freedom that a sculptor or painter might enjoy. Absence of freedom does not however mean loss of creativity. Often constraints can enable imaginative design to flourish. Essentially, sustainability is about good design. The higher the quality of design, and the more efficient the project, the longer the project will have a role, and in sustainability terms, longevity is a good thing.

Will you decline a commission if your clients declare that they are not interested and they will not pay any additional cost to your sustainable design and why?

Sustainability is integral to the design process at Foster + Partners. Quality is also an attitude of mind. It is not about the quantity of building or money. There are three resources: time; money and creative energy. The latter is the most vital tool by far. Some of the best architecture arises out of tight constraints.

It is astonishing that in the last five years or so, almost everybody claims to be ‘sustainable’. Do you think that the world is really now so much more sustainable and why?

Sustainability is something that we have been conscious of from the very earliest days of the practice – some forty years ago. We were investigating alternative energy sources and sustainable forms of development in the 1970s – long before people were using the term ‘green’. The concept has certainly gained greater currency since then, but there is still so much more to be done.
Sustainability is not a matter of fashion, but of survival and environmental issues affect architecture at every level. Few people seem to be aware that, in the developed world, buildings are responsible for half the energy consumed, while another quarter is used for transport. Sustainability requires us to think holistically. The location and function of a building; its flexibility and life-span; its orientation, its form and structure; its heating and ventilation systems, and the materials used, all impact upon the amount of energy required to build, run and maintain it, and the travel to and from it. Architects cannot solve all the world’s ecological problems, but we can design buildings to run at a fraction of current energy levels and we can influence transport patterns through urban planning and infrastructure. In summary it is the combination of infrastructure and buildings that is critical to sustainability.

Describe your ideal sustainable design.
Any sustainable design must result in a great place to live or work that lifts the spirits and improves the quality of life. If it doesn’t, then it has failed in a central part of its function. To be sustainable, we have to build for the long term. Flexibility is a key consideration. As an ideal, our own project – the master plan for Masdar City was planned in 2008 and will be finished in 2018. It has to be able to respond to new technologies that will have an impact on the way we live in the next ten years and beyond – things which have yet to be invented and that we can only dream about now.

© Published by 2A Magazine, Issue #11