'Discovering Architecture' with Lord Norman Foster

On Saturday 18th March 2017, we were fortunate enough to welcome Lord Norman Foster, as part of the History of Art society programme, to deliver a talk entitled 'Discovering Architecture'. This was a unique opportunity to hear from one of the world's most prestigious architects, and the talk provided an insight into Lord Foster’s personal feelings about architecture, including some of the buildings that meant most to him growing up, such as Manchester Town Hall.

The council room was at full capacity for the talk, which had been highly anticipated by the girls for weeks. It was a rare occasion for all of those interested in architecture to congregate, regardless of the subject of their studies.

Lord Foster told his story with humility, while the buildings themselves spoke volumes of his skill as an architect. When discussing the famous 'Gherkin', Lord Foster described how the design of the building conserved energy with vents, that operate like lungs, all around the building’s exterior to provide ventilation throughout the building and reduce the need for air conditioning. Similarly, he mentioned a shift in airport design that saw ventilation machinery moved to the base, removing the oppressive feeling of heavy industrial ceilings and allowing for open and airy structures, such as Beijing airport.

Energy conservation and sustainability remained an important theme while he discussed his project with Apple, for their headquarters in Cupertino, California, which also demonstrated the process of transforming the client’s idea into a building. This building housed all of its units in one, rather than utilising a campus style site. This left more room on the plot for greenery and trees to be used for outdoor activity and leisure, adding to the efficiency of the site.

Another fascinating aspect of his talk was discussion of his current projects, including plans for a drone port in Africa. Using local materials, Lord Foster aims to create a station to service drones that can deliver blood and medical supplies to isolated areas, proving that architecture could even be life-saving.

The talk ended with questions about the future of mankind and news of an innovative project that Foster + Partners is developing, which included plans for habitation on the moon. Addressing the challenges of transporting materials to the moon, the study is investigating the use of lunar soil, known as regolith, as building matter. Understandably, all who attended the talk were left with their minds racing, inspired to explore the field further and extremely grateful to Lord Foster for such a fascinating insight.

Rosalind Phillips (SFC1)