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Norman Foster And Sustainability

Dr. Khaled Mohamed Dewidar

Architect M. Ahmed Moktar,M. Abd El Gelil, R. Ahmed

"There are two ways of expressing truth in architecture: to be true according to the program of
requirements or to be true according to the methods and means of construction."

Eugene Emmanuel Viollet Le Duc.


For architects who pioneered and developed the modern movement, the architectural theory of Viollet
le Duc was very useful, because it helped them to break free the historical past and the theoretical
tradition of earlier architecture. In our own times, when preservation is assuming a great urgency as
the continued development of modernity, Viollet Le Duc's ideas about preservation of old structures
have acquired a new import and offered valuable insights to patrons and builders alike. Viollet, is
generally acknowledged to be the premier theorist of modern architecture. He approached the theory
of architecture in terms of principles rather than rules. The application of these principles required the
formulation of a method. He developed hi architectural theory based on the rationalized interpretation
of architecture in general, and on Gothic architecture in particular; interpreting it as a logical structural
system. His theory on restoration was neither to bring a building back to the end of its evolution nor to
restore it to a pristine version of its original design. Rather it was, to rebuild it in a condition of
completeness that could never have existed at any given time before.
He proposed that a restoration must take changes into account and retain them. In other words, an
edifice should not be made like a new one, but should retain signs of wear and damage. One of his
cardinal rules was to respect the historical integrity of the building as it has come down to us. In this
we can see the reverence for the contextual guidance, which has become one of the principle tenets of
present day restoration. His argument is based on redefining the structure in a better condition,
stronger and more perfect way. As a result, the restored edifice would have a new sense of existence
capable of withstanding the ravages of time. Viollet le Duc's method of inductive analysis and
interpretive reconstruction; based on a comprehensive knowledge, would be the main line directing
our study for Norman Foster concepts and ideas on sustainability.

An attention to detail or a fascination with new technologies, are evident in almost every Foster
project. But it can be asserted that his real style is not so much a matter of external appearances as it is
a method. It is an attempt to reach towards a more efficient way of dealing with social and ecological
concerns. His energetic remarks on this point are very significant, "my buildings demonstrate that
architecture can be produced from a tough ecological situation, they are examples of ingenuity and
imagination" 2 Technology for Foster , is a means to an end besides the social dimension the structure

John Summerson. Viollet Le Duc and the Rational Point of View. London: Academy Editions Publications.
1980. P.169.
.2 Norman Foster. New Spirit in Architecture. New York: Rizzoli Publications, 1991. P. 17
must provide , " what I am focusing on , must be related to history , to social dimension , to energy
usage and to appropriate use of technology , these items have to come all together"3. For Foster, all
these elements contribute to the overall appearance and efficiency of the architecture.
Norman Foster was prepared to utilize unusual and non traditional features, concerning heat control, in
all his structures. He utilized in the HSBC Bank in Hong Kong, an air condition system which uses sea
water as a primary coolant pumped from the bay via a tunnel running 75 meters below ground level .
A" sun-scoop" consisting of 20 arrays of 24 mirrors each powered by a computer, programmed with
solar timetables, brings daylight into the heart of the building. Thus developing a sense of space &
light within the internal atrium of the structure. "You end up going an answer which is post
rationalization, by challenging preconceptions and finally reaching an architectural solution that is a
radical departure from traditional forms and answers."4
Certain types of modern architecture have been based on the rejection of historical precedents and on
being insensitive to the existing environmental considerations. Foster, on the contrary had redefined
the response of contemporary architecture to historically rich environments. He proved that beyond
addressing the question of context, modern structures can also break ground in such critical domains
as respect for the environment. Foster, is a pioneer in these ecological concerns and is able to
orchestrate energy efficiency, contextual and aesthetic demands within a given project. Style has
hardened into mannerism. Inspiration has been replaced by formulae and equations. Space and form
has been replaced by a diagrammatic conception.
Two of Foster's most prestigious and ambitious projects are the redevelopment of the German
Parliament, the Reichstag and the new building for London Authority. In the Berlin project, being a
symbol of the German Nation, after a first failed competition in 1871. Paul Wallot was chosen ten
years later to design the seat of the government. The history of the Reichstag is closely involved with
Germany's most difficult moments. From it's burning in 1933 to the political debate in 1995 to remake
a new seat for the united Germany. Foster entered with a design for an enormous canopy covering the
structure that finally led to the final solution. A new structure that is both symbolic and ecological to
finally make the building a self sufficient in its energy. "We are burning rapeseed oil to make
electricity, it is totally renewable. The waste product of the cogeneration which makes the electricity is
then fed through a heat absorption machine to produce free cooling that uses water as a medium."5
Using water as a medium shrinks the duct sizes down by a factor of more than one to three thousand.
Thus instead of moving huge volumes in great floor voids, you can move it in less than the diameter
of a drinking straw, Foster, insisted on utilizing the solar power as a renewal energy efficient medium.
Instead of releasing the excess generated energy to the surrounding atmosphere, he fed it back to the
ground. To a depth that is greater than the height of Eiffel Tower. A lake that is 300 meters below the
ground level. He can easily recover it in winter as a free source of heat, because it is stable below the
ground. "This is so efficient, that the Reichstag is no longer just its power plant, it is the power station
for a large complex of buildings that surround it. It is totally independent from the city utility grid."6
The system is so efficient, that in some cases it sells back into the national grid. Beyond the issues of
energy and space, Norman Foster emphasized his interest in the history of the Reichstag in terms of
space considerations within the structure itself. For him, the sense of history is heightened by the
presence of the new and today's architecture is made more intense in the context of the old. He
incorporated memories from the past into the old fabric of the building. Every portion that was
removed was replaced with better materials in a stronger and a more perfect way. The final edifice had
a renewed sense of existence. To state it plainly, a restoration can be more disastrous for a monument
than the ravages of the centuries. In this project, one truly does not know what is to be feared more.
Negligence, that truly allows what is threatened with ruin to fall to the ground or ignorant zeal that
adds, suppresses and ends by transforming an old structure into a new one devoid of any historical

Ibid, P. 12.
Ibid, P. 25.
Norman Foster. Violated Perfection. Architecture and The Fragmentation of The Modern. New York"
Rizzoli Publications, P. 125. 1994.
Marco Frascari. "Foster Projects," in Blue Print. New York. October 1994, P. 30.
interests. Foster design for the new German Parliament features a huge glass dome rising out of the
historical shell of the Reichstag. The structure works ecologically, reflecting natural light deep into the
heart of the chambers. The dome is also part of the natural ventilation for the building. It is powered
by a renewable source of energy. A funnel consisting of 360 pans of mirror glass that allows light to
penetrate is installed on the dome for this purpose. He decided to use thick walls as a counter
balancing reservoir for heat in winter and cold in summer. The ultra modern faade ensured minimum
energy losses through the large windows and the roof. The present building ranks, "as a genuine model
of sustainability and renewable energy."7

Andreas Papadakis. Free Space Architecture. London: Academy Editions Publications. P.11.
In Greater London Authority Building, Foster reconciled his work with nature within the compass of
one office building. It is an attempt to bring the park into the office space with light as a building
medium. It is an ecological tower with an internal atrium spiraling around the ellipsoidal form. In this
project, Foster insisted on the fact that the visible aspects of the building should be informed by its
internal concept. He is appealing for an architecture based on an indisputable quality. He provided an
energy efficient building using renewable sources of energy. Heat absorption machines convert
unwanted and excess heat into cooling agents. Unnecessary heat in summer is thermally stored deep in
the underground for future retrieval during winter. Natural ventilation is a priority and the roof
structure is an important part of the extracting thermal system. A revolving shield allows natural light
to be channeled into the main atrium without any solar gain. It is an ultra modern design with a great
respect to the existing environment. The outstanding feature of this structure is its sweeping curved
glass faade, which allowed the creation of a smooth external skin. Careful calculations of sun angles
and rays with the usage of concrete mass to cool the building; resulted in a pleasant internal
It is an energy efficient and a user friendly building; with a central atrium serving as "natural
ventilation chimney."8 It is model of democracy and sustainability. It is a public building bringing
visitors into close proximity with the working of the democratic process. More than half of the total
site area is given over to public space, including two large piazzas. Daylight is reflected into this space
by the ceilings pattern of concentric ellipses of mirror-polished stainless steel. From this space a half-
kilometer-long, gently rising public ramp coils through all ten stories to the top of the building. After
level 2 the ramp emerges inside the chamber and continues the rest of its rise directly above the heads
of the elected politicians. Each step up the ramp offers new and surprising views of London.
The buildings orientation and form have been designed to save energy. Its shape is derived from a
geometrically modified sphere, a form which contains the greatest volume with the least surface area.
The glazed facade of the assembly chamber faces north to minimize the amount of direct sunlight
falling on it and so minimizing the solar gain. The building leans back towards the south, where the
floor-plates step inwards to provide natural shading for the offices beneath. The building has a highly
integrated system of environmental controls to minimize its energy use. The perimeter office spaces
can be naturally ventilated by opening vents positioned below the windows.

Hugh Pearman. Contemporary World Architecture. New York: Phaidon Publications, 2002. P 167.
The buildings cooling system utilizes cold ground water pumped up via boreholes from the water
table that passes through chilled beams in the ceilings, avoiding the need for noisy chillers on the
roof. Analysis indicates that, as a result of the combination of these energy saving devices, the annual
energy consumption for the buildings mechanical systems will be approximately a quarter of a typical
air-conditioned office building .Advanced computer modeling techniques and innovative construction
techniques have been employed to achieve the geometry. Each of the glazing panels is unique in shape
and size.

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Steele, James. Architecture Today . New York: Taschen Publications, 2001.

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Toy, Maggue. Sci-Fi Architecture. London: Architectural Design Publications, 1999.

Barron, Iann. The Myth of High Tech. London: Architectural Design Publications, 2000.

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Jodidio, Philip. Formes Nouvelles des Architecture. New York: Tashcen Publications, 2001.

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MIT Press, 1990.

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Jencks, Charles. Architecture of the Jumping Universe. London: Academy Editions, 1996.

Jenks, Charles. The New Moderns. New York: Rizzoli Publications, 1995.

Nesbitt, Kate. Theorizing A New Agenda For Architecture. New York: Rizzoli Publications, 1995.

Harrison, Fraker. Speculations on Thermal Diagrams. London: Academy Editions, 1998.

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