Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62 has built tall buildings, and he’s built a lot of them.
The famous British architect stood before a Yale audience Monday night in the Yale University Art Gallery lecture hall, questioning his own work and tall buildings in general, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks that knocked skyscrapers to the ground in New York City. Foster discussed the history of disaster scenarios in tall buildings and outlined some options for skyscraper evacuation in the future in his contribution to the DeVane Lecture series.
Foster said he found it “impossible not to reflect” on the implications of last month’s terrorist attacks.
“This very well could be the end of the concept of the super-tall tower — or not,” he said.
Within his own work lies the question of safety in tall buildings.
Foster designed the glazed courtyard for the British Museum in London, Germany’s parliamentary building — the Reichstag — and several Hong Kong projects, such as the Hong Kong Millennium Tower. Foster said he is currently “reorganizing” Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
He also spoke on current disaster scenarios, particularly the effects of the 1992 Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in Norway on views of fire safety.
Foster compared the problems confronting American architects with those Britain faced after the 1992 Irish Republican Army bombing of the Baltic Exchange, a historic building in London. Eventually, Foster and his colleagues won the competition for rebuilding on the site. The new building, which is currently under construction, resembles a vertical plane wing.
Foster showed a diagram that backed his statement that the new design was very “mindful of energy” and incorporates the idea of aerodynamics, naturally pulling air down through the building. Not only does it waste much less heat than the surrounding buildings — similar to Foster’s other eco-friendly creations, the building also uses natural light through a feat of engineering and tons of glass paneling.
“It is impossible to separate use of natural light [from] economics, aesthetics and energy,” Foster said.
But, Foster added, he actually had to sacrifice some safety measures in the building to incorporate economics with energy efficiency.
As a possible solution to the safety problem, Foster discussed a potential addition to skyscrapers in the future. The United Kingdom, he said, “is the only country to have, by law, a firemen’s elevator” dedicated to the possibility of evacuation. These elevators hold eight people and are independently operated. This would potentially speed up the “phased evacuation” currently in mind for tall buildings.
Xinyuan Wang ARC ’03 found Foster’s architectural range mind-boggling.
“I don’t quite know where he’s going — what he’s going to do next,” Wang said.