While departments across the University are counting pennies in the present economic climate, the School of Architecture has netted a seven-figure donation.

Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62 , a Pritzker Prize laureate and the chairman and founder of London-based architecture firm Foster + Partners, donated $3 million to endow a visiting professorship program at the Architecture School, University President Richard Levin announced Tuesday.

“With this generous gift, one of the school’s most distinguished graduates, Norman Foster, is allowing us to use his name to attract to the Yale faculty the most prominent architects of their times for generations to come,” Levin said in a press release.

The chair, called the Lord Norman R. Foster Visiting Professorship in Architecture, will allow leading practitioners from all over the world to teach Yale architecture students. The first appointee will be Alejandro Zaera-Polo, co-founder of London-based Foreign Office Architects. Zaera-Polo will assume his position in fall 2010.

In an interview with the News, School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said Zaera-Polo’s experience working on the award-winning Yokohama International Port Terminal project in Japan gives him the “extra dimension of internationality” consistent with Foster’s vision.

“[Foster] hopes this position will bring many more international practitioners to Yale,” Stern said. “Yale’s cosmopolitanism will not only continue but blossom even more.”

But Foster said the endowment is more than a means to continue his vision for internationality in architecture.

“It is a recognition of my personal gratitude to the United States and my commitment to Yale and education,” Foster said in the release. “My time at Yale and the people I was exposed to there influenced and inspired my practice for more than 40 years and continue to do so. I hope this gift will similarly inspire future generations of students.”

Foster’s firm is designing the new campus for the Yale School of Management, a 246,000-square-foot complex on Whitney Avenue with an estimated cost of $180 to $200 million. SOM administrators are pressing forward with the plan, relying on gift funding while most capital projects have been suspended because of the recession.

While Foster’s own gift comes at a time of economic difficulty when the University is making budget cuts across all departments, Stern said Foster had been considering ways to give back to the University for a long time. Foster approached Stern a few years ago because he wanted to do something for the school to express his gratitude, Stern said. After discussing various possibilities, the two settled on the visiting professorship in order to bring international practitioners to Yale.

“[Foster] has always thanked Yale for exposing him to the wide world of ideas,” Stern said. “He didn’t have that in his previous restricted education in England. Yale provided him with that.”

Though Stern said the visiting professorship will be reserved primarily for international architects, he did not rule out other possibilities.

“Of course, if there is a horrible conflagration, we would appoint an American,” Stern said.