Star architect Norman Foster talks about "the green agenda" and the nature of sustainability. Green is the most important item in today's agenda, he says, "and green is cool". All the projects that are inspired by the green agenda are about a celebratory lifestyle, celebrating the places and the spaces which determine quality of life. He quotes Thomas Friedman about the most important thing that happened in 2006: "that living and thinking green hit main street". When did that kind of awareness of the planet first appear? Foster tracks it back to the first "outside" pictures of the Earth, at the end of the 1960s, which effectively gave birth to the environmental movement. Before the collapse of the URSS, Foster says, I was privileged to meet several cosmonauts: they were the first true environmentalists, they were filled with pioneering passion.
The digital revolution is coming to the point where the virtual world finally connects with the physical world. The digital is becoming humanized. It has the friendliness, immediacy, orientation of the real world. How have computers transformed architecture and our approach to cities? A typical energy consumption pattern in industrial societies is 22% industry, 8% transportation of goods, 26% transportation of people, 44% buildings. "This means that 70% of our total energy consumption is influenced by the way our cities and our infrastructure are designed". How are they designed? Take Detroit, very car dependent, the city expands, consuming more and more land and energy. If you compare Detroit with a city like Munich or other European cities, where walking, cycling and public transportation play a bigger role, a city that's only twice as dense is really using only one-tenth of the energy. If you want to generalize you can demonstrate that as the density increases, the energy consumption is dramatically reduced (he shows graphs).
Can computers help design "greener" buildings? In the late 60s-early 70s Foster designed the Willis Building in Ipswich (UK), with a garden on the roof that is at a time an insulating layer and a community space. Since, computers have made it possible to design more celebratory architectures. He runs through examples of his work: the library of the Free University in Berlin (picture above right) also known as "the brain", whose design enables the building to be ventilated to consume radically less energy, "really working with the forces of nature" (one-third of the energy consumption of a typical library); the Chesa Futura, a wooden apartment building in the Swiss Alps (picture above left) that was entirely plotted by computers so that the building components could be cut by machine with a very high precision, "and then we covered them with the oldest technology: hand-cut wood shingles"; the Gerkin in London; etc. "Technology is now available to create buildings so clean that are basically pollution-free".
He closes by pointing at two major projects. The Dead Sea is, well, dying, but there is a project to rescue it by creating a pipe to bring in water from the Red Sea, 170 km away. "What if instead of being only a pipe it was a lifeline, used as the centerpiece of the transformation of the whole region?". Large-scale infrastructure is also inseparable from communication, which, be it virtual or physical, is central to society. China in the next 10 years will build 400 new airports. Foster is working on the new one in Beijing, which will be huge, but he wants it to be "green and compact despite its size": "it will be about the human experience of travel". Foster ends with this line: "Who is going to crack our dependence on fossil fuels? Inspiration is more likely to come from China, India and other emerging countries" than from the US and Europe.