Lord Norman Foster: "The final design is always a synthesis between performance and aesthetics"

24 July 2017

To celebrate the assault of the terraces, we looked at the place of the outside world in our daily life. Guided tour of a world rethought for us by Lord Norman Foster, pioneer of "permeable" architecture.

How did you come up with the idea of creating hybrid spaces that blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space?

I began my career working with Buckminster Fuller on several projects, including Climatroffice - a giant structure that contained its own ecosystem. The possibility of creating a microclimate with plants was studied with the aim of minimizing the barriers between the interior and exterior worlds. This study greatly influenced my subsequent work such as the offices for Willis Faber or Swiss Re in London and the Free University library in Berlin. This idea was able to develop thanks to technological advances and the invention of new materials. We have systematically integrated this research to achieve projects such as the courtyard of the British Museum and Crossrail Place in London, or the airport of Mexico City.

You use a lot of plants inside your structures, whether for commercial projects, private projects or offices. What do you expect from nature?

We are human beings. Our bodies instinctively respond to the rhythm of nature, and science has proved that we are performing better in places lit with natural light than with artificial light. The ability to look out of the window increases our sense of well-being and productivity.

We also understand the world through our five senses, "allesthesia" describes the dependence of the perception of pleasure through these stimuli. This is how we feel connected: a cool breeze in summer is more pleasant than a constant temperature room. Asymmetry and the perception of change give us more pleasure than a monotonous stability. Integrating nature into a building - visually and physically - quickly became obvious.

You are the architect of the prestigious brain research center, Lily and Edmond Safra Center for Brain Sciences, and Apple's new headquarters in Cupertino, California, designed to accommodate 12,000 people in the middle of a giant park. Both structures will be inaugurated in the coming weeks. How did you use green spaces to create connections between people and encourage their creativity?

The project for the Safra Center is like a microcosm, with the same challenges: how to create a sense of community, sharing knowledge and supporting collective projects that have a common goal? It took us months of research and discussion with future users of these structures. The great scientific discoveries are made in the laboratory, but the ideas often come from exchanges between colleagues, around a coffee. We have therefore proposed spaces to encourage these encounters, by integrating trees and vegetation to bring in the landscape. There will also be a courtyard in the heart of the building, with a retractable roof to adapt to the warmth of the area. Space is directly thought to connect people with nature.

In the same way, Apple Park, the Apple campus, will redefine the relationship between sustainable development and creativity. The design is entirely thought out around the relationship of the building with the landscape. Before, the site was a pile of buildings separated by car parks. The concept of a single structure allowed the creation of 40 hectares of park and more than 9,000 trees. Cars are visually absent; The tarmac has been replaced by a green space, parking by 5 km of trails for joggers and cyclists. The glass building makes the space permeable, there is no longer any delimitation between what is inside and what is outside.

With the creation of structures where everything becomes visible from the outside and vice versa, is there still room for privacy and privacy?

Creating flexible spaces does not mean that there is no more privacy. The important thing is to ensure that each building meets the unique needs of its users. For example, at the Safra Center, we have designed a series of laboratories adapted to the research methods of scientists. Some work better in isolation, others need space to collaborate. It was important for us to integrate these specific needs into the design, while maintaining a universal meaning for future generations.

Other projects, such as the design of a yacht, have a specific need for privacy. People spend most of their time outdoors in the sun and must then be able to isolate themselves. We must find the right balance between public and private spaces, with the constraints given. For the YachtPlus the design has been adapted to widen the outdoor spaces to the maximum, and create next to small private and isolated cocoons.

Speaking of the YachtPlus ... this series of 41-meter boats can sail on the ocean, offers several seating areas, two tables for up to ten guests, with a range of 950 nautical miles. Before the means of transport used to go from point A to point B. Did traveling become as important - or even more important - than the destination?

I believe that the journey is just as important as the destination. In the end, everything is a matter of experience. Our mission is to create yachts that are beautiful, safe, easy and enjoyable to use. The final design is always a synthesis between performance and aesthetics. In this sense, the creative process is much like that of a potter, who creates his vase gradually ... it is an exploration. The vase must be both aesthetic, standing and waterproof! The yacht must also comply with hydraulic requirements with a suitable hull and several centers of gravity ... and it must be magnificent. There is no separation between form and function.

With the YachtPlus, our inspiration came from nature, the movement of sharks and dolphins in the water. The superstructure was moved and the bow of the yacht was raised to reinforce this effect. The final shape is soft and envelops the living space to give a totally homogeneous style.

You have also collaborated with NetJets. How did you adapt the design to the needs of the different users for this project?

I was always fascinated by planes. I piloted several types of gear - helicopters, racing gliders, ultralight, old cuckoos and jets. I have competed in aerobatic flying and today I am in love with everything related to aeronautics. I have the chance to combine this passion and my experience with Design. For NetJets the space is organized around the privacy and discretion of the service. Again we talked to the customers as much as the sailing staff and all those in charge of the technique. The part reserved for the staff is darker to avoid problems of reflections in flight. We also used sheepskins in the cockpit, the favorite material of the drivers. The real luxury is to be able to offer an experience adapted to different needs in a given space.

Foster + Partners

Founded in 1967 by Lord Norman Foster350 projects1,400 people20 offices worldwide

Some achievements:

Willis Faber Offices 

Swiss Re Building 

Berlin Free University Library

Masdar Institute 

Crossrail Place, London 


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