In 2004, Foster & Partners completed this gorgeous Chesa Futura apartment building in Switzerland using a combination of modern modeling tools and ancient construction techniques. Situated on the edge of a steep slope, it is a humble but striking project that demonstrates deep respect for its spectacular natural environment.
Nearly a decade later and the firm is still at the cutting edge of design with accolades up the wazoo, but we have to ask, what happened? How did Norman Foster go from this project, which boasts carbon-absorbing larch shingles, to the glass and steel monstrosities that define so many of their so-called green developments in the Middle East?
Not all F&P projects in the Middle East are equally bad. Despite the critics, including the New York Times, we were deeply impressed by Masdar City’s beautiful red buildings after a visit last year, and especially value this gorgeous bank in Morocco which borrows heavily from Islamic vernacular architecture.
Even the splashy projects are noteworthy. Jordan’s Queen Alia airport’s roof is covered in energy-generating photovoltaic panels and harvest rainwater and night time condensation. The building naturally ventilated, energy efficient, and receive plenty of daylighting.
Likewise, Kuwait’s futuristic solar-powered passenger terminal is expected to be the first LEED Gold certified project of its kind in the Middle East, even though it relies on concrete – a decidedly non eco-friendly building material that has a high embodied carbon footprint.
We began to wonder whether the clientele is driving Foster’s design, since Arab countries have a (stereotypical) tendency to pull out projects like Hamad’s beach graffiti visible from space, and this white gold Mercedes – but one look at their design for Monaco’s Yacht Club and a host of other projects scattered throughout the globe suggests otherwise.
Perhaps the market for genuine sustainability has not yet matured. On the other hand, last year we penned a post questioning Foster & Partners sustainability. In it, we reported that of their projects in the Middle East, 3 in the UAE have” 9 zeros on their US dollar price tags: the Al Raha Beach Development, $15 billion, Aldar Central Market, $1.36 billion, and Masdar City, $22 billion.”
We concluded that “although each might be less energy intensive and require fewer raw materials than similar developments, these price tags are too heavy to be pegged sustainable.”
A series of recent posts on Green Prophet has caused us to renew our criticism of greenwashing. Our new writer Laurie – an architect based in Jordan – lambasted Turkey’s decidedly unsustainable new tower, but nothing puts our culture of excess into better perspective than this list of 13 principles of sustainable architecture conceived by a student of the Iranian earth architecture enthusiast Nader Khalili.
More on sustainable architecture in the Middle East: