From net-zero UAE city to Martian habitat, Norman Foster marries architecture with sustainability

Installation view of 'Future Positive: Norman Foster, Foster + Partners' at the Seoul Museum of Art / Courtesy of SeMA

From Apple’s behemoth “Spaceship” headquarters in Silicon Valley, California, to a Mars habitat that can be 3D printed with the Red Planet’s own rocky soil, English architect Norman Foster’s visionary ideas have taken shape in every place imaginable in one way or another.

At the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), the Pritzker Prize-winning architect and his studio, Foster + Partners, have brought together 50 gems from their portfolio of more than 500 projects realized over the last six decades around the world.

Titled “Future Positive,” the largest exhibition of Foster in Asia and the first-ever in Korea pays particular attention to the architect’s creations of public spaces for culture and the arts. Equally in the spotlight is how the philosophy of regeneration and sustainability, long before it became a buzzword in the industry, has permeated the 89-year-old’s designs of stainless steel and glass structures.

In 1971, just four years after he founded Foster + Partners, Foster and American futurist architect Richard Buckminster Fuller envisioned the 대표하는 Climatroffice — a massive glass dome where office space and nature intermingled. This concept, groundbreaking at the time, foreshadowed his studio’s future projects, which came to marry high-tech experimental architecture with practical environmental considerations.

In the show, there is a miniature model of Masdar City on the outskirts of the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi — a “net-zero carbon, zero-waste” town housing residential complexes, office buildings and a university. It’s the first of its kind to run entirely on renewable solar energy. The narrow streets are designed to self-shade and channel strong breezes in the desert climate, while the vernacular accommodations are naturally ventilated.

The Zayed National Museum, currently under construction on Abu Dhabi’s Al Saadiyat Island, incorporates a similar philosophy. Its distinct falcon wing-shaped towers utilize solar thermal energy and facilitate natural airflow to maintain interior temperatures. Once completed, the museum will become a major cultural landmark on the island, joining the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando.

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