Norman Foster – an Architect Building the Future. Projects in the United Arab Emirates
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Norman Foster – architect and designer. Closely associated with the development of High-tech architecture and the early adoption of energy-efficient construction techniques. Foster is recognized as one of the key figure in modernist architecture.
His architectural practice Foster + Partners maintains offices internationally.
He is the President of the Norman Foster Foundation, created to ‘promote interdisciplinary thinking and research to help new generations of architects, designers and urbanists to anticipate the future’. The foundation, which opened in June 2017, is based in Madrid and operates globally.

Norman Foster is a world-famous architect. His projects are recognizable; they become iconic architectural symbols of cities around the world. Being the author of many high-tech buildings, as well as the winner of both the Pritzker Prize and the Imperial Prize established in Japan, he has made and continues to make a significant contribution to world of architecture. Modern airport buildings appeared owing to him. Previously, they were built in the same way: low-rise, without windows, with all engineering located at the top. Norman Foster was an innovator: he transferred engineering equipment down, designed soaring roofs, and began to use skylights. His priority tasks include not only the visual image of the building but also a careful study of units and details. His projects are distinguished by clear, laconic design.

Norman Foster pioneered the use of recycled materials, alternative energy sources and natural ventilation in office spaces. He began to introduce this into his projects even when technologies were just emerging. Almost every project of his receives the status of one of the most sustainable buildings in the world. For many years, Foster has been developing multifunctional complexes that combine offices, residential and commercial spaces, shopping, sports and leisure areas. In the architect’s opinion, this concept is very relevant for big cities and, among other things, will help reduce city traffic, which will have a positive effect on the environment.

Now the whole world is eagerly awaiting the opening of the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi in 2022, on the creation of which the Foster + Partners architectural bureau is working.

Zayed National Museum, Abu Dhabi, 2022

Conceived as a monument and memorial to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the UAE, the Zayed National Museum will become the centrepiece of the cultural area of ​​Saadiyat Island and showcase the history, culture, and socio-economic transformation of the Emirates. In terms of architecture, the goal was to combine a highly efficient, contemporary form with elements of traditional Arab design and hospitality to create a museum that will be a sustainable cultural symbol for its place.

The Zayed National Museum will have seven permanent exhibitions and an exhibition program that will allow visitors to explore the history, heritage, and culture of the UAE, as well as the UAE’s place in the world. Each gallery is inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s values: his belief in education, conservation, heritage and culture.

Paying tribute to Sheikh Zayed’s love for nature and his incredible efforts to plant greenery in the Emirates, the museum is set in a complex landscaped garden.

Sustainability and the use of natural elements are essential components of Foster’s projects. Thus, when designing the museum, the architect placed the galleries inside the mound, the shape of which is a metaphor for the topography of the Emirates. Five lightweight steel structures, aerodynamically shaped to act as solar thermal towers, rise above it.

The heat at the top of the towers causes the air to rise vertically through the galleries due to the heat stack effect, which is used to ventilate buildings naturally. Air vents open at the top of the wing towers to let hot air outside. Fresh air is also trapped at a low level and, passing through underground cooling pipes, enters the museum lobby.

Balancing light steel structures and a laconic interior, capsule-shaped galleries are suspended above the central lobby, which has dramatic top lighting. The space combines shops, cafes and venues for musical and scientific events. The entire space is filled with a play of light and shadow, and structurally positioned openings capture and channel the intense sunlight from this region to illuminate and animate these voluminous interior spaces.

For the United Arab Emirates, Norman Foster has created several architectural projects that have become iconic images for a dynamically developing country. In each of them, he followed the mission of creating a high-tech, modern, eco-friendly facility with respect for local history, culture and traditions.

The following stand out among them:

House of Wisdom, Sharjah, 2021

From the architect’s point of view, the role of libraries in the life of modern communities must be rethought. Considered primarily as a repository of books and periodicals for a long time, the library acquires new opportunities and prospects in the 21st century.

House of Wisdom sees the library as an innovative and technological social learning centre.

In 2019, the Director-General of UNESCO declared Sharjah the World Book Capital. The challenge for the architect and the city was to create a new publishing and research institution that would aim to be the catalyst for a new cultural quarter in the city.

The laconic two-storey building of the library embodies the image of clarity and lightness. A large floating roof protrudes from all sides of the transparent rectilinear volume of the building. A 15-meter-wide eave shades the facades during most of the day, while fixed aluminium screens filter out low sunlight in the evenings. And the movable bamboo screens on the lower level can be used to control bright light when needed. When the bamboo screens are not in use and remain open, the building maintains a visual connection to the landscaped garden.

ICD Brookfield Place, 2020, Dubai

ICD Brookfield Place is an office and retail complex located in the heart of the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) area. The multifunctional complex includes a 53-storey tower located in an urban environment that marks its location and positively changes the environment. The building is part of a vibrant neighbourhood, creating high-quality living and working spaces.

The peculiarity of this complex is a magnificent five-storey summer garden – an unusual public space that is the social centre of the complex. The summer garden, located to the north of the tower, is shaded by the office tower for most of the day, creating a comfortable outdoor space throughout the day, including for events, forming the new social centre at DIFC.

The project envisions a diagonal route through a narrow section, creating a new direct pedestrian link between Al Saada Street and the Promenade. This forms a natural line that leads to the summer garden, changing the geometry of the office block.

The distinctive shape of the office tower is due to the structural and environmental conditions. When viewed from Al Saada Street, the tower is positioned on the visual axis, and the four-storey A-frame provides stability to the building while creating a significant visual entrance to the building. The social centre deliberately focuses on a low active level above the ground and forms one of the most unusual office spaces in the city.

Residential Towers, Al Reem Island, 2020 – Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Al Reem Island residential and commercial complex is currently under construction on a natural island of over 600 hectares off the north-eastern coast of Abu Dhabi. When completed, it will house nearly 300,000 residents and include schools, medical clinics, shopping centres, restaurants, sports facilities, hotels, resorts, spas, gardens and beaches. Foster + Partners has designed two prominent residential towers on the island, located on the main pedestrian boulevard that runs parallel to the Grand Canal.

The shape of the towers evolved in response to the climate. The buildings are tilted at a 50-degree angle on the site to create a stronger east and west facade and avoid sunlight. The south facade is punctuated by shaded interior balconies. Blurring the boundaries between outdoor and indoor spaces, the doors to these balconies can be opened to create an outdoor “room” during cooler seasons. Horizontal beams are embedded along the solid western facade to let daylight in and prevent sun heat from entering. If viewed from the inside, these glazed strips are framed to create panoramic viewpoints. Terraces and glazing are additionally built into the facades.

The volumes of the towers vary in height at random so that the buildings look like a group of small towers. Rooftop gardens are located above the lower tiers and descend to the Grand Canal pedestrian boulevard.

Apple Dubai Mall, 2017 – Dubai, UAE

The Apple Dubai Mall design showcases Apple’s pioneering ambition to create inspiring public spaces.  The Apple Dubai Mall design is a celebration of light that creates a special atmosphere. Reinterpreting the beautiful traditional Arabian Mashrabiya, the ground-breaking Solar Wings softly shade the outdoor deck during the day and open in the evening to showcase the “best place in the house” with breath-taking views of the embankment and fountains. The Sun Wings and their movements are inspired by the outstretched wings of a falcon. They are also a theatrical element of space – a symbiosis of kinetic art and engineering. The wings are a subtle blend of form and function, and will certainly cause admiration of the space and its transformation.

Masdar City,  2014,  Abu Dhabi, UAE

Masdar City combines the most modern technology with the planning principles of traditional Arab settlements to create a community committed to zero carbon and zero waste. The 600-hectare project is a key component of the Masdar Initiative, set up by the government of Abu Dhabi to promote the development of renewable energy and clean technologies for life beyond oil development and production. The city will become a centre for promoting new ideas in the field of energy production with the aim of attracting specialists of the highest level. The knowledge gained here has already helped develop the Estidama[1] Abu Dhabi rating system for sustainable construction.

[1] Estidama is a building design methodology for the construction and operation of buildings and communications. The program is a key aspect of the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 initiative to build the emirate of Abu Dhabi in line with innovative environmental standards. “Estidama” is an Arabic word for sustainability. The program itself is not a green building rating system like LEED or BREEAM but rather a set of ideals.  Within Estidama, however, is a green building rating system called the Pearl Rating System that is utilized to evaluate sustainable building development practices in Abu Dhabi. The Estidama program is mandatory in Abu Dhabi. All buildings must achieve a minimum 1 Pearl Rating, and all government-funded buildings must achieve a minimum 2 Pearl Rating.

The complex is divided into two sectors, connected by a linear park, and is being built in stages, starting with a large sector. The master plan is designed to be very flexible so that it can apply new emerging technologies and take into account the lessons learnt from the initial stages. While Masdar’s design represents a specific response to its location and climate, its core principles apply worldwide. In this sense, it is a blueprint for a sustainable city of the future.

Masdar Institute, 2015 – Abu Dhabi, UAE

Norman Foster

The Masdar Institute is the first part of a large Masdar City master plan to be implemented. It creates an educational hub for the entire program. The Institute embodies the principles and goals of creating a prototype for a sustainable city and is the first building to be fully powered by renewable solar energy. The project includes many passive and active environmental strategies and is used as a testing ground for sustainable technologies to be investigated for implementation in future Masdar City buildings.

The institute’s residences and laboratories are designed to shade both the adjoining buildings and the pedestrian streets below.

Horizontal and vertical ribs, as well as brise soleil, which reduce the flow of heat into the building by deflecting sunlight, shade the laboratories. Cooling air flows through public spaces using a modern interpretation of the region’s traditional wind towers, while the green landscape and water provide evaporative cooling.

Windows in residential buildings are protected by a modern interpretation of mashrabiya, a type of lattice projection window constructed from sustainable glass concrete and painted in the colour of sand to integrate into the desert, while perforations for light and shade are based on patterns of traditional Islamic architecture.

World Trade Center Souk, 2014 – Abu Dhabi, UAE

Norman Foster

Abu Dhabi Central Market is one of the oldest places in the city. Inspired by the traditional architecture of the Persian Gulf, this project aims to reimagine the market square, giving the city a new community centre. Offering an alternative to the globalized one-stop shopping mall, it creates a beautiful modern interpretation of the Arab market. It combines luxury boutiques with food markets and handicrafts. As in the traditional marketplace, these different experiences combine architecture, with patches of sunshine, vibrant flowers and fountains, and the changing rhythm of squares, courtyards and alleys. Up to six months of the year, the climate is comfortable enough to walk and sit outside. This inspired the creation of a series of public routes and squares, in which barriers between the inner and outer world have disappeared. Open both day and night, these new spaces are an important centrepiece in the city during festivals and celebrations and are naturally cooled when conditions permit. During the rest of the year, spaces can be fenced with panels that allow for more careful indoor environment control. The roof and interior panels pattern continue from the outside, enveloping the building in a textured facade. The design of the panels is based on octagonal shapes that refer to the traditional zellij tiles. Continuing the concept of planting greenery in Abu Dhabi, the area is landscaped, and the roofs of the buildings form a series of terraced gardens.

Index Tower, 2011 – Dubai, UAE

Norman Foster

Index Tower constitutes an important part in the Dubai International Financial Center, a financial district designed to make Dubai an investment market that rivals Hong Kong and New York and which serves as a catalyst for further economic growth in the region. Balancing a mix of residential, commercial and social use to support the Financial Center and the broader community, the 80-storey building is a vertical urban block of about 6,000 residents and workers on a 20,000 square meter site.

The floors are supported by four A-frame concrete “ribs” that become narrower the higher they go, creating a thin profile that reveals the building’s structural system and internal organization. Twenty-five floors of office space are clustered at the base of the tower, offering views of the coastline from the living quarters above. The various functions are separated by an impressive two-level, fully glazed lobby with panoramic views, forming a horizontal break in the facade outside the building.

Index Tower uses an environmental paradigm to maximize the environmental benefits of a compact high-rise building with an efficient design that reduces the need for mechanical cooling systems and artificial lighting. Oriented from east to west, tilted away from the city’s axis to increase visibility and reduce solar radiation, the bulk of the building absorbs heat and limits its dependence on mechanical ventilation. A sun visor system covers interiors in the open, southern highlands. The entrance is via an impressive four-storey atrium and towers on a landscaped podium that provide shady walking paths through the territory.

Norman Foster
Norman Foster

Of course, Foster’s bureau will have many more wonderful projects in the United Arab Emirates. And based on the projects already implemented, we can confidently conclude that beauty and innovation in architecture are essential for this architect, just as much as his mission – the integration of architecture into the climatic and geographical features of the region and the use of natural elements to help the functioning of architecture and the lives of people in it. There is no doubt that Foster has introduced ideas and concepts into modern architecture, without which modern cities can no longer be imagined. It is safe to say that Norman Foster is building the cities of the future: concise, beautiful, environmentally friendly, connected with nature, comfortable for life and respecting the culture and traditions of each region.

You may also be interested in the article  Zaha Hadid in the United Arab Emirates. An Architect Ahead of her Time

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