On Monday 12 September 2016, the renowned architect Lord Norman Foster, together with Francis Aish, Head of Applied Research and Development at Foster + Partners, presented a public keynote lecture to the Advances in Architectural Geometry Conference (AAG2016) organised by the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication at ETH Zurich.
In this joint keynote they presented an overview of the design and construction development for the Mexico City International Airport. This lecture was not only a significant event for the AAG conference with over 450 participants in attendance, but it was also the first event to occur in the Arch_Tec_Lab, the new building of ETH Zurich’s Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA).
As introduction, Sacha Menz, Head of ETH Zurich’s Institute of Technology in Architecture, welcomed the audience to the presentation of Lord Foster and Francis Aish, and to the new Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, the venue for the evenings presentation. Menz’s enthusiasm for both the new building and the visit of Foster and Aish could be clearly felt. With great pleasure he welcomed the speakers by saying:
“I can not imagine a better set of first visitors than the two of you here.”
Impressions, Innovations, and Inspirations
After having spent the afternoon viewing a variety of research at the ETH Zurich, Lord Foster opened his remarks by stating:
“After today, I really wish I could go back in time and become a student here. Today was truly inspirational”.
In their keynote lecture, Foster and Aish jointly provided the audience with an insight into Foster + Partner’s development of the Mexico City International Airport project. At 470,000 square meters, it will be one of the world’s largest airports. The entire terminal will be enclosed within a continuous lightweight gridshell, blending the vertical supports with the roof in a single flowing form, evocative of flight. The project combines two strands of Foster + Partner’s past projects: on the one hand, it references the airport projects in Stansted, Hong Kong and Beijing, on the other hand its roof is an evolution of topological developments made in the roofs of the British Museum and Smithsonian Institution. What this new airport project impressively demonstrates is the increasing ability to develop very large-span structures through the computational application of statics, geometry and curvature.
The Advantages and Limits of Computational Tools for Architecture
Following the presentation, the ensuing questions and discussion readdressed the main topic of the AAG conference, specifically the role of computational tools for complex geometries in architecture. Martha Tsigkari, Associate Partner of Foster + Partners, joined Foster and Aish on stage and made a clear statement:
“Good Designers will be good computational designers”.
According to Lord Foster, the computer is an extraordinary tool, but it remains a tool; it is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Francis Aish concluded the consensus by noting:
“What is interesting, are the current developments towards the integration of computation and materialization through digital fabrication, as is clearly visible in the research and innovations emerging here at ETH Zurich”.