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Lord Norman Foster Speaks at the Winspear

Lord Norman Foster Speaks at the Winspear

Architects and architecture fans (and a formidable group of students from the Skyline High School architecture program) lined up by the hundreds this morning for Lord Norman Foster's talk at the Winspear.  There was definite excitement in the air.  As a couple of folks put it..."Can you imagine a line for an architecture lecture?"  "It's like trying to get into a club!"

Once inside, most people were getting their first look at the red glass drum of the Margaret McDermott Performance Hall and the gorgeous views of the Arts District and the rest of downtown through the glass facade and up into the enormous canopy.  Once the doors opened, we filed into the house and sat down for an introduction by John Dayton, the long-time Dallas Opera supporter who headed the committee that awarded Foster + Partners the opera house commission.

Foster, in pastel suit (and almost hidden by the Mac on the podium), began by stressing three major themes that he says run through most of his firm's work.  They were to become themes of the talk as well.  CITIES.  CULTURE. NATURE.  Our report won't be strictly along that structure, but here are some highpoints.

Foster and his firm are clearly interested not just in buildings, but in the development of cities and the importance of sustainability.  He showed quite a few slides demonstrating the statistics that seem to drive their design work.   That 70% of all energy usage comes from buildings and the infrastructure needed to connect those buildings.  The spike in population growth and the progression of people moving from rural to more urban environments.

We then saw a series of projects...Commerzbank in Germany and the Swiss Re Headquarters in London among them...that use atria to gather natural lighting and ventilation.  And the resulting energy savings.  But, already, one had the clear impression that this was not a science wonk building structures solely to meet statistical measures.  It's clear that Foster is also profoundly interested in the comfort and user-friendliness of his buildings.

Foster + Partners has also had a hand in transforming historic buildings.  Foster demonstrated how the design of the Hearst Tower "scooped out" the interior of the original 1929 building and placed a tower on top.  The same "scooping out" cleared a plaza in the center of the British Library and breathed new life into this mid-19th century building.  Similar rejuvenating projects at London's Trafalgar Square and Berlin's Reichstag stress the importance that Foster places on public access.  The cupola of the Reichstag (inspired in part by Foster's long association with Buckminster Fuller) creates a public space that sits literally on top of the main Parliament chamber. And Trafalgar Square was returned to pedestrians after years of being a good environment for only the pigeons, as Foster put it.

After a few images of the Beijing Airport (there's that red again...), Foster turned our attention to the Winspear.  Remarking that he found Dallas to be remarkably pedestrian-friendly, he discussed the collaborative process that building architects and landscape architects employed to make the spaces between the arts center buildings inviting and comfortable...even in the brutal Texas heat.  The canopy, greenery and water features are all designed to help cool the space, to turn it into an urban room. He also pointed out that the traditional closed opera house was open to more public view at the Winspear.  The canopy makes the transparent glass facade possible; he calls it "transparency without the penalties."  On the interior, the performance hall is a traditional horseshoe shape with better sightlines...and roomier seats, I might add...than the most-respected European halls.

His last remarks (which I cannot do justice to here in the space allotted) was on the fascinating Masdar project in Abu Dhabi.  Elevated 25 feet off the desert floor, the walled city within a city uses both traditional and technologically innovative methods in its pursuit to be the first truly carbon neutral development on the planet.  For more on it(including the really cool Jetsons-like driverless personal rapid transports that you can beckon from your cell phone), visit here and here.

 

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