“As an architect, you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.”

Norman Foster: The Architect Who Pioneered Sustainable Design - Sheet1
Sir Norman Foster_©Jude Edginton

Sir Norman Robert Foster is a world-renowned British architect and designer who has been at the forefront of sustainable and innovative design for over five decades. Foster honed his craft at the University of Manchester in England before embarking on further education in the United States to study at Yale in New Haven. Upon finishing his education in 1963, he partnered with Richard and Su Rogers, along with his wife Wendy, to start working in a firm named Team 4. 

In 1967, he founded Foster Associates, which later evolved into Foster + Partners, a global practice responsible for some of today’s most iconic and sustainable buildings. With project offices in more than 20 countries, Foster’s designs have pushed the boundaries of what is possible, challenging conventional thinking and inspiring new generations of architects to create buildings that are not only functional but also beautiful and sustainable.

Designing Tomorrow: Unveiling the Visionary’s Insights 

As a visionary architect, Norman Foster subscribes to the belief that connecting architecture, design, technology, and the arts can create more meaningful and impactful societal structures. His designs showcase a seamless fusion of modernist aesthetics and high-tech innovation while prioritising sustainability. These designs also focus on incorporating a spectrum of materials such as steel and glass in innovative ways to their maximum capacity. However, for Foster, buildings are more than just physical structures; they are multi-faceted entities that tell stories about their creation, purpose, and place within the urban landscape. He champions the importance of acknowledging these stories and preserving them as a vital part of architectural planning. Foster’s approach also extends to designing buildings that emphasise the need to comprehend the wider urban context to create structures that harmonise with and enhance the city’s public infrastructure, artistic expression and individual buildings.

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A Peek into Norman Foster’s Sketchbooks_©Norman Foster Foundation

Transformative Approaches to Sustainability

Norman Foster’s approach to sustainability is around a responsive framework that prioritises sustainable design and the comfort and well-being of its users. His environmentally conscious designs aim to challenge conventional practices by reducing energy consumption and fostering a connection with nature. This philosophy has been a key element of their work for over five decades. 

The practice collaborates closely with clients to create customised design solutions tailored to their specific needs and aligned with environmental goals. The team has a range of specialised in-house expertise, including carbon impact assessments, environmental analysis, materials research, landscape and workplace design and environmental and structural engineering. Their commitment to sustainability extends beyond the design and construction phases, as they monitor the building’s performance while in use.

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A Sustainable Design for Budapest’s Tallest Tower by Foster + Partners_©Foster+Partners

In 2019, Foster + Partners took a giant leap towards a sustainable future by launching a comprehensive sustainability manifesto that sets out their ambitious plan for designing buildings that go beyond current environmental standards to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. This methodology, incorporated in all present projects, seeks to quantify the total carbon emissions produced over a building’s life cycle, from design and construction to fit-out and refurbishment. Rather than focusing solely on energy used by building occupants, Foster + Partners’ methodology strongly emphasises reducing the embodied carbon in the project to lead the charge toward a more sustainable future, one that places the environment at the forefront of design.

The Foster+Partners’ Responsibility Framework(FRF) is employed across all projects to measure sustainability performance and gather vital data for tracking, auditing, and reporting progress. The FRF spans ten central themes, including promoting the well-being of occupants, evaluating community impact, addressing energy and carbon concerns, enhancing mobility and connectivity, minimising waste generation, conserving water, preserving land and ecology, fostering prosperity, planning for change, and gathering feedback. Through its comprehensive framework, the Sustainability Group aims to drive sustainability across all of its projects and inspire positive environmental impact.

Beyond Green: A Showcase of Sustainable Projects 

With a legacy spanning 50 years, Foster + Partners has been at the forefront of sustainable architecture, creating remarkable projects that showcase the power of design to make a positive impact. Join us as we explore a few of these innovative projects. 

Norman Foster: The Architect Who Pioneered Sustainable Design - Sheet4
Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters, Ipswich, United Kingdom_©Francisdesign

Foster’s commitment to sustainable design began long before it became trendy, exemplified by the Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters building – a stunning display of environmentally conscious architecture even by today’s standards. Despite the need for a small office tower, Foster prioritised contextual integrity, resulting in a modest three-story building that adheres to the surrounding Medieval street plan. 

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The Gherkin_©Alex Tai

The English capital boasts numerous remarkable buildings designed by Norman Foster, among which stands out the Swiss Re headquarters, completed in 2004, known as the Gherkin. Its glass exterior provides stunning views and natural light and facilitates energy-efficient ventilation. By incorporating several atria across various floors, the need for air conditioning is greatly reduced.

Interior forest of olive trees in the Copenhagen Towers_©Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

In 2015, sustainability was at the forefront of the construction of the Copenhagen Towers, nestled in the vibrant Orestad district. The landmark project encompasses a towering 22-story office edifice crowned by a “green heart” atrium, complete with a picturesque grove of olive trees. Norman Foster’s exceptional use of locally sourced and recycled materials in constructing the Copenhagen Towers has set a new benchmark for ecological building ventures.

Foster’s numerous awards and accolades, including the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Stirling Prize, and RIBA Gold Medal, are a testament to his unwavering commitment to excellence in the field of architecture. His visionary works, which can be found in various corners of the world, have not only redefined the built environment but also continue to inspire generations of architects to come.


Norman Foster’s buildings: High-tech and Sustainable Architecture Gira. Available at: https://www.gira.com/en/en/g-pulse-magazine/architecture/norman-foster-buildings#copenhagen-towers (Accessed: May 7, 2023).

Gintoff, V. (2015) 7 buildings that show Norman Foster’s architecture has always been ahead of the curve, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/773954/7-buildings-that-show-norman-fosters-architecture-has-always-been-ahead-of-the-curve/5600cc80e58ecedc57000197-7-buildings-that-show-norman-fosters (Accessed: May 7, 2023).

Projects Foster + Partners. Available at: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects (Accessed: May 7, 2023).

Tom Ravenscroft |12 December 2019 Leave a comment (2022) Foster + Partners Launches Sustainability Manifesto, Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/12/12/foster-partners-sustainability-manifesto-climate-change/ (Accessed: May 7, 2023).

At COP26, Norman Foster speaks about the primacy of cities in the fight against climate change (no date) Archinect. Available at: https://archinect.com/news/article/150287328/at-cop26-norman-foster-speaks-about-the-primacy-of-cities-in-the-fight-against-climate-change (Accessed: May 7, 2023).

Giovannini, J. (2017) The Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid is an architecture lover’s dream, Architectural Digest. Architectural Digest. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/norman-foster-foundation (Accessed: May 7, 2023).


Lakshmi is an architect with a degree from SCMS School of Architecture. She believes the most captivating stories are often found in the most unexpected places and is always looking for new places and people to inspire her writing. When she's not crafting blueprints, you can find her lost in a novel, scribbling away in her journal or even wielding a paintbrush.