norman foster constructs droneport prototype at the venice architecture biennale
image © designboom

 

 

 

billed as ‘the world’s smallest airport‘, a full-scale prototype of the norman foster-designed ‘droneport’ has been assembled at the 15th international architecture exhibition. the proposal — the inaugural project of the norman foster foundation — seeks to create a network of similar facilities capable of delivering medical supplies and other necessities to inaccessible regions. the ambition is that every small town in africa, and other emerging economies, will have its own droneport by the year 2030.

 

 

making the droneport prototype
video courtesy of the norman foster foundation

 

 

 

the pilot project, which will be launched later this year, is based in rwanda — a country whose physical and social geography poses multiple challenges. the initial plan for three buildings, to be completed by 2020, will enable the network to send supplies to 44% of rwanda. subsequent phases of the project could see in excess of 40 droneports across the country, potentially saving thousands of lives. rwanda’s central location could also allow easier expansion to neighboring countries such as congo.
venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
a full-scale prototype of a ‘droneport’ has been assembled in venice
image © designboom

 

 

 

jonathan ledgard, founder of the pioneering redline cargo drone network, approached norman foster with the concept owing to his airport design experience, and knowledge of flight as a pilot of sailplanes, helicopters, and aircraft. foster then enlisted the help of colleagues narinder sagoo and roger ridsdill smith, who developed the modular vaulted system.
venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
the droneport is a modular vaulted system
image © designboom

 

 

africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially,’ explains norman foster. ‘the dearth of terrestrial infrastructure has a direct impact on the ability to deliver life-giving supplies, indeed where something as basic as blood is not always available for timely treatment. we require immediate bold, radical solutions to address this issue. the droneport project is about doing ‘more with less’, capitalizing on the recent advancements in drone technology – something that is usually associated with war and hostilities – to make an immediate life-saving impact in africa. rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the droneport project. this project can have massive impact through the century and save lives immediately.’

venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
the design comprises two outer surfaces, with an inner layer of traditional tiles
image © designboom

 

 

 

jonathan ledgard, founder of redline added:it is inevitable on a crowded planet, with limited resources, that we will make more intensive use of our sky using flying robots to move goods faster, cheaper, and more accurately than ever before. but it is not inevitable that these craft or their landing sites will be engineered to be tough and cheap enough to serve poorer communities who can make most use of them. droneport is an attempt to make that happen, and to improve health and economic outcomes in africa – and beyond. we are proud to have norman foster — an architect with extensive personal experience of flying – as the design lead on this project.’

venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
general view of the ‘droneport’ at the arsenale in venice
image © designboom

 

 

 

able to transcend geographical barriers such as mountains and lakes, cargo drones can access areas unreachable by road. with africa’s population set to double to 2.2 billion by 2050, it would require unprecedented levels of infrastructural investment to catch up with the continent’s exponential growth. consequently, the utilization of drones is viewed as an important factor in africa’s development.

venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
the design is conceived as a new building typology, with a strong civic presence
image © designboom

 

 

 

in foster’s design, a fleet of specialist drones could potentially carry blood and other life-saving supplies over 100 kilometers, providing an affordable alternative to road-based deliveries. parallel networks would operate two separate services, the ‘redline’ using smaller drones for medical and emergency supplies; and the commercial ‘blueline’, transporting larger payloads such as spare parts, electronics, and e-commerce — subsidizing the redline network.
venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
the space is designed for the safe landing of quiet drones transporting medical and emergency supplies
image © designboom

 

 

 

conceived as a new building typology, the terminus will present a strong civic presence, providing space for the safe landing of quiet drones. importantly, the scheme also includes a health clinic, a digital fabrication shop, a post and courier room, and an e-commerce trading hub, allowing it to become an integral part of local community life. the droneport is imagined as a ‘kit-of-parts’ where only the basic formwork and brick-press machinery is delivered to site. the project’s raw materials, such as clay for bricks and boulders for the foundation, are locally sourced. the vaulted brick structure can be put together by members of the community, giving local workers important construction knowledge.

venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
stabilized earth has been used instead of traditional burnt clay bricks
image © designboom

 

 

 

 

located at the end of the arsenale, the pavilion serves as a symbolic gateway to the newly opened public park. the possibility of it remaining as a permanent structure is also under consideration. the color of the earth-based products is a careful match with the historic buildings which surround it. the prototype vault comprises two outer surfaces, with an inner layer of traditional tiles. compared to traditional burnt clay bricks, the use of stabilized earth does not require intensive use of fuel to achieve its performance.

venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
the pavilion serves as a symbolic gateway to the newly opened public park in venice
image © designboom

 

 

 

the foundation has also collaborated with artist olafur eliasson and little sun to explore the potential of a new building component called ‘solarbrick’, which could be incorporated into the structure of the droneport vaults. the design would incorporate solar cells on its outer surface, charging a long-life battery and then powering a LED lamp on the inner surface. the units, which could be 3D printed within the droneports themselves, would become common place in local buildings, providing light where electricity is scarce.
venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
detail of the traditional clay tiles employed to create the structure
image © designboom

 

 

 

for more images, follow designboom on our dedicated instagram account @venice.architecture.biennale

venice architecture biennale norman foster droneport designboom
the color of the tiles has been rendered to match the historic buildings of its site location in venice
image © designboom

venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
the possibility of the pavilion remaining as a permanent structure is under consideration
image © luisel zayas

venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
an aerial view of the pavilion in the arsenale
image © luisel zayas

venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
the pavilion serves as a symbolic gateway to a newly opened public park
image © designboom

venice-architecture-biennale-norman-foster-foundation-droneport-world's-smallest-airport-prototype-designboom-X
sketch by norman foster

 

 

 

 

venice-architecture-biennale-norman-foster-foundation-droneport-world's-smallest-airport-prototype-designboom-XX
illustration detailing how the droneport will be built

venice architecture biennale droneport norman foster
concept sketch of the pavilion in venice
image © narinder sagoo, foster + partners

 

  • Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia school?

    Enric Llopis says:
  • shigeru ban, expo 2000, hannover

    pavelka says:
  • This project was also in collaboration with the Block Research Group of ETH Zurich in Switzerland (not mentioned in this article), who provided much of the expertise on the structural design, analysis and construction of tile vaulting.

    Anonymous says:
  • Also not credited, are John Ochsendorf and the team from MIT.

    Anonymous says:

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