‘we have to address the infrastructure of mobility’


alongside the commercial towers familiar to londoners and new yorkers, norman foster is certainly known for his large, infrastructural projects — including a handful of airports. now, as scientists are virtually certain that humans are responsible for climate change, a critical lens has been cast on carbon-emitting industries such as aviation. designers at every scale are invited to consider their role. 


norman foster does just this in a recent interview with bloomberg. when questioned on the impact of air travel, the architect comments: ‘I would argue that everything has a footprint, and in relative terms, the carbon footprint of air travel is relatively small. that does not mean it shouldn’t be addressed, but I do feel passionately that we have to address the infrastructure of mobility. we have to reduce its carbon footprint like anything else… we can’t adopt a hypocritical moral stance.




aviation vs. infrastructure



in his statement, norman foster echoes the common claim that the humble hamburger contributes more to global warming than the aviation industry. in fact, animal agriculture globally contributes 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — with beef by far the worst offender — while aviation generates only 2 percent of global greenhouse gasses overall when accounting for tailpipe emissions. even when compared only with overall transportation, which accounts for 23 percent of GHG, aviation makes up just 12 percent with road transport at 74 percent.


these numbers factor in only tailpipe emissions, the direct CO2 emissions from the jet fuel that the plane actively combusts — not accounting for the manufacturing and transportation of the parts and the aircrafts. still, 80 percent of aviation emissions come from flights spanning over 930 miles (1,500 kilometers), for which there is no realistic alternative means of transport. 

norman foster airport carbon
foster + partners plans international airport for saudi arabia’s red sea project | read more
image by TMRW.se | courtesy of the red sea development company


could airports be cleaner?



in celebration of his airports, norman foster contextualizes the critique: ‘air travel is not the journey of a jet across the sky. travel mobility in any shape or form is about infrastructure. the buildings that will move people to a train or to an aircraft consume energy, so there’s an imperative to reduce the carbon imprint of transportation, of mobility. our society is about mobility. you have to put this in the wider context.’


meanwhile, airport carbon accreditation lists the many ways that airports themselves have worked toward a greener existence — because aviation is more than just the flight of the jet. from such actions as smarter ground transport within airports to opting for sustainable energy sources — the group lists 50 carbon neutral airports in europe alone.

norman foster airport carbonfoster + partners among firms to share proposals for new airport in poland | read more
image © foster + partners



norman foster’s conversation with bloomberg comes within a year of his withdrawal from architects declare, following a dispute over the firm’s work on its saudi arabia airport. architects declare is a collaborative initiative which aims to ‘advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher governmental funding priority to support this.’ the collective has gathered signatures from over 1,000 architecture practices internationally.

norman foster airport carbon
foster + partners among firms to propose ‘theater of aviation’ for chicago o’hare airport | read more
image © foster + partners