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Top UK architect slammed for accepting Saudi airport deal after championing climate action manifesto

Norman Foster is a renowned British architect [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 July, 2020

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Climate-concerned architects have demanded answers from Norman Foster and his firm Foster and Partners over the airport contract.
A top British architect who gave his support to a climate emergency manifesto last year has drawn strong criticism after agreeing to work on an airport and terminal in Saudi Arabia.

Norman Foster, an architect renowned for his innovative designs, was one of the founding signatories of the Architects Declare manifesto which was launched by his firm, Foster and Partners.

Among the manifesto's aims is a pledge to "evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach".

Last week, however, it was revealed by The Architects' Journal that several of the UK-based firm's projects in Saudi Arabia have caused a stir in architecture circles. 

In 2019, Foster and Partners was awarded the design contract for the Red Sea Project luxury resort's airport in Saudi Arabia. Last month, it was revealed that the practice had also pitched to build a terminal and control tower for Saudi Arabia's Amaala Luxury resort.

The Amaala resort, which has been described as the "Riviera of the Middle East", is one of several ambitious projects under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is expected to reach full completion in 2028.

It is estimated that the resort's airport could be used by up to 1 million people per year after its scheduled opening in 2023.

Foster's involvement in these projects has infuriated climate-concerned architects who joined Foster in signing the Architects Declare manifesto to "raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergences and the urgent need for action".

The manifesto also called for the establishment of "climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as the key measures of our industry’s success".

The Architects Climate Action Network (Acan), a group of climate-conscious individuals in the industry, have demanded that Foster and Partners explain its involvement in projects that run counter to efforts to save the planet from further degradation.

"Anything that encourages the expansion of the aviation industry and the associated rise in the burning of fossil fuel should be viewed as being off-limits for architects concerned about the rate at which our planet is warming," a spokesperson for Acan was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

"It is as simple as that. We should be working to bring about a moratorium on the expansion of air travel."

Foster and Partners told the Guardian's Sunday issue, The Observer, that it would not be responding to the criticism.

According to the Air Transport Action Group, flights produced 915 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019, with humans having produced a total of over 43 billion tonnes of CO2 last year.

Air travel is currently almost completely reliant on fossil fuels that produce harmful pollutants to the environment.

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