The European: Lord Foster, architects design buildings that will characterize cities for decades or even centuries to come. How difficult is it to design buildings for an unknown future?
Foster: Flexibility is a key consideration. We design with an awareness that circumstances will change – that a building’s context will evolve; it may be used in different ways and will need to incorporate new technologies that we cannot yet predict. For example, our headquarters for the insurance brokers Willis Faber in the 1970s was able to accommodate the shift from typewriters to word processors just a few years later. This was made possible by the provision of a raised access floor – this was revolutionary at the time because such features were confined to computer rooms.
Willis Faber’s competitors could only accommodate this new technology by building new facilities. Our Hongkong and Shanghai Bank was similarly radical for its flexibility – we relegated the normal central core to the edges of open, flexible floors. This meant that the Bank was able to introduce a large trading floor quite easily and without disruption – something that could never have been anticipated when the building was designed. The Bank’s competitors would never have been able to accommodate a trading floor in their headquarters towers. Similarly, other insurance companies had to create new buildings to respond to the digital revolution. […]