Norman Foster Calls For Post-Covid Offices to Be Converted To Housing
Norman Foster has called for a relaxation of rules governing the use of commercial buildings to allow more offices to be repurposed as housing in post-pandemic cities. Laying out his vision for how urban centres will look in the post-covid world, the Foster & Partners founder said that office buildings abandoned by home workers could become the “residential towers of the future”.
In the UK the use of buildings is governed by the use class system, while in Europe it is more commonly controlled by the zoning of areas for different uses. The government last year introduced a new town centre use class – Class E – that already allows most commercial uses to switch to other commercial uses without planning permission. However, Foster said that more flexible zoning rules could include the ability to create self-sufficient neighbourhoods where clean industries “coexist alongside culture, arts, living, working, galleries, cafes and restaurants”.
Foster also called on the public sector to rezone urban centres in response to changing work patterns, arguing that cities have historically bounced back “stronger and better” after a major crisis. Citing London after the Great Fire of 1666, Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami and cities in the USA after the Great Depression, he said: “These crises all created positive, progressive change,” adding: “The Great Depression created some of the most enduring and noble infrastructure, alongside some of the most iconic buildings.”
Examples given by Foster of potential technological leaps forward include hydroponics, allowing food to be grown closer to where it is eaten, a new wave of space exploration, and container-sized nuclear batteries which he said could power “an entire community or a cluster of skyscrapers”. He added: “Notwithstanding the proliferation and the lowering costs of solar and renewables, nuclear is the only one that can deliver that energy cleanly.”