Acceptance Speech by Norman Foster

This colloquium with its global theme; Potsdam – formerly in the GDR – with its extraordinary architecture and beautiful spaces; and this prize with its reference to the quality of life and a particular place and sense of identity, for me bring together three worlds: the world within a world of Europe, the world of the printed media and the world of design. [.] We are approaching an interesting point: five years hence, for the first time in the history of the human race there will be more people living in cities – in urbanised communities – than on the land.

[.] This story has (.) two chapters: the first relates to the performance of the building itself; the second to the fact that the Reichstag forms a fundamental part of the governmental infrastructure of Berlin. So, the Reichstag’s energy manifesto seeks not only to demonstrate that a major public building can be energy self-sufficient and virtually pollution free, but also that it can make a positive contribution, generating more energy than it needs, thus working as a small power station for the city quarter of which it is a part. Originally, the Reichstag emitted something like 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Through its transformation [.] it became an exercise in how to use renewable energy sources. It showed that you could burn ‘biodiesel’- refined vegetable oil – instead of fossil fuels – oil, coal or gas – and that a building on this scale could be clean and environmentally friendly.The Reichstag today produces only 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions – a staggering 94 per cent reduction.

[.] It follows that in order to understand how we live in cities you have to understand their infrastructure. (.) the transport systems and public spaces or the parks, the landscape, and the bridges (.). Together they are (.) a kind of fortification, protecting and nurturing the quality of daily life. Equally, it follows that poorly maintained or ill-conceived infrastructure can reduce the quality of life or lead to serious environmental problems, even catastrophe. Look at the events in New Orleans this week. [.] The Boston Globe carried an article whose headline asked ‘Hurricane Katrina’s real name?’and then went on to give the answer: ‘hurricane global warming’. The Herald Tribune and Time magazine both focused on the infrastructure that triggered the depth of the catastrophe, which was the breaching of the levees, (.) that have been developed over a period of three centuries and which were latterly taken for granted (.), not invested in.

[.] Let me return to the question of urban sprawl and our reliance on the motor car. It is significant that America as a non-signatory to the Kyoto Protocol has been described in this colloquium as a ‘gasguzzler’. That is not simply a throw away remark – it is based on fact. [.] Now, what happens if you transfer that pattern of profligacy to an emerging superpower with developing nation status and certain exemptions from the Kyoto Protocol? Look at China, the biggest global growth market for cars.

[.] If every family in China had two cars, that would add up to 600 million vehicles – more than all the cars in the world put together at present. That is not beyond the realms of possibility. [.] It has taken China only 80 years to reach a level of industrialisation that Europe took 330 years to achieve. That is matched by more than four times the rate of urbanisation and growth, which brings me back to my starting point. As it witnesses this explosive phenomenon, can we in Europe be influential beyond signing up to the Kyoto Protocol and similar political initiatives? [.] Collectively, Europe has learned valuable lessons from its policies related to urban planning – both successes and failures – and this body of knowledge is there to be shared. [.] Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour to receive this award. It recognises the importance of design and quality of life in the environment. It is a cause for great celebration for the tremendous number of people involved in this field. So I would like to accept it on behalf of many clients, especially those in the 25 European countries that we are active in, as well as the many collaborators and esteemed colleagues who share it with me. Thank you very much.