The LafargeHolcim Forum is a tri-annual series of conferences on the topic of sustainable construction conducted by the Foundation. The multi-day Forum, including workshops and site visits, is an academic platform for architects, engineers, construction professionals and specialists of all generations to exchange information on creating a sustainable built environment and thus advancing sustainable development. Speakers included internationally-renowned “star” architects such as Lord Norman Foster, Foster + Partners, United Kingdom; Christine Binswanger, Herzog & de Meuron, Switzerland; Anne Lacaton, Lacaton & Vassal Architectes, France; and Francis Kéré, Kéré Architecture, Germany.

Lord Norman Foster

Lord Norman Foster, Foster + Partners, United Kingdom

Norman Foster addressed the proposition “How much does your building weigh, Mr Foster?” with illustrations of how design is inseparable from nature. Using examples of his work including Apple Park, the Corporate Headquarters of Apple Inc, California, USA and Bloomberg’s European Headquarters in London, he showed the interconnection between design and the selection of materials. “Sustainability is inseparable from energy, and inseparable from the process of recycling,” he said.

Christine Binswanger

Christine Binswanger, Herzog & de Meuron, Switzerland

Christine Binswanger explored the theme of “Make it desirable” and ways of ensuring buildings with higher sustainability attain greater public support. Projects such as the REHAB Basel Centre for Spinal Cord & Brain Injuries, Switzerland, and the new Children’s Hospital (Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland were used to illustrate “designing for adaptability – how to minimize the amount of materials that can’t be modified in the future. “Visual impact is an important element, but social impact is intrinsic to sustainable design,” she said.

Anne Lacaton

Anne Lacaton, Lacaton & Vassal Architectes, France

Anne Lacaton presented how “Never demolish, always transform” is at the heart of the design process of Lacaton & Vassal including the renovation program of more than 500 dwellings in the Cité du Grand Parc in Bordeaux, France originally constructed in the early 1960s. The renovation strategy not only extends the usable lifespan of the building, but also delivers multilayered social, aesthetic and economic benefits. “The existing building is tomorrow’s new building material,” she said.

Francis Kéré

Francis Kéré, Kéré Architecture, Germany

To conclude the series of keynote addresses on day one of the forum, Francis Kéré reflected on the theme “Embed know-how” including examples from his work building a school in his birthplace village of Gando, Burkina Faso. He advocated education, learning from history, and making information more accessible – as key components of ensuring success. “We need to deconstruct preconceived ideas – embracing innovation and locally-sourced materials,” he said.

Laila Iskandar

Laila Iskandar, former Minister of Urban Renewal & Informal Settlements, Egypt

Laila Iskandar provided an overview of the detailed mapping of Cairo’s informal waste sector and asserted the same principles could be effectively applied to construction waste because the sources can be defined. She examined how waste material streams can be leveraged, although re-thinking was urgently required. “The formal recycling industry is not accessing, and will not access, valuable resources available in waste streams – because current waste systems are designed to ‘eliminate the waste’ rather than ‘harvest the materials,” she said.

Mobile (touring) workshops

Forum delegates split into four mobile workshop groups that visited sites in and around Cairo. Leading Architecture & Design attended the New Vernacular Workshop, which foregrounded the important role of traditional construction methods and materials in the production of Egypt’s building stock both in the past and today. The emergence of a new vernacular in popular urbanization, centred on the use of structural concrete with brick infill was examined. The excursion visited sites where informal construction has occurred, including different typology of informal settlements, public housing with informal extensions, and rural areas close to the city experiencing urbanization in an informal way.

Simon Upton

Simon Upton, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, New Zealand

Simon Upton who had spent the Forum absorbing the discussions in the workshops and keynote addresses, reflected on the challenges identified in reaching a sustainable built environment. He noted the difficulties in both explaining complicated problems in simple ways, and for global externalities to be made visible at the local level. “How with such little time do we tackle a problem of such complexity and such scale – and thereby intelligently re-materialize our economy?” he asked.

Michael Braungart

“Being less bad is simply not good enough”

Michael Braungart, Academic Chair, Cradle-to-Cradle for Innovation & Quality, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands provided a note of optimism based on his seminal “Cradle-to-Cradle” concept. He asserted the need to depart radically from the approach to design that had created the problem. “If you just perfect the wrong design, you end up with a design that is perfectly wrong,” he said.


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