Global architecture studio Foster + Partners has announced their decision to withdraw from the Architects Declare movement due to ideological differences over taking up aviation projects.

Foster + Partners was one of the co-founders of the climate change action group, which was launched in 2019 by a coalition of 17 architectural practices committed to addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency. Signatories from the UK are now more than 1,000 in number, while globally the movement has now spread to over 20 countries with over 6000 signatories.

In a recent statement, Architects Declare had accused some of the signatories of having undermined the movement through their actions, and called on them to ‘either join the wave of positive change or have the integrity to withdraw’.

Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects faced criticism for continuing to accept aviation projects. Foster + Partners is currently leading the design on the private airport project for the Amaala luxury resort in Saudi Arabia, which will include climate controlled hangars for private planes.

The criticism came from Architects Climate Action Network, a group advocating radical action, whose letter to Foster + Partners stated, "Our network strongly believes that UK architecture practices should not be working to expand aviation in the midst of this climate emergency.”

In an official statement released by Foster + Partners, practice founder and chairman Norman Foster said, “Since our founding in 1967, we have pioneered a green agenda and believe that aviation, like any other sector, needs the most sustainable infrastructure to fulfil its purpose.

“We believe that the hallmark of our age, and the future of our globally connected world, is mobility. Mobility of people, goods and information across boundaries. Only by internationally coordinated action can we confront the issues of global warming and, indeed, future pandemics. Aviation has a vital role to play in this process and will continue to do so,” he noted.

Even airports need to be built sustainably

“At the end of the last century, we reinvented the airport terminal to humanise it with natural light, and significantly reduce its carbon footprint. This is in a tradition going back to the 1960s when we were advocating a green architecture before it was so named. We pioneered low energy design concepts, the harvesting of water, the recycling of human waste into fertiliser, and renewable energy technologies such as solar arrays and wind turbines.”

Observing that even airports needed to be built sustainably, Foster said that the Queen Alia Airport in Jordan combined good design and operational management to become the first airport in the Middle East to receive ACI Level 3+ Carbon Neutrality.

Sense of proportion required

“Meanwhile, whilst our industry and others continue to drive these positive changes through innovation rather than protest, a sense of proportion and serious consideration of the facts is required. This could start with the realisation that emissions from jets are estimated to account for only 2 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions compared with 14 per cent from other forms of transport. Animals and agriculture account for 15 per cent.

“Agriculture and aviation are not going to go away and they will both need the most sustainable buildings to serve them together with the architects who can most responsibly design them,” Foster said.

Previous aviation projects by the practice include Stansted Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, Kuwait International Airport, Masdar sustainable City in the United Arab Emirates and Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan.