Considering climate & culture in urban infrastructure development

By Dr Andy Bow

The rapid growth of population, the way we move around the planet, the way we live, work and play, profoundly impact infrastructure development and the way we design. But at the heart of any project is the local culture and climate that imbues our designs with the spirit of the place.


Our design process always starts with an analysis of the local climate. There is, for example, an enormous difference between designing for the intense heat of the Middle East or in places like Malaysia and Singapore, where the consideration is not only about the intense heat but also the humidity.

In one of our projects in the Middle East, Masdar City, we began by carefully examining the DNA of the historic cities in the region. In this part of the world the streets were very narrow—for a good reason. Shaded paths and narrow streets were designed to create a pleasant space for walking in the hot climate. The challenge was, therefore, to enable people to move around the city in large numbers despite the narrow streets. The answer was to introduce an underground system of driverless autonomous vehicles that would bring people from the outskirts of the city directly to the centre.

When it came to the architecture, we designed buildings that were self-shaded and which had a high thermal mass to keep cool during the day. We also created courtyard-like spaces that are cooled using wind towers and evaporative cooling methods; and these are the public places where people could gather in the early evening.

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Dr Andy Bow

Dr Andy Bow is a senior partner and a deputy head of studio at Foster + Partners. He joined the company in 1996 and has worked on a wide range of projects in over 30 countries. The earliest projects he worked on include the Millennium Bridge; Albion Riverside and City Hall in London; the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman; the Ilham Tower in Kuala Lumpur; and the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong. Dr Bow is passionate about sustainable city planning, has lectured and taught in over 30 schools of architecture, and is currently a visiting professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture and University of Innsbruck. In September 2021, he gave a keynote speech at the 12th International Conference on World Class Sustainable Cities 2021 (WCSC 2021).

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