Holcim Foundation


“Norman, come and build the smallest airport”: The Droneport project

Special edition of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui dedicated to a self-supporting structure of compressed- earth tiles – the backbone of a compelling initiative

“This skilled geometrical vault holds the promise of a brighter future”, writes Editor-in-chief Emmanuelle Borne in the latest “hors série” publication of the bilingual magazine L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui (AA). It is dedicated to the Droneport project, the “successful attempt to harness the rapid improvements in technology for the benefit of the poorest”, as Edwin Heathcote, architecture and design critic of the Financial Times, puts it in his editorial.

A prototype of the Droneport shell was realized at La Biennale di Venezia 2016 and highlighted the intention of Alejandro Aravena, curator of the 15th International Architecture exhibition, to understand how architects can marshal their skills to affect the wider world, bringing together architecture and activism.

The self-supporting structure of the Droneport clearly carries the mark of Lord Norman Foster – and so does the special issue of AA showing sketches, drawings and renderings contributed by the architect who is known for having built the largest airport of the world. “Norman, now come and build the smallest airport,” Jonathan Ledgard, Director of the Future Africa Initiative, recalls his initial attempt to get Foster enthused about the idea of creating a system of infrastructure to enable the use of drones to supply aid and other goods to remote communities in emerging countries.

How the Droneport concept was then developed, with a prototype vault later being built in Venice, is now documented in the special issue of AA: an international and interdisciplinary collaboration “to do more with less”, as Norman Foster explains the Droneport project in an interview. The chapter “Innovations and materials” exposes the work of engineers, material scientists and what the master mason describes as “applying ancestral geometry for a visionary structure.” A final section is dedicated to the social impact and transferability of the Droneport project, including a comprehensive construction manual: “From a brick to a network.”

“What works for a sophisticated structure like the Droneport is also ideal for affordable housing solutions,” explains Eric Olsen, CEO of LafargeHolcim. Engineers at the research center of the world’s leading building materials supplier customized Durabric – a product made of locally available compressed earth – to meet the specific requirements of the Droneport. The LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction sponsored the realization of the Droneport prototype and contributed to the special issue of AA by showcasing exhibits by Alejandro Aravena, Atelier Bow-Wow, MOS, NLÉ, Francis Kéré, Christian Kerez, Rahul Mehrotra, Milinda Pathiraja and Wang Shu at the Architecture Biennale in Venice. These renowned architects from all continents are Ambassadors of the LafargeHolcim Awards – the world’s most significant competition in sustainable design: www.lafargeholcim-awards.org

The AA special issue “The Droneport project” is a source of inspiration for design and building professionals on multifaceted approaches to sustainable construction. It is available online at


‘A’A’ L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui has been instrumental in promoting the discourse and image of modern architecture since it was founded in 1930 and is one of the leading magazines of contemporary architecture. The journal examines movements of architectural thinking from a cross-disciplinary perspective, is published in French and English, and has an international readership of more than 75,000 per issue. It is read by leading architects, architecture critics, academics and is listed in Architectural Periodicals IndexArt Index, and Avery see: 


Last Updated: November 25, 2016
Article Details
Zurich, Switzerland
Related Information
Holcim Foundation

Search Help

Our website search engine covers the web pages including project descriptions and expert profiles, PDFs, images and videos on the Holcim Foundation website. To improve your search results, here are some tips:

Basic search

Our search defaults to term-pairing AND. If you search sustainable construction - then the search engine will look for any items containing sustainable AND construction


photovoltaic OR solar

Looks for either word


(clay OR mud) AND (school OR university)

Combine alternative terms for more specific searching


geothermal -heating

Excludes a term from results, automatically ANDs other terms listed


"zero carbon"

Use quotation marks to search for a specific phrase or combination

Wildcards (one or more characters)


Asterisk (*) matches any word or phrase - so archit* will find architect, architecture, architectural as well as architrave