The droneport project is the first initiative by The Norman Foster Foundation.
The proposal is to create a network of droneports to deliver medical supplies and other necessities to areas of Africa that are difficult to access due to a lack of roads or other infrastructure and the ambition is that every small town in Africa and in other emerging economies will have its own droneport by 2030.
The pilot project – which will be launched this year – is based in Rwanda, a country whose physical and social geography poses multiple challenges. The initial plan for three buildings, to be completed by 2020, will enable the network to send supplies to 44 per cent of Rwanda. Subsequent phases of the project could see in excess of 40 droneports across Rwanda, and the country’s central location could allow easier expansion to neighbouring countries such as Congo, saving many thousands more lives.
Jonathan Ledgard, Founder of the Pioneering Redline Cargo Drone Network, a concept he developed at the Swiss federal institute of technology in Lausanne (EPFL), approached Norman Foster with the concept because of his combination of airport design experience and knowledge of flight as a pilot of sailplanes, helicopters and aircraft. It has fallen to The Norman Foster Foundation to advance it beyond early feasibility stage and has led to the present team to design, engineer and implement the project through to a built reality.
The Droneport offers a new typology for a building, which it is hoped, will grow into a ubiquitous presence, much like petrol stations have become dispersed infrastructure for road traffic. The proposal will have a strong civic presence, based on sharing and multiple uses. It allows for safe landing of quiet drones in a densely packed area, and includes a health clinic, a digital fabrication shop, a post and courier room, and an e-commerce trading hub, allowing it to become part of local community life.
The project is an evolution of Norman Foster’s previous experience in building airports, as well as earlier lunar building studies conducted in association with the European Space Agency. Just as the structures designed for the moon use a minimal inflatable framework and 3-D printed lunar soil, the Droneport is imagined as a ‘kit-ofparts’ where only the basic formwork and brick-press machinery is delivered to site, and the raw materials, such as clay for bricks and boulders for the foundation, are locally sourced, reducing material transport costs and making it more sustainable. The central idea is to ‘do more with less’ and the vaulted brick structure with a minimal ground footprint, can easily be put together by the local communities. Multiple vaults can also link together to form flexible spaces based on demand and needs of the particular place, and the evolution of drone technology.
The Droneports will also be manufacturing centres for drones, generating employment opportunities for the local population. By giving the local people the construction knowledge, the project seeks to leave a legacy that will initiate a change that is bigger than the building itself.