Bubbles in space … Norman Foster may take Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes as his inspiration. Photograph: Tibor Bognar/Corbis

A permanent structure on the moon? The dream of building a base on the Moon where astronauts, scientists (and Richard Branson) can study the Earth’s most haunting and beautiful satellite is as old and as compelling as the dream of space exploration itself.

Now, the European Space Agency’s Aurora programme envisages a necklace of such bases strung out across the face of the moon. It’s a thrilling thought, but who – which architect – should design the first lunar structures? Why, Norman Foster, of course. Already working on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico, due to open in 2011, Foster is the natural – and scientific – choice for such challenging new architecture and habitation. The European Space Agency certainly thinks so, too.

Over several decades, Foster has tried, often successfully, to fuse the materials, technology, forms and spirit of space adventure into the design of his world-renowned hi-tech buildings. Arguably more than any other architect, Foster has brought the world of Nasa into our towns, cities and university campuses – whether with the design of the gleaming Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, on the edge of Norwich, or with the very shape, as well as the structure, of the Swiss Re building, better know as the Gherkin, in the heart of London. This skyscraper – it looks nothing like a gherkin – even resembles a space-rocket.


Jonathan Glancey