World Architecture Festival 2013

World-Architects traveled to Singapore for the sixth World Architecture Festival (WAF), held at Marina Bay Sands from October 2-4. Architects from all over the world converged on the city to present their shortlisted projects, listen to other architects do the same, and find out what project would be crowned the World Building of the Year—the Aukland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki in New Zealand by Frances-Jones Morehen Thorp and Archimedia took the top honor. Here is our report on the three days of presentations, parties, and awards.
Marina Bay Sands, the venue for WAF 2013. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 

 

Awards

The goal of any architect submitting a project to WAF is winning one of the awards that recognizes the best buildings and projects from the previous year: World Building of the Year, Landscape of the Year, Future Project of the Year, or World Interior of the Year (the last is part of the INSIDE: World Festival of Interiors, a separate event held coterminously with WAF). The awards unfold in a four-step process that is akin to a dog show, as WAF director Paul Finch described it: submitting a project, getting shortlisted, winning one of the categories, and then being selected as winner by a "super jury." Each award, except for the Landscape of the Year, is selected from winners in various categories—16 in Completed Buildings, 12 in Future Projects, and 12 in the INSIDE Festival. Here we highlight the four main award winners, but the full list can be found in the newsroom of WAF's website.
WAF Building of the Year: Aukland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (New Zealand), Frances-Jones Morehen Thorp and Archimedia. Photo: Courtesy of WAF 
World Building of the Year
Aukland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
Aukland, New Zealand
Frances-Jones Morehen Thorp
 and Archimedia

The winner from the Culture Category (the third such winner in the category to garner World Building of the Year in WAF's six years) includes the transformation of landmarked buildings; a new building extension doubling the exhibition space; extensive basement storage and support areas; and the redesign of parts of adjacent Albert Park. A wood roof propped upon slender columns crowns the new spaces and gives the art gallery its striking image. The super jury—Ken Tadashi Oshima of The University of Washington, Ken Yeang of Llewelyn Davies Yeang, Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten, Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects, and Dietmar Eberle of Baumschlager Eberle—commended the project, as Finch relayed it during the gala dinner: "The winning project transcended category types. You could say it is about new and old, or civic and community, or display. It contrasts the manmade and the natural, and the relationship between art and science. Balancing many different elements, the resulting design is a rich complex of built ideas.
Future Project of the Year: National Maritime Museum of China by Cox Rayner Architects. Rendering courtesy of WAF 
Future Project of the Year
National Maritime Museum of China
Tianjin, China
Cox Rayner Architects

Paul Finch's announcement of this award was not much of a surprise for those paying attention to the category winners, for Australia's Cox Rayner won awards for the project in two categories: Culture and Competition Entries. The project consists of five wings radiating toward the water from a central hall. During one of their presentations the architect described the building as being open to many metaphors, but he likened an open hand as the most appropriate one to what they were aiming for in the competition-winning design. The jury commended the project as follows: "The project demonstrates a strong conceptual clarity. In its response to the sea, the design communicates a strong sense of the maritime experience. It’s fluidity of form conveyed through geometry and evocative metaphor is delightful, as is the way the building and surrounding public spaces engage the city and the sea."
World Landscape of the Year: The Australian Garden designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean + Paul Thompson. Photo: Courtesy of WAF 
World Landscape of the Year
The Australian Garden
Cranbourne, Australia
Taylor Cullity Lethlean + Paul Thompson

The Landscape component of the festival can be considered a pared down version of the Completed Building and Future Projects categories; only nine landscapes were in the running for the award, compared to the hundreds in the latter. From this short shortlist, the jury selected a botanic garden in Australia (the country gained the most shortlisted projects in all of WAF—approximately 15% of them—and won two of the four main awards) that directs visitors along a metaphorical journey of water through the country's landscape, on land that formerly served as a sand quarry. The jury commended the project as follows: "This garden brilliantly summarises the great variety of Australian flora as well as the large part of the country which is arid desert. Like a botanic garden, it is a collection of difference, but with a strong unifying set of journeys through the various landscapes. This landscape stood out with its originality and strong evocation of Australian identity without having to use any signs or words—just the beautiful flora of Australia’s countryside!"
World Interior of the Year: Career Avinyo in Barcelona by David Kohn Architects. Photo: Courtesy of David Kohn Architects 
World Interior of the Year
Carrer Avinyo
Barcelona, Spain
David Kohn Architects

This apartment in Barcelona by London's David Kohn won the highest award in the INSIDE: World Festival of Interiors. Uniting the open yet tight, acute plan is a tile floor whose triangular pattern references a nearby public plaza. New furniture pieces, including elevated bedrooms that maintain the open plan, act like new architectural elements within the old whitewashed interior. Head judge Nigel Coates said the following of Carrer Avinyo: "The project has a quality we set out to find today, that is the quality of magic. Spanning extremes of scale, it has become a suitcase you can sleep in but also a place for celebration and entertainment. The newly achieved large central room combines simplicity with a sense of space that stimulates curiosity. The jury debated extensively where architecture ends and interiors begin."

 

Presentation of Centro Roberto Garza Sada de Arte Arquitectura y Diseño by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 

Presentations

If the awards were the goal of architects attending WAF, then the presentations by shortlisted architects were at the festival's heart. In order to be in contention for an award, each architect shortlisted in one of the many categories must have traveled to Singapore (to Barcelona, before 2012) to present the project to a three-person jury that selects the respective category winners. Throughout the first two days of WAF 2013, architects presented in 20-minute intervals (10-minute presentation, followed by 10-minute Q&A with the jury) in a number of small crit rooms. WAF attendees could walk in and out of presentations throughout the day or planted themselves in a seat in one room to take in, for example, all of the shortlisted projects in the Culture Category.
Presentation of 48 North Canal Road in Singapore by WOHA. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
Not surprisingly, many of the more popular architects (with or without their namesakes) presented to overflowing rooms. Given that each crit room was the same size and served one or two categories per day, the presentations aimed to be egalitarian, rather than putting presentations by the offices of Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid and the like in larger rooms. While this pointed to planning ahead on the part of attendees, unfortunately a number of errors in the program made that difficult. Regardless, it also pointed to the desirability of remote viewing in future WAFs, perhaps set in larger rooms that receive feeds from the various crit rooms. Even a few steps outside of the room for the packed WOHA presentation pictured above, for example, and it was impossible to hear the presentation.
Presentation of 28th Street Apartments in California by Koning Eizenberg Architects to Super Jury on Day 3. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
The winners of the various categories presented once again on Day 3, this time to super juries in the large festival hall, which better accommodated the large crowds wanting to listen to the daylong "dog show." With a general reliance on architectural photography and renderings as a means of judging architectural quality these days, the presentations were a great way of digging below the surface to understand the deeper issues shaping the architecture. While this was the greatest benefit of the presentations, it pointed to a critique of the awards' category format, which, as noted above, have tended toward Culture Category projects for the Building of the Year. It doesn't matter if the first or even second runner-up in the Culture Category (the judges gave out "highly commended" awards in some categories, but those projects were not in running for the main awards) was clearly stronger than the winner in the Transport Category, hypothetically speaking, since only one winner was chosen in each category. Architects have traditionally partitioned buildings into types, but does this structure at WAF really work toward naming the best of the best?

 

Charles Jencks gave the keynote lecture on Day 1. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 

Keynotes

Presentations and awards are not enough to lure people to Singapore for three days, so the organizers booked three keynote lectures amongst its larger conference program. Following each keynote on Day 1 and Day 2, Paul Finch announced the winners of the judging in that day's categories. Applause and screams would rise from the different parts of the Festival Hall where the winning team and other fans congregated, giving a festive end to each day.

Noted historian, theorist, and landscape designer Charles Jencks gave the keynote on the first evening—his distinctive Thomas Wolfe-esque attire with gray locks was a constant presence throughout the three days, not just during the keynote. His lecture, "The Values of Architecture," followed familiar Jencks subjects—architecture icons and iconography, cosmology, and pluralism—to trace the changes in architectural values over millennia. Believing in the unflagging ability of architects to make our lives better and more meaningful, his talk was full of optimism but also healthy doses of criticism. The latter was evidently important to Jencks; memorably he said in the talk: "The role of the critic is to make architects uncomfortable from time to time."
Dietmar Eberle gave the keynote lecture on Day 2. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
In comparison to Charles Jencks's talk on the "values of architecture," Dietmar Eberle's (of the large Austrian firm Baumschlager Eberle) keynote on the "purpose of architecture" was more rational and pragmatic, aimed at similar themes but using demographic and other data to examine shifts in living and what architects can do in response. Overriding his talk was an emphasis on sustainability, but he clearly defined the sometimes vague and overarching term to focus on creating buildings for longevity (100 years rather than 20-30) and designing environments with passive rather than active environmental controls. The latter was found in Baumschlager Eberle's own offices, a 14,000-square-foot (13,000-sm) space free of mechanical ventilation; he mentioned how the building internally responds to temperature, humidity, and CO2 to maintain temperatures within a range of 22-26 Celsius degrees (71-78 Fahrenheit).
Sou Fujimoto gave the keynote lecture on Day 3. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
In Sou Fujimoto's short but highly personal lecture, the Japanese architect talked about his past experiences on Hokkaido island in north Japan and later as a student in Tokyo. The two extremes of nature in Hokkaido's forests and total artificiality in busy Tokyo influenced Fujimoto's creation of buildings that are between architecture and nature. He accentuated the word "between," for the projects her presented are not totally nature or totally architecture; instead they bridge the two realms, most evidently in this year's Serpentine Pavilion in London. The slender white steel sticks fitted together to create a frame that defines space but also disappears in parts to create a vague boundary between nature and architecture, inside and outside, and so forth. His view of the blurring distinctions between the natural and the artificial is becoming increasingly common, but his responses are wholly unique. With approximately 2/3 of his projects oversees, more and more people (not just architects) around the world will become familiar with his architecture and name in the coming years.

 

One of the two WAF expo rooms. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 

Expo and Parties

Physically framing the experience at WAF 2013 were the expo halls that displayed all of the entries submitted to the festival (not just the shortlisted entries) and held the booths of manufacturer sponsors (two or three of them courting attendees with lunches and parties). Attendees moved through these spaces on the way to the crit rooms and Festival Hall to take in some of the presentations. In comparison to expos like those at AIA Conventions, these halls were a laid-back affair. As Paul Finch described in an interview we held with him earlier in the year, "this is a good atmosphere for conversations," something that stems from a much smaller size, but also from the mix of displays, booths, and places to sit down and have a cup of coffee or some wine.
All of the submitted projects were on display at the perimeter of each expo hall. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
One of the highlights at WAF was taking in all of the boards mounted on panels organized by category. Given that many of the projects were well known via magazines and websites, it was great to see new projects but also refreshing to see the different ways that architects laid out their projects to fit on two small boards. It's an art form of sorts that has decreased in importance in the age of the Internet, but there were plenty of examples on display that took advantage of the format to creating striking canvases of architectural imagery.
WAF Shortlist Party given by Figueras at NTU University. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
WAF's relatively compact size meant that one didn't have to choose from a number of ubiquitous after parties—only one official party took place each night. A PechaKucha with founder Mark Dytham launched WAF the night before the presentations got underway. Two nights later buses transported revelers to NTU University for wine and tapas courtesy Figueras, which had outfitted the school's auditorium so recently it still had that "new car smell."
Gala Dinner and Awards in Marina Bay Sands Festival Hall. Photo: John Hill/World-Architects 
The Gala Dinner and Awards capped the three days of presentations at Marina Bay Sands. Like any good awards ceremony, suspense played a key factor, so Finch announced the student charrette award (seven teams worked on a project over the course of the three days in an event sponsored by Perkins + Will) before dinner, while the other four awards (atop this page) were spaced out and announced during and after dinner. The pomp attempted to equal or even elevate the importance accorded the immodestly titled awards. If Aukland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki was the best building from last year is arguable, but it was hard to deny WAF's ability in bringing together so many architects from around the world to meet, converse and celebrate each other's accomplishments.

On a final note, spending three days at Marina Bay Sands made us realize that the decor on the fourth floor of the Moshe Safdie-designed Expo and Convention Center left a lot to be desired. But next year's festival will move upstairs to a larger hall tucked under the long-span roof—a sign of bigger and better things to come.

 

Hans Demarmels, Publisher, and John Hill, eMagazine Editor in Chief, at World-Architects table. 

See you at WAF 2014 next year in Singapore!

Author
John Hill
Published on
Oct 7, 2013