A Review of the Winners at the World Architecture Festival - part 1
Saturday, 07 November 2009 05:43
Opening its doors to over 1,500 visitors is the biggest gathering of the global architectural community - the World Architecture Festival, just a few minutes outside Barcelona city centre at the Centre Convencions International Barcelona (CCIB), happened earlier in the week, from 4th to 6th November 2009. The festival, now in its second year, celebrates the work, concerns and aspirations of international architects. The curators have masterminded the exhibition and seminar programme to respond to the common festival umbrella theme - Less Does More, which in reflection of the current global economic climate will examine the challenges facing architects to produce more value for less cost.
Running alongside the main seminars is the world's largest architectural awards programme - the World Architecture Festival Awards. Unlike other award schemes the WAF Awards give access to something more often reserved for a select few - to see shortlisted architects present their schemes live to international judging panels, including the likes of Sir Peter Cook, Kengo Kuma, Renato Benedetti and Will Alsop and delegates, as they compete for the ultimate accolade of World Building of the Year 2009. Rafael Vinoly is chair of the super-jury which will choose the winner from 15 finalists announced at a glittering awards ceremony at the end of the festival on Friday 6th November.
We are posting thte list of winners announced during the festival, courtesy of the organizers. The list being quite long, we split it into two articles. The second part to be published tomorrow.
The three jurors in this category believe they were presented with a good many deserving projects but that the gene pool of buildings and public spaces that we had to evaluate was uneven in quality.
We understand that there are different architectural definitions of ‘public’ but there were several projects that we did not think belonged in the category ‘Civic and Community because they were either built for private ownership or not open to all citizens of the polis.
We also had a difficult time deciding on a winner in this category as the architectural scale of the projects varied enormously from the very modest to the quite grand. In the end we passed over several deserving projects because we were judging architectural quality and the smaller projects could not stand up to the pyrotechnics of those with enormous budgets, ambitious clients and large design teams. How for example do you compare a community facility built for 25,000 pounds in west Africa to a British embassy in Algeria?
We were also struck by the how important issues of landscape were to many of the designs and while this may have more to do with the category Civic and Community architects today’s seem critically concerned with embracing and working with their surrounding context. Finally in our deliberations we were confused about how to assess both the process of design and the importance of sustainability to the architecture of built projects. How do you gauge, for example, architecture that is created pro bono (without fees for the designers ) or the intent of a project to provide the barest of material conditions for poor, underserved populations with a grand residence with a swimming pool, tennis courts and extravagant gardens?
In the end however we all agreed on our one prizewinner and two commendations. It was an exciting process and we wish to thank emap for giving us the opportunity to serve on this jury.
Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre
by Peter Rich Architects, Johannesburg, South Africa
The winner of the Culture category is the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre by Peter Rich Architects.
Designed to house artefacts from the region´s prehistory, the building connects intimately with an extraordinary veldt site in northern South Africa near the border with Zimbabwe.
The jury admired the way in which the architecture responded to vernacular African types, synthesising forms, materials and light in a nuanced but unsentimental way to make what is still an indisputably contemporary building of immense resonance and richness. It also underpinned by a strong social programme, using the skills and labour of local people and involving them in the design and construction process.
Engaging with tradition and modernity, place and people, it offers a different view of architecture as a subversive and poetic force for transformation.
This restaurant in a Swedish ski resort is an appropriate gesture to respond to the environmental aspects and the natural forces of the landscape.
The simple birch wood tree trunks piled up in a conical form around a steel and wooden inner structure form an outer skin that protects the building from the harsh climatic conditions of winters.
The uncompromising commitment to modern Swedish design is a loyal gesture to the country´s contribution to modernism.
It also indicates architects´ dedication to modernity. At the same time the form, which is based on the traditional use of timber tree trunks, links this project to the cultural and architectural history of Sweden.
The Havaianas Shop project responds very well to the street culture of a dense urban area. It is a bold building indicating a determined dedication to the contributions of Brazil to the Modern Movement. The shop has a significant urban existence- it connects two sides of the street with an elegant and accessible cover. This cover also has an opening to the sky letting in the light and rain, so that the shop has a micro climate of its own. It welcomes regular citizens for daily shopping for very simple footwear. Therefore it is popular and becomes a significant part of the urban tissue. Its elegance and simplicity are commendable.
The architects wanted to break free from the typical straight-angled housing enclosure. They wanted this holiday house to be more about fun, a break from the monotony daily routine.
Rethinking the volumes in three dimensions, they stretched and distorted all the facets of the house, producing slopes and angles that create unique visual experience through spatial intersections, incidents and accidents. The result is a unique project where you would expect the unexpected.
The architects explained the ideas behind their project quite well:
The Klein bottle is a descriptive model of a surface developed by topological mathematicians.
Klein bottle, mobius strips, boy surfaces, are unique surfaces that while they may be distorted remain topologically the same. I.e. a donut will remain topologically a donut if you twist and distort it, it will only change topologically if it is cut.
Housing as a category has a lot of criteria to take into consideration by judges. It could be rationality of the plan, the comfort of living, new typology, or presenting an additional public space to the city.
For the Housing category jury this year the main criteria was the strong message that a building sends to other architects and other specialists in residential developments. That´s why from 13 shortlisted entries the jury chose the building that brought the most sharp and most detailed realised concept, and that has great potential for the future. That building is The Met in Bangkok by WOHA.
The issue of residential highrise buildings is one of the most important in rapidly developing megalopolises, especially in Asia. The impact that they have on the city is enormous. For a long time this type of building was discredited by the modernist approach, which made a banal living box out of a beautiful dream. In the last decade a typical skyscraper was always designed as a superficial envelope of attractive shape, without answering basic questions posed by new standards of living in the 21st centrury..
In contrast, The Met by WOHA is an excellent attempt to open a skyscraper to the city and to allow its inhabitants to use the building as much as possible. A system of pass ways, sky-parks and swimming pools on upper levels forms a real vertical analogue of the city and creates a new quality of living. The wide use of greenery almost as an additional facede material is also an effective way to unite horizontal dimensions of the city with the verticality. The use of passive ways to save energy is also an important aspect of this project.
As one of the larger schemes in this category the jury were impressed by the way the architect had reinterpreted known building types and crafts, especially in relation to passive environmental measures. Local vernacular elements – such as jali screens - merged with a contemporary design aesthetic that gave this building the necessary monumental scale for this industry based educational institution.
Situated in an area designated, but not taken up by, industrial uses the building envelope creates a protective internal environment. The interior features sinuous triple height courtyards that combine on the lower level to form a communal landscape enlivened by experimental activities, and a catwalk that extends over sunken pools.
It is hoped that, as the first institutional building in this district, the Pearl will have the potential to become a catalyst for a more diverse urban regeneration. Cultural, economic and social sustainability. The jury was very impressed by the quality of many projects, recognising how hard each building was working.
Accordingly a commendation was given to DRMM’s scheme in recognition of its success in achieving so much with so little. With less than 1000sq metres, the colourful four-storey extension went beyond the brief to provide six new classrooms, but also gave the school a new entrance, reorienting the campus, and solving critical issues of accessibility. Showing creativity in the use of standard curtain walling technology, the new wing has created many new learning opportunities in a tight budget with limited means, producing vital new spaces.
Choi Ropiha, Perkins Eastman and PKSB Architects designed this relatively modest yet important ticketing structure in the middle of new York, at one of the busiest and noisiest (both acoustically and visually) intersections in the world.
The judges admired a number of strengths. The new building managed to recapture the public ground as a result of clever lateral thinking, making use of the roof in a most welcoming way. It creates a vibrant and welcoming little public stage in the middle of New York´s Theater District, and it does so without compromise, using backlit structural glass for the steps to achieve superb visibility in a very challenging environment of large towers with glaring light boards and often furious traffic.
The ticket booth and its steps give new life to the existing square and statue of Father Duffy, so that they become a usable and vibrant venue in the heart of the big apple.
Whereas last year´s WAF office shortlist included glassy towers in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi, this year´s list had an unemployment office (a wonderfully eclectic project by BOB361 in Sint Niklaas, Belgium) - a sign of the times, perhaps.
But the ambition of almost all the projects to understand the effect of commercial buildings on their urban environment or landscape was admirable, and manifested itself in cities from Auckland to London. The conversation on the jury was based around a search for innovative working practices supported by fine architecture, as well as trying to understand contexts from an American prairie business park to downtown Tokyo.
Despite advocates on the jury for buildings by Danish practice 3XN, Australia´s BVN Architecture and the urbane sculptural qualities of Sergey Skuratov´s Danilovsky Fort in Moscow, it came down to three buildings in the final reckoning. The first, and a near miss for the prize, was Nikken Sekkei´s Makuzai Kaikan building, an incomparably finely wrought essay in concrete and massive timber. It demonstrated the Japanese giant´s commitment to detailing, as well as impressive R&D in the use of loadbearing timber. Highly commended was RTA Studio´s Ironbank office project, which created an intricate public route through a city block, surrounded by densely packed, small startup office spaces. Its sophisticated attitude to the messy urbanity of south-central Auckland made a real impression on the jury.
But the winner was German practice Behnisch Architekten, whose commitment to the development of the sustainable office as a type has been proven again and again. This project, in Hamburg´s Hafencity redevelopment area, took this commitment to new levels. The facade of the building is the first single skin ETFE facade that this jury is aware of, which screens pollution without needing another layer of glass. The other great merit of the project was how it drew public space into the heart of the plan, creating a mix of uses the jury found convincing. The commitment to sustainability was also amply demonstrated at a detailed level, with the entire building lit by custom-designed LED lighting (saving 70% of the energy of conventional lighting).
It is a fine building, and, we believe, a model project that demonstrates where the next generation of office buildings begins.