— 7 Oct 2014
I’ve just come back from my first World Architecture Festival - held at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore - as one of our houses was shortlisted in the “Future House” category. As this was my first attendance, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, so I thought I’d summarise my feelings and comment on the event from the perspective of the festival’s smallest practice.
As a small practice – we are currently two architects – I decided to submit one of our houses, “The Quest” for the “Future House” category, and to our delight we were shortlisted. As a young practice, our built portfolio is small, and therefore I think it is great that there are numerous categories for future projects available. This gives young practices a unique opportunity to showcase their work and to be pitched against the rest of the world, as well as critted by international judges. If your project is shortlisted you are required to attend the festival and present it live to a selection of judges.
Our project “The Quest” is a one-off house in Swanage, and we were pitched against the following projects:
The Olive Grove by Ian Moore Architects
62_2594 Eton Street by Omer Arbel Office
Crescent Villa by SPARK
The Houseboat by Mole Architects
Three Chimneys House by Allen Jack+Cottier Architects
The Quest Strom Architects
Projects ranged from a small house in rural Australia, to a large luxury villa in the UAE. We presented on the first day to three judges; David Basulto, the founder of ArchDaily, architects Rahel Belatchew from Sweden, and Rene Tan from Singapore. Presentations are 10 mins max, followed by 10 mins of questions and answers. I found this enough to present the project and get your design and ideas across; the following questions helped to perhaps delve deeper into certain aspects of the project. I found the direct feedback really rewarding, but not only from the judges, but also from fellow competitors, and other festival participants that wanted to know more about the project and in particular our unusual approach to construction.
Many congratulations to Ian Moore Architects, who walked away with the award for their Olive Grove Project. If I would criticise anything in the judging/ awards process, I would suggest some post-judging feedback and commentary on the entries and the winners, so as to understand the judging process better.
Our category was one of the smaller ones, and did of course not pull the crowds that OMA or BIG did, where the crit rooms were filled to the brim and spilled out into the hall. All entries are displayed around the festival hall, so you can snoop around on the competition, including non-shortlisted projects. There was a definite trend in the submissions that seemed to indicate that the architecture was driven by shape and form finding. To my joy though, the awards seemed to reflect a more rigorous approach, and that free form shape finding, perhaps is not a viable architectural language in its own right.
My personal favourite entry this year came from CHROFI and their design for Lune de Sang Sheds which are to provide support facilities for a sustainable hardwood rainforest. The architecture beautifully responds to the notion of a 300 years lifecycle, and exudes a permanence in the design.
It is also interesting to make a reflection on the location of the Awards in Singapore, and how this affects the entries, as there was a large Asian and Australasian presence at the awards. It is also worth thinking about how one judges projects that have such different geographical and cultural properties. How does a community centre in Slough, that has gone through public procurement and the UK planning process compare with a similar programme of a building in Vietnam, that has completely different restrictions? It is probably true to suggest that an exotic location can add an edge to the project that is hard to find in the UK.
Even if we weren’t successful this year, I met an array of lovely and interesting people, ranging from journalists to architects and publicists, as well as suppliers and manufacturers.
There was also an interesting series of lectures on the theme of the festival: “Architects and the City”. I found the series of lectures titled “Game Changers – Getting to the Next Level” very interesting and they gave an insight into how successful practices took the step up and became what they are today. Speakers included among others Kai-Uwe Bergmann from BIG and Paul Monaghan from AHMM.
Finally, I hope to have made some new friends this year, and it has been invaluable to be away from the desk, meet other architects, and discuss architecture and business, which give you a different perspective, as you suddenly step out from the office and look back in. This is what I call, “work on your business, don’t work in it”. This allows you to come back to the office with renewed enthusiasm and new and revised ideas about what you want to do and where you want to be as an architect, but that is a discussion in its own right.
Although expensive for a small practice, I thought the event was great, and I hope the year ahead presents us with a suitable entry for next year’s festival.