In mid-November, I attended the 2016 World Architecture Festival in Berlin and for the next three days I had the opportunity to see some of the world’s best architects showcase their creative wares in an industrial hangar ordinarily used for Berlin’s night time club ravers. This part of Berlin is full of refurbished Modernist buildings sat on cobbled streets alongside the many peeling paint remnants of socialist buildings, what a great location to have a design festival.
Whilst this year’s WAF has been somewhat overshadowed by some discussions on social housing and parks in London, my own personal top 5 highlights in descending order of impression, are summarised from this years festival:
5. Haptic Architects – Coco Bay, Da Nang, Vietnam
In the Future Projects category Tomas Stokke from Haptic Architects discussed the possibility of evolving a rural society into an urban paradise. Stokke introduced their emerging scheme for the visionary business area in Coco Bay, Da Nang, Vietnam. This was an area of paddy field and marshland and his client, an entrepreneurial young hotelier, wanted to see how an area could be drastically regenerated and transformed to afford communities to experience the city. Haptic saw the opportunity to begin by massing the site before looking at 3 towers in particular which began to search for a contemporary Vietnamese identity. It was the beginning of a study into developing world transformation and if even a tenth of this were done in that area it would make this part of Vietnam one of the most vibrant sites of construction and jobs in Asia. One of the jury was not quite so sure about modernising such a site in such a way, but it was clear that this was an exercise in density and Stokke was at pains to clarify that this was not the final thing only the brain dump version before refinement took place, a point which may have been missed by some people.
4. Allies and Morrison- Madinat Al Irfan, Muscat, Oman.
In contrast to the above, Alfredo Caraballo, Partner at Allies and Morrison, presented their new mixed-use project in Muscat, Oman. This was a project which, if anything, worshipped the existing and historical. The urban community project is designed to adapt a ‘wadi’, which runs between the various villages and centres. These villages include residential, commercial, retail, recreation and tourist facilities. A key point that Carabello made was that “buildings come and go but a river remains, it is a source of life and helps build communities and in turn life”. This was poetical and gave a reality check to the ongoing audience that we are all here to support other people and communities survive and thrive and part of this is creating a landscape that removes cars and encourages walking. This helps with health, it helps with clusters of communities, it integrates pedestrian routes alongside buildings, all while paying homage to the wadi.
Everyone could feel the salience of this project and it was evident it had been a labour of love. A highlight for sure.
3. Aedas – Chengdu City Music Hall, China
As the winner of the 2016 World Architecture Festival Award for Future Building in China, Andy Bromberg of Aedas explained how the Chengdu City Music Hall project came to be and in doing so demonstrated a great understanding of the integration of culture with modernity. He referenced Shan Shui paintings as a source of inspiration, citing the mountains and river of Sichuan as the indigenous origins of this ancient landscape reinterpreted into an urban vernacular.
The project works on two levels, firstly at the lower level where the venues entrances, ambulatory and general buzz of building life is germinated but it is actually in the upper levels where the urban forest unfolds and through a series of paths, routes levels depicts the ancient landscapes, not unlike the topological visions of the future where foliage has over grown buildings and nature shows its power over the investiture of man’s attempts of longevity. It’s no use in the fight between buildings and nature the latter wins, as it becomes abandoned by humans and becomes reclaimed by nature. The audience had an appreciation for this depiction in this balance between physical and the ephemeral relationship of spaces.
2. Simon Allford – AHMM
Simon Alford of AHMM is perhaps one of the ultimate show men in architecture. Allford spoke of how we as people live and as such his surgeries were always incredibly well attended with people literally standing outside of the inflated lecture spaces. Allford explained his views on how technology is affecting our modern-day lives. We were led to think, what would the world be like without our mobile phones? Are we all slaves to technology? When do you let your hair down and enjoy the beauty of live human communication without checking your emails?
Allford discussed modern workspaces, mentioning visionaries such as Frank Duffy and the negative duality of contemporary mobile working. The internet has given us the luxury to work anywhere and everywhere, to the point that the last thing we do before we go to sleep is check our messages, as we put our phone on the side of our beds. All this really means is that people work for longer and later than ever and don’t switch off, and our freedom is relinquished.
Modern day work space is no longer contained within a building but follows us around in our pockets. The luddite’s that abhorred the idea of after-hours communication, who clocked in and out of the factory were the smart ones, as private lives were cherished. Now we are 24-hour work slaves, what does this say about the new generation’s health and wellbeing? Also, there must be a way of quantifying what we do so that architects are paid for their ideas, so the more ideas you have the more you can generate rather than underselling drawings, based on material quantity. What about valuing the intellectual act of design?
Allford raised valuable questions about the quality of life and the real issues that human beings think and if architects are sensitive enough they reflect it in some way. This talk was beyond architecture so is in our view, the second most significant presentation in the whole series of this year’s WAF.
1. Peter Cook of Archigram and Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelblau
When speakers such as the founders of Archigram and Coop Himmelblau come together to give a keynote speech, both having arrived at an age when they have achieved so much, there are bound to be some profound pearls on offer and this did not disappoint.
Both Peter Cook and Wolf Prix went on to discuss the role of the architect and in Peter’s case he spoke of those architects who endeavoured to take risk often against the tide of business, they were people who as a professionals we should encourage and support as they endeavour to move the intellectual and colourful progressed.
He summarised it as “Architects don’t be meely mouthed – Cheer on the talented and the bold”.
Meanwhile Prix discussed how architects think of themselves as evangelical characters, who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders but in reality their clients saw them as a character likened to Charlie Chaplin who was busy tightening the bolts for a much bigger contraption. There was an element of humility and battle scars in Prix’ presentation as he described the clients brief and ambition as being like a tiger but the budget as likened to a pussy cat, such are the realities of projects.
Both men paid a huge tribute to Zaha Hadid who they felt was outwardly not the easiest character but was an architect of principle, a visionary who changed the face of contemporary architecture.
Prix mentioned when he invited Zaha to be a lecturer at Vienna and she replied by asking if the school had a helipad, he replied no but they have free lunches to which Zaha responded by saying she was on her way. She had a great sense of humour was fiercely bright and they both missed her deeply.
It would have been a solemn note on which to end were it not for the great affinity and affection that they each had for each other. A couple of aged architectural gladiators fondly looking on the past. It was sincere and unaffected.
This speech and indeed the one by Allford, brought back the fact that architecture is about people, and buildings are merely the envelopes in which they inhabit but it is the spirit of man that is the essence of greatness in any work of architecture.
See the 2016 World Architecture Festival overall winners here.