Features

World Architecture Festival: Day Two

November 5, 2010

Josh McAlister reports on the difficult venue and the absence of big names on Day Two at the WAF in Barcelona.

Day two at the World Architecture Festival did not start with the same level of excitement experienced on Day One. Even as the competition heats up and participants are getting to the pointy end of their overseas adventure, the buzz has settled to a gentle simmer.

The venue, Barcelona’’s CCIB, is partly to blame. It’s a moonscape and –– like most convention centres –– it was constructed with the belief that ‘if you build it, they will come’. But they didn’’t come. Nonetheless, the 2004 Herzog & de Meuron design, which resembles a decaying blue sponge, is worth a look: a modern-day ruin and an ever present reminder of why mirror should never be used as an external cladding for a beachside project.

It seems an oxymoron to travel to Barcelona, a premium example of high density city living, only to be shuttled to the outskirts of town. Perhaps I should seek out someone on the organising committee and propose that next year we crowd into the city’’s tiny smoky bars to present. Minimum facilities, perhaps, but maximum atmosphere. It might be a good ice-breaker and should stop delegates from sneaking off for long lunches and not finding their way back.

One of the promoted highlights of the festival is the WAF Awards, which are presented and announced during the festival via speed judging. Presenting projects on an international scale is an interesting experience. Today I presented Churchill Intergenerational Hub, a modest community project in rural Gippsland. My cattle call (some aspects of jury presentations are the same the world over) saw me present between festival darlings David Chipperfield Architects with their Barcelona City of Justice project, along with a host of Scandinavian dancehalls and sporting facilities. Salubrious company indeed.

The categories are loosely divided into programmatic functions, with diverse levels of scale, construction and cultural idiosyncrasies. In one category, Norway’’s Halden Prison by Erik Moller Arkitekter, a socialist utopian take on minimum-security rehabilitation, was presented to Mexican Miquel Adria, Brazilian Isay Weinfeid and Argentine Tomas Powell. The irony of this was not lost on the judges, whose collective prison systems could be described as medieval.

Yesterday I attended the Neues Museum presentation, although David Chipperfield –– the keynote speaker –– did not show up. Fortunately I managed to stumble across a virtual Chipperfield accompanied by a virtual Robert A.M. Stern while perusing the awards gallery. This made me realise that these architectural firms are fulfilling a successful branding exercise, even in the absence of the big names. No Zaha, no Libeskind; their projects instead presented by the architects who we may assume completed them. Which leaves me wondering who I’’m going to stalk now… this lack of celebrities has made local heroes EMBT stand out as crowd favourites, not only for showing up but also for presenting in exuberant Spanish style. Viva Espana! I wonder whether I’’ll spot Will Alsop……

Success! Alsop is here, larger than life, in the flesh and flying the flag for one stream of the UK’’s architectural thinking. Distinct from the likes of Rogers and Foster, Alsop commences his discussion addressing the incorporation of art in architecture by drawing a line in the sand with “‘my good friend David Chipperfield, who has only three types of buildings,”– a phrase he likes to repeat. Unfortunately Chipperfield is absent once again, so we may never know what he thinks of that.

Coming up: Day Three festival wrap up

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