World Architecture Festival

Posted on Jan 07 2009
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From October 23-25 this year, at the inaugural World Architecture Awards in Barcelona, an international jury of architecture luminaries performed an impressive number crunch. Three days, 63 countries, 722 entries, 96 building types, and only 18 awards to announce: 17 category winners, from which they would then choose the big one, 2008 Building of the Year. The task was immense, the field competitive and the standards high, but in the end, the victors emerged. We take a look at some of the first ever World Architecture Festival award winners.

Building of the Year
Category: Learning
Winner: Universita Luigi Bocconi
Architect: Grafton Architects (Dublin 2, Ireland)
Location: Milan, Italy

It was the architects’ skill in capturing the true essence of Milan that clinched the decision at the Building of the Year Awards, convincing the WAF super-jury to name the Universita Luigi Bocconi 2008 Building of the Year. And that’s no mean feat considering that Grafton Architects is a Dublin-based Irish architecture firm (though after six years working in the city on this project, they were well on the way to being de facto locals). From the outset, they had aimed to make this building feel “like a piece of Milan, not an import”, and they obviously succeeded in the eyes of the final panel, which included chair Robert Stern, Dean of Yale School of Architecture; Richard Burdett, Centennial Professor in Architecture and Urbanism at the London School of Economics; Suha Ozkan of the XXI Architecture Centre, Ankara; and Cecil Balmond, Deputy Chairman of Ove Arup & Partners. As WAF Programme Director Paul Finch said: “The winning building has a heavy relationship with the landscape of Milan and has the capacity to make a profound difference to the lives of its users. Grafton Architects have opened up the past of the city with a 21st century attitude”.

The Universita Luigi Bocconi is the largest project ever undertaken by Grafton Architects, conceived as a “miniature city” within the city of Milan itself: what directors Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara call a “skyscape”, hovering above the city proper. It is intended a place of exchange, like Il Broletto, and a beautiful, grand-scale internal/external civic space, like La Scala or Stazione Centrale. Because much of Milan is made of stone – from the ground to the walls and roofs of the city – local Ceppo stone is used as a “geological concrete” to define the external walls and ground floor, making the building seem as robust and rugged as the city itself. At this level, a carved ‘groundscape’ of ramps and sunken courtyards takes inspiration from the roof of the Duomo, where people move through the buttresses, galleries and gutters “with a real sense of drama, removed from the city but always a part of the city”. Ideally, there is no visual boundary between this public world of the university and the private world of the one thousand offices above. The offices act as inhabited light filters, forming a great roof for the public spaces of the university. Hung from enormous roof beams, with rising and falling soffit levels, the offices compress or release the public space, turning the university into a Milan-in-miniature: an urban environment living and breathing beneath an office tower sky.

Category: New & Old
Winner: Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian Institution
Architect: Foster + Partners (London, UK)
Location: Washington DC, USA

Creating another over-and-under-world scene is this Foster + Partners canopyenclosed courtyard: the centrepiece of the latest reinvention programme at the Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, and now one of the largest event spaces in Washington. From this new core space, which also serves to host after-hours social gatherings and concerts, visitors will be able to access the Smithsonian’s other new features, including interactive displays, conservation laboratory, auditorium and expanded gallery space. It was the artful insertion of modern elements into an existing structure that secured the award for Foster + Partners, who were praised by the judging panel for creating a technically sophisticated point of departure between new elements and the old building, releasing its hidden potential.

The fluid-form, fully-glazed canopy that bathes the courtyard in natural light is based on structural themes first visited by the British Museum’s Great Court. Its three interconnected vaults flow together in softly curved valleys, the double-glazed panels set within a diagrid of fins and clad in acoustic material to form a partially self-sustaining rigid shell that requires the support of only eight columns. The entire roof structure floats above the walls of the existing building, clearly articulating the point of old-meets-new, and, when illuminated at night, reinvigorating the Smithsonian as a Washington landmark.

Category: Transport
Winner: Nordpark Cable Railway
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects (London, UK)
Location: Austria

What Zaha Hadid labels the ‘Shell and Shadow’ theme of this project is yet another permutation of the ‘above and below’ trend. It is expressed in lightweight organic roof structures of double-curvature glass floating atop concrete plinths, inspired by glacial moraines and ice movements, so that the four railway stations are like refrozen streams caught mid-slip down the mountainside. The judges praised the “formally innovative” nature of this design, which was achieved using new production methods such as CNC milling and thermoforming, guaranteeing very precise translation of computer generated design into the built structure.

The project consists of four new railway stations and a cable-stayed suspension bridge over the River Inn. The railway begins at ‘Congress’ station in the centre of Innsbruck, passes north through Lowenhaus station, then ascends Nordkette Mountain to the Alpenzoo station, before reaching the final station at Hungerburg Village, 288 metres above the city, where passengers can join the cable car to the summit of Seegrube mountain.

Category: Housing
Winner: Mountain Dwellings
Architect: BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group (Copenhagen N, Denmark)
Location: Copenhagen S, Denmark

Instead of working with an existing slope, the architects of this housing development decided to make one from scratch. Knowing that there’s nothing worse than housing without parking – and nothing more ugly than a parking block on its own – BIG literally designed an 11-storey mountain of parking spaces covered with a shallow layer of apartments, like snow on the hillside. The residents of the 80 Mountain Dwelling apartments will be the first in the new development of Orestad to have parking directly outside their homes, with 480 parking spaces literally below their feet. The mountain theme is perpetuated by aluminium plates on the north and west façades, which are perforated in a depiction of Mount Everest that follows the slope of the building from the 11th storey to streetfront. Inside, each parking level is painted a different colour, so that at night, the mountain sparkles in a spectrum of bright spots against the dark façade. This striking artwork writ large also serves to ventilate and light the interior of the car park, an effect enhanced by the high ceilings made possible by the hill formation. The judges said that this first scheme portends a promising future for its young architect, and praised the first for its “excellent outdoor private spaces”. For the residents not only have parking, they also have personal green space and access to much sought-after Scandinavian sunlight, each apartment facing the sun with a terrace garden that changes colour and character according to the seasons.

Category: Production
Winner: BMW Welt – Event, Exhibition and Automobile Delivery Centre
Architect: COOP HIMMELB(L)AU (Vienna, Austria)
Location: Munich, Germany

The judges described the scheme of the BMW Welt Automobile Delivery Centre as “deeply indebted to Le Corbusier’s enquiring mind and dedication to experimental culture”, though it seems to also incorporate elements of Saville Row, an old-time assembly line, and the Batcave. Vehicle delivery is the physical and functional hub of the building: a loading yard for new vehicles, carwashes, mechanic workshops, final paint-inspection sites and a 250-car automatic highrise storage unit are testament to this. For delivery to the customer, the vehicle is transported to a private underground rotating stage – dubbed Premiere – via transparent glass elevators. Carrying on this bespoke approach, the building also incorporates a range of customer facilities: a hotel for long-haul customers; two luxury lounge levels; an 800-capacity auditorium with variable hydraulic topography, a hall and acoustically segregated auditorium, full-service conference rooms cantilevered 20 metres out from the Forum. Underground are the truck loading docks, catering kitchens, artist dressing rooms (for stage performances), storage and service rooms, 600-space public carpark and 16 elevator groups. The Tower in the south west is a multifunction area with indoor and outdoor terraces, two main restaurant units, exhibition and sales floors, administrative offices for up to 200, the Junior Campus for children and young people, and sightlines to the Hall and beyond. Finally, the Double Cone is a full-service, multi-storey ‘event realm’ with separate catering infrastructure, exhibition space, and rotating platforms, making it possible to exhibit vehicles from the workshop area.

Category: Civic
Winner: GZBICC – Guangzhou Baiyun International Convention Centre
Architect: Buro II (Brussels, Belgium)
Location: Guangzhou, China

Every large-scale town centre renaissance needs its keystone development: the catalyst for change, the symbol of a new beginning. The administration of Guangzhou decided that this would be the role of the new International Convention Centre. Located on the site of an old airport, the building is separated from the cloud-capped Baiyun Mountains (Baiyun means white cloud) by the Baiyun Highway, and stands between the mountain landscape and the existing conglomeration of old-and-new developments. Not wanting to build yet another barrier, Buro Il created four ‘ecobridges’ or ‘green fingers’, which cross the highway, healing the physical rift between mountain and plain, wild and urban, natural and manmade. The building itself reflects the rugged angles of the mountains, the local historical feldspathic quartz sandstone of the south and west façades mimicking the landscape while enhancing thermal performance in the subtropical Chinese climate.

Structurally, the horizontal modules are grouped in the two-storey base, housing catering services, multifunction exhibition and banquet halls, VIP area, management and supervision offices, media centre and main circulatory connections. Five vertical modules house specialised activities which function independently or together. The two end blocks are given to accommodation as well as restaurants, bars, dance halls, clubs, business centres and fitness centres, and the Congress centre is sandwiched in between these end blocks, spreading throughout the central three vertical elements. The northernmost of these contains an exclusive meeting hall and 2500-capacity auditorium, the central unit contains midsized halls, and the southern block houses halls suitable for 1000 and 500 people.

As a piece of civic infrastructure, the convention centre is open and interactive. A large public space is created along the East Jichang Road, and the northern façades are very transparent, ensuring close contact between indoors and out. In the words of the jury panel, the project “breaks down scale and integrates nature”. In the words of Buro Il, it is “the motor of this new urban process”.

Category: Religion and Contemplation
Winner: Dornbusch Church
Architect: Meixner Schlüter Wendt Achitekten (Frankfurt am Main, Germany)
Location: Frankfurt, Germany

At first glance it looks as though the demolition team couldn’t bear to knock down this 60-year-old church in its entirety. In fact, the old structure was merely halved: the areas still in use (part of the church, the community centre and the tower) retained, and the rest cleared and turned into an open churchyard for public use. The open side of the building created by the partial-demolition is now enclosed with a new façade of reinforced concrete and masonry, its plasterwork surface marked out with the outlines of the old removed church structures, the former floorplan of which is painted on the churchyard asphalt, thus turning the space into a reverent sculptural feature. In the words of the architects: “The impression of a form is a reference to something which is apparently absent and which in this sense is coherent with transcendental contents... The history of the site remains alive in the memory of the congregation”. Inside, the much-loved original stained-glass windows are complemented by the warm-coloured band that unites the floor, ceiling and short sides of the central activity area, and the furniture – pulpit, altar, storage boxes and seating – which are moveable to allow for different service atmospheres.

Category: Sport
Winner: Sports Hall Bale
Architect: 3LHD Architects (Zagreb, Croatia)
Location: Bale, Croatia

This sports hall – which also serves as a space for social gatherings, community meetings and a place to watch the football world cup – is the town’s second largest building after the church, so it has immense community significance. Built for a mostly agricultural population of 1000 in the Istria peninsula, the intensely Mediterranean context called for a very sensitive response. 3LHD found inspiration in the small traditional stone hut, the kazun, a small multi-function structure used by shepherds to shelter from the heat in summer and the cold in winter. This prehistoric building form is traditionally built from carefully interlocking stones without cement or mortar, a drystone wall motif that was applied throughout this winning design. Its size is based on the basketball playground, from which extend a fitness centre and sauna, and low small locker rooms for a planned underground connection to the local school. That this project, the smallest-scale project in the shortlist, managed to scoop the award is a feat made all the more impressive by the calibre of its rivals, which included the Beijing Olympics’ Watercube and the Olympic Green Tennis Centre, the Kensington Oval in Barbados, and London’s Wembley National Stadium.

Category: Nature
Winner: Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum
Architect: WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism (New York, USA)
Location: Seattle, USA

From eco fingers to zigzags of green, it is no surprise that the judges were impressed by this project’s capacity to “transform the city”. This outdoor sculpture park is located on the city’s last undeveloped waterfront property, a former oil transfer facility sliced by train tracks and an arterial road. Before work could even begin, over 120,00 tonnes of contaminated soil had to be removed, and a new landform created to cap the remaining petroleum-contaminated soil: a landform made from 200,000 cubic tonnes of clean fill excavated during the downtown expansion of the Seattle Art Museum itself. Strikingly, it is this landform that makes the sculpture park a WAF Award winner, the judges “convinced by the functional and striking way the architecture and landscaped merged, forming a promenade zigzagging from city level down to the formerly inaccessible shore”. The green Zshaped ramp rises over existing infrastructure as it descends 40 feet from the city to the water, connecting three formerly disjointed zones via three distinct archetypal Northwest landscapes. At the first stage, dense temperate evergreen forests and ferns stretch across the highway with views Olympic Mountains; the second link crosses the train tracks with a deciduous forest of Quaking Aspens and views to the city and ports; and the final bend descends to the tidal terraces and shoreline garden, with views of the newly-created beach. The main pedestrian route follows this zigzag, beginning at an 18,000 square foot exhibition pavilion, the varied topography encouraging a diversity of sculptures, a range of scales, and endless new interpretations. As the architects put it, the whole scheme serves to mend the “fractured relationships” between art, landscape and urban life. +


Category: Culture
Winner: Oslo Opera House
Architect: SNØHETTA (Oslo, Norway)
Location: Oslo, Norway

Category: Energy Waste and Recycling
Winner: Landscape Restoration of the Controlled Rubbish Dump ‘La Vall d’en Joan’
Architect: Batlle & Roig Architects (Esplugues de Llobregat, Spain)
Location: El Garraf, Spain

Category: Health
Winner: Centre pour le Bien-être des Femmes et la prévention des mutilations génitales féminines ‘G.Kambou’ (CBF Women’s Health Centre)
Architect: FAREstudio (Rome, Italy)
Location: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Category: Holiday
Winner: Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre
Architect: Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects (Vancouver, Canada)
Location: Osoyoos, Canada

Category: Office
Winner: Duoc Corporate Building
Architect: Sabbagh Arquitectos (Santiago, Chile)
Location: Santiago, Chile

Category: Pleasure
Winner: Sheep Stable
Architect: 70F Architecture (Almere, Netherlands)
Location: Almere, Netherlands

Category: Shopping
Winner: K:fem
Architect: Wingårdh Arkitektkontor AB
Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Category: Private House
Winner: Final Wooden House
Architect: Sou Fujimoto Architects (Nakano, Japan)
Location: Japan


1 Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian Institution by Foster + Partners 2 Nordpark Cable Railway by Zaha Hadid Architects 3 Mountain Dwellings by BIG – Bjarke Iingels Group 4 BMW Welt – Event Exhibition and Automobile Delivery Centre by COOP HIMMELB(L)AU 5 Guangzhou Baiyun International Convention Centre by BURO II 6 Dornbusch Church by Meixner Schlüter Wendt Architekten 7 Sports Hall Bale by 3LHD Architects 8 Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum by Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism

IMAGES courtesy of Werner Huthmacher, Christoph Kraneburg, Damir Fabijanic, Roland Halbe