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WAF 2011: Are UK practices losing their touch?

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UK practices won just two out of the 26 categories at this year’s annual WAF festival in Barcelona, despite making up nearly 20 per cent of all the schemes shortlisted. Are we falling behind the rest of the world?

Only Stanton Williams’ Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge and Gustafson Porter’s Shoreline Walk in Beirut, Lebanon picked up awards on behalf of British-based outfits. The AJ asked those who went to the World Architecture Festival 2011 what they thought it meant.

Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris:
‘WAF is increasingly more international: which, bearing in mind its title is appropriate. Is UK architecture in decline? No. As a result of the economic situation only London is building much and, remarkably, much of what us built is still excellent.
‘This year at WAF there was a perhaps romantic, or worse still Puritan, preference for the more simple and less complex projects than those that London generates. It is just part of the ebb and flow of fashion and taste.’

Ken Shuttleworth of MAKE:
‘It was really good to see some fascinating projects [from around the world] but the schemes by British architects were easily equal to anything else there..

It is difficult to make London look so romantic

The problem in our category - future commercial - which I sat through all day was the incredible range of projects. The jury was not really comparing apples with apples - more apples with pears, [total] bananas and wild very exotic fruit. So the winner was in the most seductive place with beautiful sunset images in a golden desert and camels, and although a wonderful boutique hotel, was perhaps in fact the least commercial.
‘It is difficult to make London look so romantic. To be fair the judges had a very difficult task. Perhaps impossible. Still I really enjoyed the whole thing it was great fun and will be back next year.’

Angus Ryan at De Matos Ryan:
‘We like to think of architecture as a global commodity but it simply isn’t that simple. By comparison to the audacity of the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] economies or the immediacy of Africa, the issues that seem to arise from the UK were ones of intelligent but polite re-use , such as AHMM’s Angel Building or Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West’s Park Hill, or the finessing of an already established culture as with Haworth Tompkin’s Snape Maltings and Eric Parry’s Holburne Museum.. The polar opposite to those schemes being presented by the Far East, which made me feel like I was peering into a parallel universe.

WAF winner

WAF winner

The schemes which had a social or environmental agenda seemed to have faired the best. The green credentials of the overall winning Media TIC by Cloud 9 showed a significant way forward for ‘Offices’. Likewise Architectenbureau Koen van Velsen’s Rehabilitation Centre represented a brave new world in the health sector.
‘Overall, however, my lasting memory of WAF 2011,  was of strong narrative, whether the brick making of Sharon Davis’ ‘Women’s Opportunity Centre’ in Rwanda or the tomatoes of Domenic Alvaro’s ‘Small House’.

Christophe Egret of Studio Egret West:
‘Some years we’re good and some year’s we’re less good but I certainly don’t think that UK architects have lost their grip. We haven’t lost our edge compared to the competition.
‘What happens is that as architects we often live in the silo of our own country and probably in England [this is] more than other countries.’ WAF opened my horizon to a much wider architectural vocabulary and because WAF is architects pitching to architects it forces you to discuss architecture in a very different way to talking to clients.’

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