Catalytic conversations and winning workplaces at World Architecture Festival 2023

by Sophie Berrill
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The 2023 World Architecture Festival started with a rush of delegates into Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Wednesday 29 November. Here are the highlights from day one according to Facility Management (FM).

World Architecture Festival (WAF) is the largest global live-judged awards event for architects and designers. After a successful return to in-person festivities in Portugal last year, WAF chose Singapore as its host for the first time since 2015.

The Expo and Convention Centre at the base of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands hosted WAF 2023.

The program now spans 44 categories across future projects, landscapes, interiors and complete buildings. The final projects are judged and winners are announced at the festival between 29 November to 1 December. Inside World Festival of Interiors (IWFI) also runs concurrently with WAF.

Catalytic conversations

Centred around this year’s theme ‘Catalyst’, keynotes and panel discussions from industry leaders complemented the spectacle of the live-judging.

In his brief welcome address on Wednesday, WAF program director Paul Finch explained that the festival was interested in discovering the “drivers” behind the attitudes and values of architects and designers.

WAF program director Paul Finch.

What makes a building iconic?

Finch drew attention to the local context by welcoming to the stage Safdie Architects senior partner Charu Kokate to discuss her lead project work on Marina Bay Sands and Jewel Changi Airport, among other Singapore landmarks. Kokate’s talk aptly explored the question of the architectural icon for the first keynote.

Safdie Architects senior partner Charu Kokate.

“You don’t even have to be a hotel guest to go and see the observation deck, and who would have imagined doing yoga in the sky?” Kokate said of Marina Bay Sands. 

“This sky park has changed the way Singapore thinks about rooftops. This sky park has been a game-changer to see how people can use space in the sky that otherwise would be taken up by mechanical equipment and other things.”

“Marina Bay Sands – as you all know – is a global phenomenon around the world, and known as [the] symbol of Singapore. It’s also an example of how architecture can be a catalyst for economic growth and change.”

Kokate explained how these buildings have created a sense of pride and belonging for their end-users.

“Iconic is something that people bestow the title on the buildings. It’s not something that you can just create and say: ‘make it iconic’,” she concluded.

Jewel Changi Airport.

Using Super Connectors to combat density

Veteran Singaporean architect planner Tan Cheng Siong followed Kokate to present his thesis on why cities, rich and poor, urgently need ‘Super Connectors’. 

Using Singapore as an example, he spoke of how its “beautiful” high-density structures have unfortunately created “ghost towns” at their bases, which would be rectified with better on-the-ground connection.

Tan Cheng Siong.

“Density alone is not good enough,” he said.

“You don’t live in super high rises all the time – you need to come down to the ground. And with more cars, more roads, more everything on the ground, man has lost his place. They can’t even walk properly, they can’t even cycle properly, they can’t even meet properly on the ground in the open air, so this is my concern.”

WAF and IFWI winners

Meanwhile, across 17 crit rooms, hundreds of studios presented shortlisted projects for the WAFX Prizes and the IFWI awards. They were under tough pressure from judges posing questions in front of curious crowds seated in the small, igloo-like rooms.

Audiences watch live-judging in the crit rooms.

At the end of the day some of the winners were announced.

Taking out the WAF award for Completed Buildings – Office was Surat Diamond Bourse in India by Morphogenesis. The United Nations International Office of Migration won in the Future Projects – Office category. IWFI’s INSIDE: Workplace (Large) award went to Woods Bagot for the interior design of M&C Saatchi’s Sydney headquarters.

Murrenda Residential Aged Care Home by STH was the only other Australian project to win an award on day one. See all of Wednesday’s winners on the WAF website.

Photography by WAF unless otherwise stated.

Editorial note: WAF paid for FM to attend the festival.

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