The World Architecture Festival is wrapping up its fourth iteration and AN has been there since the beginning as official United States media sponsor. We have seen it grow from a small mostly British bash in Barcelona to a truly international competition and trade show with over 1,400 participants from 68 countries. One of the functions of our participation is that I serve as official judge in one of the event’s 15 short-listed categories for best built project (plus there are ten categories for unrealized projects). This year I served with Michigan University’s architecture dean Monica Ponce de Leon and Barcelona architect Fermin Vazquez as jurors in the Civic and Community group. We were asked to select the best of show in the category with the winner going on to the final round where it is considered by a super jury including Michael Sorkin, Jo Noera, Odile Decq (who sadly was stuck in China) and engineer wizard Tim Macfarlane.
This year’s Civic and Community category had a strong list of participants from Vietnam, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, South Africa, Iran and six other countries including the United States. The jurors had a spirited debate that focused on whether we should support and promote “worthy” projects with small budgets and limited architectural goals or just look at the quality of the architecture regardless of budget, materials or expression. This debate seemed to come down to looking at each project as either “worthy” or “corporate (or chalk and cheese)” as one Brit juror put it. Worthy projects were pretty obvious, but what made a particular project corporate was open to dispute and debate. Does it mean it comes out of a corporate practice or an expression of a certain commercial client/designer relationship. I was supportive of two projects that another juror argued were corporate. I saw one as simply a well-designed project of steel and glass. Never mind. In the end, the jury selected Marlon Blackwell’s Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Arkansas the winner. This small $150 per square foot building transformed an existing three-car garage structure into an extraordinary roadside chapel that everyone should see on their next trip to Arkansas.
The metal church went on to the final round but lost out to the Media-ICT by home team Cloud 9 architects that is just down the road from the festival in Barcelona. By chance the festival even had its opening night party at the Media-ICT. In spite of its sickly green lighting that made us all look ill, it is another really wonderful contemporary Barcelona building. For more winners go to the WAF website.