Reasons to be cheerful
The WAFX winners for 2022 show the sheer power of architecture as a way of envisaging the future, writes Jeremy Melvin.
They address many of our problems including climate change, war, famine, governmental failure, and a hopefully receding pandemic that we will have to address if ever greater numbers are going to live on our planet. This cannot be given that pejorative label ‘paper architecture’. Most, if not all, could be realised with the technology and skills of today. It is the imaginative vision with which they bring existing skills together that makes the winners remarkable, in line with architecture’s status as a synthetic discipline.
Winners include ways of using redundant industrial relics for human benefit, like the Concorde hanger in Bristol, a power station in Shanghai and a brewery in Malta. Some would introduce sustainability to revolutionise construction methods. Others propose how marginalised communities might live within a sustainable, wider society in North America, Europe and Australia. And there is an extraordinary mud brick tower in Dakar, Senegal which, through biocomputation and advanced material engineering, mobilises natural and artificial resources like water, energy, air, cultural beliefs, and robotics to become ‘an icon of the ecological era’.
Collectively these winners reinforce the overarching principle of the WAFX futures programme, that architecture has a fundamental but often overlooked part to play in securing our future. As the great American post-modern architect Charles Moore wrote, ‘If we [architects] can lose the agonies attending our professional hang-ups about revolution, relevance, ineffectiveness, hierarchy, advocacy or arrogance, divine right, racism, inefficiency, failure to reproduce, isolation, and certification, we will have left in our province one of the key tools for the solution of the world: design. And from this we can take heart'. All those ‘agonies’ are noise, sometimes very loud and impossible to ignore, but diverting architects from their potential to help work out the future.
We launched the futures programme at our tenth festival in 2017 because we realised over previous years that the quality of thought among future project entries made for more than just a collection of individual proposals. Together they seemed to bear out Moore’s optimism for design as a way of addressing the world’s problems, coming up with harbingers of the future that politicians, re-insurers, financiers and climate change scientists would never be likely to envisage.
This year though marks a step change on the awards programme. Initially we established ten categories. However the dividing lines between them were rarely precise and it has become increasingly difficult to allocate some of the most inventive and innovative projects to individual categories – some designs could have won several. So we have redefined the categories into broader and looser groupings, which we believe better reflect the most advanced architectural thinking, at least as represented in our entries this year. These groupings are: construction technology; cultural identity; habitat 1 (environmental); habitat 2 (community) and re-use. How we have defined them will become clear below.
We introduced the two habitat headings because a significant number of the projects we selected dealt with conceptions of habitation over and above older categories like ethics and values or power and justice. It also seemed otiose to have a single category for climate, energy and carbon, as all the projects address this, often in very different ways. To us, especially when dividing habitat into those projects that focused on communities, from those that focus primarily on the wider environment, better reflected the nature of the projects both collectively and individually.
Habitat - environment
The environmental habitat grouping has two large scale urban retrofits to make urban districts sustainable, in Toronto Canada and Dong Fang China; a radical vision that would transform 70,000 ha of South Essex, on the north bank of the Thames Estuary in the UK, into a single eco park; and a proposal for a new type of city based on the concept of the circular economy commissioned by the government of the African state of Gabon. Each of them matches environmental with social sustainability.
The ‘Downsview Framework’ plan in Toronto will transform the 200-plus hectares of the city’s former Downsview Airport into a complete, connected community, and the largest urban development in Canada. It draws on Henning Larsen’s knowledge of sustainable Danish city building and KPMB’s knowledge of Toronto’s climate, fabric and culture, working with landscape architects SLA and planners Urban Strategy to combine markets, maker spaces and urban farming around a green infrastructure. Its 50,000 homes will house 80,000 residents, all low-rise and mass timber construction for environmental sustainability, while social sustainability comes from a commitment to social equity, involving indigenous people and ensuring that all vital amenities are within 15 minutes walk of each home.
Downsview Framework Plan, Design Team: Henning Larsen (Urban Design); KPMB Architects (Architecture); SLA Architects (Landscape); Urban Strategies (Planning), Canada
‘Cold Corridor, Cold Street and Cold Terrace to Resist Dry Hot Wind’, by Nanjing Urban Planning and Design Institute, proposes three strategies to improve the external environment in Dongfang on the most southern of China’s islands, Hainan. First is the creation of ventilated corridors to encourage cool winds from the West Lake and the ocean into the city centre. This recalls the local vernacular of building close to sources of coolness and using buildings to shape wind funnels, which has been lost in modern development. Second, the design moves from the level of the city to the scale of neighbourhoods, increasing the ‘cold’ corridors into a network of dozens of streets. Third, at the level of individual buildings the emphasis will be of the way facades provide the public realm with a rich visual experience and a series of cool micro spaces with shade and multiple levels to encourage habitation.
Conceptual Planning and Urban Design in the Coastal Area of Dong Fang City, China, Nanjing Urban Planning & Design Institute of S.E.U Co., Ltd.
BAD (Built by Associative Data) and Guallart Architects argue that the ‘Forest City’ takes the African forest as a ground zero for new cities. Rather than the industrial city model of linear flows of energy food and commodities, this model is circular where energy food and goods are produced, consumed within the city which also re- or upcycles its waste. Not only does this provide a basis for sustainable urbanisation but implies numerous social benefits too as the circular economic model can also apply to politics and education.
The Forest City Project, BAD - Built by Associative Data + Guallart Architects, Gabon
The Thames Estuary faces severe challenges from climate change, as the UK sees higher and higher temperatures with sea level rise imminent. ‘SEEPARK’, conceived by Alexandra Steed of Urban, proposes 12,500 ha of absorptive landscapes to mitigate flooding, a net gain in biodiversity with 23,000 ha of natural habitats, as well as exemplary standards for public spaces, an active travel network, and opportunities for green employment, development and investment.
SEEPARK (South Essex Estuary Park), Alexandra Steed URBAN, United Kingdom
The community habitat grouping shifts to a smaller scale. Its projects are the Hal-Caprat care village for elderly people with dementia and other mental disabilities in Malta, the redevelopment of what was western Europe’s largest women’s prison, Holloway, in London, a proposal to bring research, education and treatment of eye conditions under one roof, also in London, and a multipurpose hub for indigenous people in Toronto. Many of these touch on the issues highlighted in our original categories of ethics and values, and aging and health.
‘Hal Caprat’ by Valentino Architects seeks literally to integrate retirement and care homes into the community by designing them as an integral part of the fabric of the village of Zebbug. As far as possible the new homes follow traditional local patterns, with the village centre an easy walk away, but also subtly create an identity which residents will find familiar such as colouring external walls a dusty red hue and distinctively shaped windows. A graded network of private, social and public spaces encourages levels of interaction between residents and strengthens possibilities for contact between them and visitors and carers. Overall the design seeks to provide an empathetic and domestic environment rather than an institutional one.
Ħal-Caprat Care Village, Valentino Architects, Malta
Even without the controversy of imprisoning female convicts who tend to be less violent than their male counterparts, Holloway in London was notorious. In the early 20th century famous suffragettes were imprisoned and maltreated there, including Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison and the composer Ethel Smyth whose March of the Women became the suffragette anthem. Holloway was also one of the few places where women were executed, including the last woman to be judicially killed by the British state, Ruth Ellis in 1955. The imposing Victorian castle was replaced by more humane buildings in the 1970s which closed in 2016. AHMM’s proposal, with housing provider the Peabody Trust, seeks to transform this site of oppression into a place for fair and equitable living, with a series of public spaces to suit all ages and levels of mobility, 15 efficient and attractive buildings spread across five plots, and a women’s building in a prominent location to mark the site’s history.
Holloway Prison, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, United Kingdom
Designed by AECOM, Penoyre & Prasad and White Arkitekter, ‘Oriel’ takes an innovative approach to integrate sight-related care, research and education, in effect creating a community around patients, providers and students. That comes through in the three principles which underpin the design: a new public realm in the heart of the building and a new civic presence; provision for casual and formal interaction; and flexibility to cope with future needs and technologies. As the new home for Moorfields Eye Hospital, the UK’s leading centre for eye care, and UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology, it is not just a local community but part of a worldwide network of research, teaching and practice of sight care.
Oriel, AECOM, Penoyre & Prasad and White Arkitekter, United Kingdom
Toronto’s Indigenous ‘Hub’ by Stantec Architecture/BDP Quadrangle with Two Row Architect addresses within the specific experience of indigenous people in Canada a far more widespread condition of the status of indigenous people within cities created by settlers. It is far reaching and complex, including a health hub to provide care and social services for indigenous groups across the city, 400 homes, training and employment support together with commercial activities. The idea is to inscribe an indigenous presence and influence within the wider urban fabric in a way which reflects indigenous culture. At the level of detailed design that means street edges that are transparent and connections to the land through native plants and trees, traditionally used for healing. Restoring a heritage building for retail units both suggests a union between traditional and colonial settlement where the latter does not dominate the former Overall it aims to promote and project indigenous people and their way of life as an integral part of a more inclusive city.
Toronto's Indigenous Hub, Stantec Architecture/BDP Quadrangle with Two Row Architect, Canada
Re-use was one of our original categories and remains one of the most important challenges for architecture into the future, especially where the dilemma arises around whether to retrofit existing substandard buildings, or replace them using the most advance techniques of sustainability (see Paul Finch’s letter from London in this edition of WAFN). In addition to that are the sheer, sublime possibilities that heroic industrial structures offer that would be hard to replicate with new construction. The latter point is especially true in the four projects considered here, Farsons Old Brewhouse and Trident Park in Malta, the Shanghai Yangshupu Power Plant, Cairo’s Old Post Office and the Brabazon Aircraft Hangars in Bristol, converted to the UK’s fourth largest arena.
ritchie*studio uses the architectural magic of colour, light and shade to enhance the brewhouse’s inherent qualities and transform the building into a centre for events, hospitality, entertaining and working. Users will share rooftop gardens and terraces, and food and beverage outlets. A 200m long art deco colonnade connects to the new workspaces of Trident Park. Inspired by the courtyards and gardens of knights’ templars’ palaces and the way they manipulated the climate to stay cool and comfortable, the seven new buildings comprising Trident Park are all low rise, face east west, have opening windows, generous shading natural light and ventilation, all bathed in colour. Each floor has access from external stairs and galleries, eliminating internal lifts and giving generous uninterrupted internal spaces with 95 per cent lettable area. The result is a unique set of workplaces that are distinctly Maltese, as well as highly efficient economically and environmentally. Here re-use segues into climate energy and carbon, cultural identity and much else.
Farsons Old Brewhouse and Trident Park, ritchie*studio, Malta
Grimshaw adapt the giant and spectacular trio of Brabazon Hangars into the YTL Arena, intended to be the heart of a new city district. The hangars recall Bristol’s extraordinary history in aerospace which dates back more than a century. They were constructed to build the vast Bristol Brabazon civil aircraft which proved a failure and were later allocated to Concorde which was also a commercial disappointment. Their new incarnation as a leisure centre promises to be more successful because it fills a need for the dynamic city and because Grimshaw’s design finds ways to retain and celebrate their high quality, long span steel work. The 17,000 capacity arena is inserted into the largest of the three hangars, reusing in addition to the steel 21,400 cubic metres of concrete and 18,600 tons of CO2. Another hangar contains a ‘festival hall’ for large conventions and exhibitions while the third has creative workspaces, leisure facilities and food and drink outlets.
YTL Arena Complex, Grimshaw, United Kingdom
Just as Cairo’s 19th century post office was a place of transactions, a repository for funds and a communication hub, so Emirati-based architects Verform have updated it into a venue for business, connectivity and culture. Where once these transactions where were based on binary relations such as deposit and receipt, now they follow the contemporary ethos of being multivalent, dispersed and non-binary. All this can happen within the building’s recreated belle epoque glory including the restoration of the atrium at its heart.
The Atrium - Egypt Post Express Mail Building, Verform & DMI, Egypt
When it was built in 1911, Shanghai Yangshupu was the first powerplant of its kind in the Far East. Located on the river and surrounded by waterfront plant and buildings, it played a significant role in Shanghai’s early industrial development and is listed an industrial heritage building. BDP’s repositioning of it adds new accommodation, commercial and retail functions to the industrial heritage with the aim of fostering a mixed community in this part of the city. Existing buildings are classified into ‘protection’, ‘optimisation’ and ‘reconstruction’ to allow for a diverse built fabric and surrounding public realm A heritage museum taking a linear form will connection the historic buildings. Narrating historical information about the plant and the site, it follows the route of the coal conveyer belt from barge to boiler.
Shanghai Yangshupu Power Plant Regeneration, BDP, China
Construction technology is another of our original categories. From optimised traditional construction to fully digitised procurement, manufacturing and assembly it remains one of the most important tools which, if architects understand the numerous implications, could reassert their authority in building production, as well producing far better and more sustainable buildings than conventional means allow. The three projects in this heading, the Black and White Building in London’s Shoreditch, Limberlost Place in Toronto, and a prototype housing project in Vancouver, all start with that most venerable of construction materials, timber, but augment its capabilities with sophisticated analysis and assembly to optimise it in different ways and for different purposes.
Henriquez Partners set out to produce a housing tower for the affordable rented sector with net zero carbon consumption over its lifecycle. Open source and replicable, the strategy will help to reduce British Columbia’s carbon consumption, while addressing Vancouver’s crisis in affordable housing. The tower will be one of the world’s tallest mass timber buildings with CLT floors, a low carbon core and steel columns. Its exterior takes inspiration from pine cones and traditional weaving. A membrane of woven cedar fibre baskets is almost completely watertight while the external face is a series of interwoven timber panels which create a pattern of light and shade.
Prototype (M5), Henriquez Partners Architects, Canada
Limberlost Place, designed by Moriayama & Teshima Architects and Acton Ostry Architects, will showcase the possibilities of a tall, timber building with low carbon consumption across its lifecycle on George Brown College’s waterfront campus in Toronto, displaying as well as teaching and researching timber construction. Claiming it will be the first tall wood institutional building in Ontario, the architects suggest that its design and construction offers generous spaces for wellbeing and sustainability. With operable windows and ‘ solar chimneys’ on the east and west facades, it will provide natural ventilation throughout the entire building. Through large span and beamless spans, the interior spaces will be flexible and will provide a variety of spaces for teaching and research. All the components for the building can be sourced within Canada.
Limberlost Place, Moriayama & Teshima Architects and Acton Ostry Architects, Canada
Waugh Thistleton’s design for the Black & White building in Shoreditch (near WAF’s offices) is another attempt to harness the benefits of timber construction for wellbeing as well as sustainability. As in other large cities, offices in London need to be attractive and healthy workplaces as well as commercially viable to re-engage workers after homeworking during the pandemic. The fully engineered structure optimises components to minimise surplus capacity and the embodied carbon it would contain, with the timber structure requiring over a third less than a similar concrete equivalent. The parametrically designed façade optimises solar shading to maximise daylight while minimising glare and heat gain. The inherent flexibility of the structural system offers flexible layouts to encourage interaction and provide a variety of configurations.
The Black & White Building, Waugh Thistleton Architects /The Office Group, United Kingdom
Our final grouping this year, cultural identity, is also one of the original categories. The five projects selected are the Tower of Life in Senegal, the Muscowpetung Powwow Arbour for the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation in Saskatchewan, the Graduation Hall for Sol Plaatje University in South Africa, the North East Link on the edge of Melbourne Australia, and the Mukwa Waakaa’igan Indigenous Centre for Cultural Excellence in Sault St Marie, Canada. All overlap with other categories, whether climate energy and carbon, or as they all deal in different ways with the survival of indigenous cultures, with ethics and values.
Proposed by BAD and Guallart Architects, the Tower of Life has an extraordinarily ambitious and relevant agenda. It explores how African culture can play an active global role through biocomputation and material engineering to produce a sustainable, circular economic model that bypasses many of the pitfalls of western practices. Described as an ‘onsite printed earth membrane, mobilising an economy of resources, energy, water, air, culture and robotics’ it seeks to define ‘what, why and how architecture performs amidst a planetary scale climate crisis’. To show specificity to its context the tower’s skin uses 3d-printed locally sourced clay, minimising cost and environmental impact of transport. An inner membrane helps to sustain a comfortable climate within.
The Tower of Life, BAD - Built by Associative Data + Guallart Architects, Senegal
The Powwow Arbour, designed by Oxbow Architecture and Richard Kroeker, provides a cultural venue for its nation. It will strengthen traditions, embrace culture and encourage its members to share their knowledge with future generations. The structure’s circular geometry both balances loads and reflects the importance of the circle in indigenous culture. Similarly the construction uses lightweight materials as efficiently as possible, with tensile cables storing energy like a bowstring, keeping the process simple enough for the community to build it. Consultation with the community and its leadership was vital to the design and will continue to be vital in its programming which will all take place under the same spectacular roof.
Muscowpetung Powwow Arbour, Oxbow Architecture Inc. & Richard Kroeker, Canada
Savage & Dodd’s Graduation Hall for Sol Plaatje University is another hybrid of ethics and values with cultural identity. The university was established after the fall of Apartheid to broaden access to higher education. The graduation hall is the first building on its northern campus which will connect the university to the civic core of Kimberley, the diamond mining town which has seen some of the most ruthless extractive practices anywhere in the world. It is also the university’s most public building, with an exhibition space and a courtyard in front of it. The challenge for the design was to generate civic presence for the north campus and to celebrate the future through marking the graduation of its students, as well as to acknowledge the site’s history of forced removals and dispossession.
Graduation Hall Sol Plaatje University, Savage+Dodd Architects, South Africa
North East Link tests how a major piece of infrastructure can heal nature and promote biodiversity. In turn that could help Australian authorities heal their relationship with First Nations. Set in the territory of the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people, its design draws on their living knowledge and history. Around the engineering project of the road are a series of places, intended to restore the area’s social and ecological condition. Three principles drawn from Wurundjeri culture guide the design: connection to country, caring for country and connecting people. All imply touching the earth lightly. So the nine footbridges have minimal impact on the ground achieved through advanced engineering; the Wurundjeri practice of making canoes from a single piece of bark taken from a tree without damaging it provided further inspiration. It is the world’s first road project to use the international indigenous Design Charter principles.
North East Link, Warren and Mahoney BKK Architects and Taylor Cullity Lethlean Greenaway Architects and Greenshoot Consulting, Australia
For over 100 years until 1997 the Canadian Government funded a residential school system run by Christian churches which separated indigenous children from their families. One of the schools, Shingwauk Hall, closed in 1970 and has since housed an exhibition on the system and the legacy of its pupils. The Children of Shingwauk Alumni and Algoma University, to which the hall marks an entrance, a place also referred to as the heart of the Anishinaabe Nation, have founded Mukwa Waakaa’igan on this site. It is a cross-cultural centre of excellence where truth telling, healing, teaching, learning and cultural representation all come together. Five narratives drive the design: Mukwa, the bear; the Sweetgrass braid, intertwined paths of past present and future; the medicine wheel, a device for orienting and organising functions; tikinagan, the traditional child carrier, and Baawitigong or water, recalling the rapids which served as a meeting and trading place for first nations people in the area.
Mukwa Waakaa'igan Indigenous Centre for Cultural Excellence, Moriyama & Teshima Architects and Smoke Architecture, Canada
The hope is to achieve a reconciliation between past, present and future, between right and wrong and between different cultures. Architecture can help.