WAF 2017 in Berlin: it just keeps getting better!






What a great vintage this year’s edition of the World Architecture Festival (WAF) was! It took place in Berlin from 15 to 17 November last! This festival is a sort of High Mass for the profession, awarding numerous prizes and attracting all generations of architects, literally from all over the world – more than fifty countries were represented this year – under the benevolent eye of some “star-chitects”.

VMZINC, a happy partner!

For the second consecutive year, we partnered the event. We reserved a stand next to the General Assembly Hall, the central hub of the festival and a key venue for major events. We made a wise choice which -as you will read below – proved a great success for us! Another promising commitment by our brand: the sponsorship of an international competition open to “emerging talents”, which was in fact won by a young Parisian architect whose surprisingly mature project captivated the jury!

The event’s (English) organisers outdid themselves this year. In the Arena (a former Berlin bus service depot still in its original state!), they created multiple small spaces consisting of blow-up canvas bubbles for project presentations in the various categories.

This effective, functional scenography enabled our team of specifiers (Jon Lowy - UK, Knut Konig - Germany, MingHei To - Hong Kong, Erwin Nielsen - Denmark, Stéphane Corbel – France, and myself, to share the task among us and to target the typology of projects in which our zinc could potentially be used.

We left WAF 2017 with a fine list of opportunities, projects in Turkey (Istanbul), Canada (Calgary*), the UK (London), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City); dozens of projects were identified.

My key impressions of the festival

  • A very substantial community of English architects (more than one fifth of those in attendance), a lot of Asian architects from India, China, Vietnam and Japan. And a significant number of Turkish architects!

Other observations:

  • Emerging countries were represented by talented young architects who are already well versed in giving presentations to a jury!
  • These presentations gave pride of place to video technology, with regular use of drones for spectacular aerial photos that are excellent promotion tools
  • Greenery is everywhere, absolutely everywhere, and one has to wonder if it is justified to simply humanise housing programmes and public buildings, if it has become a compulsory element in order to appear “sustainable”. Or if it is not just a means to conceal gaps in certain projects!

  • Thursday evening gave us a highly emotional shared moment. In the packed General Assembly Hall, we listened reverently to Pierre de Meuron talking about the building he designed with Jacques Herzog - the iconic Elbe Philharmonic concert hall in Hamburg. An interesting Q&A session with the architecture critic. Jon and Knut left the hall a little early to prepare the small reception we had announced to celebrate our 180th birthday. The first bottles of Champaign had just been popped open. Mrs. de Meuron accepted a flute. Her husband stepped down from the stage and walked up the aisles. Lots of people wanted to have a word with him. There was quite a bit of hustle and bustle. He arrived at our stand to join his wife and discovered the small haven of calm behind our counter. He settled himself there and did us the honour of staying for a quarter of an hour… enough time for our brand to enjoy being the centre of attention!

  • Another great and unexpected memory from WAF 2017, which the organisers had managed to keep a secret: at the very start of the Awards ceremony, the excellent presenter Paul Finch called Sir Norman Foster in person to join him on the stage! Once the audience recovered from its initial surprise, the latter delivered a vibrant message of trust in the profession and in the younger generation - stressing its predominant role in the world’s future. But also in the capacity of architects to exceed political divisions and weaknesses, especially in his own country (he mercilessly criticised Brexit). His presence not only gave the event organisers a boost and some extra credibility, for me it was confirmation that WAF, driven by the communicative energy of young architects, is significantly developing with each passing year, under the benevolent eye of the older generations. As was the case last year in the magnificent Postbahnhof hall, standing between an architect from Hong Kong and a young facade engineer from Bangalore, that evening I thought to myself we were at the centre of the world of architecture and I modestly realised we had a legitimate place there.

Among the star architects in attendance, I will mention those we were able to speak with directly:

  • Terry Farrell whose firm has just finished the second instalment of the Kennedy swimming pool using our Quartz-zinc in Hong Kong,
  • Will Alsop who strolled through the aisles with the somewhat disillusioned air of an architect-artist,
  • Ian Ritchie who was very active in the juries,
  • Jean Paul Viguier who came in person to defend 2 projects, including a housing programme in Bordeaux with a concrete and timber framework.

Even before the end of the festival, we opted to be present at the 2018 edition of WAF, which will be held in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, a city and a country that are very popular among architects. We will undoubtedly cross paths with other local stars there, such as the famous Rem Koolhass. And we have the firm intention to sponsor the “emerging talents” competition again, an opportunity for us to show that “Vieille Montagne” believes in the younger generation!

Norman Foster has bemoaned the ‘madness of Brexit’ in a speech at last week’s World Architecture Festival (WAF) gala dinner in the Postbahnhof, Berlin

The legendary architect, who received the festival’s Contribution to Architecture award, was telling his audience about the beginnings of his practice, when ‘key individuals’ at the budding firm comprised a range of nationalities, including a Norwegian, a Swiss, and an Israeli.‘In that sense I think I’ve always been out of step,’ said Foster. ‘So I celebrate, in the face of the madness of Brexit, being out of step, and am proud to be here in Europe and celebrating the European nature of this venue.’

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* The Demodulor project was initiated in 2013, as part of an Ademe call for projects focusing on the improvement of construction waste management. The challenge: make it possible to deconstruct buildings.