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Emerging Architecture and Creative Resilience

Engaging with an emerging generation of architects, the ar+d Awards capture a spirit of creative resilience and present a unique insight into the critical preoccupations that will shape the future of architecture

This month The Architectural Review celebrates the 2012 ar+d Awards for Emerging Architecture, for work by architects under the age of 45. It’s always simultaneously heartening and sobering to engage so closely with the next generation of architects. Heartening in that it gives a unique insight into the critical preoccupations that will shape the future of architecture and urbanism. Sobering in that we hope that youthful optimism and a capacity for experimentation can still flourish against the deadening backdrop of the current economic and ecological crisis. Yet judging from the quality of the work shown here (and of much that did not make the final cut), such qualities continue to underscore a crucial sense of creative resilience.

This year, over 250 submissions were received from a wide range of locales, from Argentina to Indonesia. The jury also reflected a strong international outlook, with Enrique Sobejano from Madrid-based practice Nieto Sobejano; leading critic and writer Charles Jencks; Clare Wright, partner in Wright & Wright Architects; and AR Editor Catherine Slessor. The jury’s discussions owed much to different experiences and world views, but all were agreed on the importance of certain key criteria: connectedness to place, the appropriate use of materials and technology, the cultivation of environmental and social responsibility and an engagement with the notion that architecture should be propositional, shaping new ideas about the built environment and its relationhip with the wider world. Only built work is eligible for submission as our view has always been that architecture is not confined to paper or computerised theorising, but is a compact with society to build responsibly and well.

The jury chose four joint winners, who will share the prize fund of £10,000, and 10 highly commended projects. Embodying very diverse contexts and perspectives, the four winners are drawn from Japan, Spain, Bangladesh and Canada. In Hiroshima, Hiroshi Nakamura crafts an exquisite urban dwelling out of glass blocks, exploring the potential of materials to transmute space and light. In Madrid, Langarita-Navarro Arquitectos creatively recolonise the shell of an ancient slaughterhouse with a vibrant new landscape for music making and peformance. In the Ganges delta, Kashef Chowdhury’s Friendship Centre synthesises vernacular forms and materials into an authentic, modern regional architecture. And in the Canadian heartland of Winnipeg, 5468796 Architects reboot a generic programme for social housing into something much more formally and experientially complex. Prefacing our coverage of all the projects, the AR’s Associate Editor Rob Gregory talked to the winning quartet in more detail about each of their very different milieus for professional practice, giving an insight into the trajectory of their careers and the importance of programmes such as the ar+d Awards in bringing the work of an emerging generation to wider attention.


This year’s four joint winners hail from across the globe, but all share a passion for the profession


Rob Gregory


5468796 Architecture, Canada

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When Winnipeg-based 5468796 were highly commended in the 2010 AR Awards for Emerging Architecture for the OMS Stage (AR December 2010) they flew their whole team to Europe for the prize giving. The Canadian posse was 12 strong, including the project developer, and together they rented a house and ‘made London home’ for a few days. It was their first taste of international recognition, just three-and-a-half years into their careers, and was significant not only for them but also for the community of local start-up practices that have emerged in Winnipeg in recent years. Stuck in the middle of Canada, Winnipeg is, by their own admission, a remote and conservative place, where it is difficult to convince people of the value of architecture and design. Now, however, a clutch of 10 or so new practices are challenging the status quo, and helping to revive the Modernist legacy established by the disciples of Wright, Mies and Gropius who came to the region in the ’60s and ’70s to help make the Department of Architecture at the University of Manitoba one of the strongest Modernist schools in Canada. As practice founder Sasa Radulovic says, however, ‘over the last 20 or so years, the scene has been relatively stale’, so sensing a renaissance in the offing, in everything they do − from practice teaching to public engagement − they seek to raise the profile of architecture.

Describing themselves as ‘a high school exchange student from Helsinki’ and a ‘refugee immigrant from Sarajevo’, Johanna Hurme (37) and Sasa Radulovic (40) are a couple who have now been in practice for just over five-and-a-half-years. As Hurme recalls it has been a whirlwind ride. ‘We have the worst surnames in the history of architecture, so on the way back from registering the business, we decided to adopt our incorporation number as our practice name. It reflects a group of people, rather than two individuals, and since then the story of the practice has completely taken us by surprise, especially in relation to how we got into building right away. In our first year we thought we would do a house or two, and that would be us for a year or so. However, within seven months we were up to eight people working on big projects.’ Moving five times in as many years, from a mezzanine in Radulovic’s condominium, to their more urbane street level studio in downtown Winnipeg, their ambitions continue to focus on bringing a social component to every project − especially those commissioned by private clients. When Radulovic was first given an AR subscription in 1997, he recalls wondering if his work would ever receive international recognition. Now, 15 years on, working with his partner Hurme and colleagues at 5468796 Architects, he can surely be proud, not only of the own work, but also of the practice’s role as pioneers and catalysts for change in an emerging community of exciting regional architectural discourse.

Langarita-Navarro Arquitectos, Spain

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Recalling the moment when they first met, the 33-year-old co-founders of Madrid-based practice Langarita-Navarro Arquitectos, Víctor Navarro and María Langarita, describe themselves as ‘partners at first sight’, setting up in life and business in close succession soon after they met. In 2007 they were both young architects. Both had either worked for or studied under the Madrid-based practice Mansilla+Tuñón Arquitectos. And, it seems, both were passionate about each other and about architecture.

Since then they have spent the past five years establishing a portfolio of work that specifically focuses on an interest in working with existing structures. Not just built structures, however, as Langarita explains, ‘because in our mind we understand structures to be physical, social, organisational, or … anything.’ With a number of small-scale projects under their belt − including a commission for a house in Langarita’s home town that they landed after overhearing the client talking in a bar, and the restoration and adaptation of a water tower as part of the Matadero Madrid arts centre − the opportunity to work on the award-winning Red Bull Music Academy (p46) came completely out of the blue. This was due, firstly, to the project’s relocation to Madrid − following the tsunami in that year’s host nation of Japan; and secondly, as their relatively modest experience on the water tower had inadvertently pre-qualified them to bid for this much higher-profile historic building project.

The scale, it seems, did not deter them, as their core interest in systems, infrastructure, sampling and montage is essentially scale neutral. What they are more cautious of, however, is working overseas, with Navarro admitting that, ‘until now, we haven’t especially wanted to work abroad, as we like to be in contact with the places where we make things. For us it is not easy to make projects overseas, because we like to work closely with the clients and with the craftsmen.’ But in recognition of opportunities that may now arise from the international attention this ar+d awards programme will surely generate, Langarita is quick to qualify her partner’s admission saying, ‘Of course, if we got the chance we would do it’, before going on to describe their shared passion for travelling. ‘We work as architects in order to travel, and have spent all our money on trips’, she reveals. ‘Mexico is the best so far, specifically Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula. We went there on the recommendation of Landscape Artist Jerónimo Hagerman, who worked with us on the Red Bull Academy.’
And, when asked what this award really means to them? True to form they replied in unison, nodding their heads and completing the sentence together. ‘We are mainly looking forward to the opportunity to come to London … to meet new people and see new places, which is a great opportunity for us’.

 

Kashef Chowdhury, Bangladesh

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The great Indian architect BV Doshi once described Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn as ‘the acrobat and yogi’ of 20th-century South Asian architecture. So it comes as little surprise that Kashef Chowdhury − architect of the award-winning Friendship Centre near Gaibandha in Bangladesh (p52) − cites Kahn as his greatest inspiration. Like Kahn’s major work for the National Assembly, Chowdhury’s winning submission combines lessons from antiquity with simple unadorned forms, to create a contemporary monastery-like settlement of timeless character. Attitudes to craft, form, placemaking and rootedness can also be traced through the work of Chowdhury’s more recent heroes − Siza, Scarpa, Barragán and Zumthor − all of whom helped inspire the 42-year-old architect to set up his practice in 1995, at a point when he says he could ‘no longer resist embracing the profession and the sheer joy of building’. ‘Mine is a studio-based practice’, he says ‘where we do not have any rooms. It is a free space with long tables and laptops. But, I work “manually”. That is, not on the computer. I still use my parallel motion.’ Working in this way, Chowdhury moves between drawing board and veranda where he meets clients and collaborators, in pursuit of a relaxed yet focused approach to practice.

In his studio, time is held in high regard, so much so that until recently he deliberately resisted using any form of artificial light, choosing instead to operate the business during daylight hours. This was done to enforce a natural pattern to the working day, and to encourage people not to work excessively long hours, and while changes to this routine were perhaps inevitable, Chowdhury maintains his respect of time, stating his desire to separate his studio from the influences of ‘the passing world’ to avoid ‘rushing through the design process’, and to always remember that ‘time is of the essence’.

When asked about his attitude to optimism and ambition, Chowdhury soberly replies, ‘I wish I could be optimistic − but don’t forget I live in Bangladesh’. Nevertheless he manages to hold on to his ambition, that is ‘to do work, both as an architect and as a photographer, that touches hearts and is a joy to experience; not to be limited by trend, style or -ism, and to become a master of my craft’. In relation to the significance of this award, ‘it is not as much the award itself, as it is the recognition that is important here’, he says. ‘In economies and societies such as the one in which I operate, years of struggle − both economic and others related to design and building − may give way to fatigue and certain despair. Recognition such as this can inject new impetus to the practice, just as it can provide that extra assurance to the clients, which is especially important when we are always trying or struggling to convince clients with a not-so-ordinary design or approach.’

Hiroshi Nakamura, Japan

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Clearly understanding the Awards’ ability to put emerging Japanese architects on the international map, and the potential to follow the steep trajectory enjoyed by architects such as Shuhei Endo, Sou Fujimoto and TNA (to name just three), 38-year-old Hiroshi Nakamura is not shy in revealing the motivation behind entering this year’s ar+d Awards for Emerging Architecture: ‘I would like people out of Japan to see my work’,
he says, ‘so I thought it would be a good opportunity to have the world know my practice.’ Having spent three years working for Kengo Kuma as a senior architect with lead responsibility for a number of key projects, he was confident in his ability to make a name for himself. With this and since setting up his own practice in 2003, he has racked up an impressive list of seven so-called ‘Gold’ and ‘Grand’ prizes for his design, and now employs a sizeable team of 21 people.

Consistent with the sort of work that we have become accustomed to see emerging in Japan, Nakamura’s award-winning Optical Glass House (p40) is conceptually clear, spatially sophisticated, exquisitely detailed and daringly innovative; qualities that Nakamura attributes to a very specific attitude to design that he says requires optimism and pessimism to coexist. In his view a balance of these two contrary outlooks is essential, with optimism enabling him to imagine and design better places for people to live, moderated by a degree of pessimism that brings scrutiny to the process to ensure that each and every detail is rigorously tested in anticipation of myriad potential problems.

This ability to work with apparently contradictory lines of reasoning extends further into the architect’s emerging philosophy, as he goes on to use a number of tense dualities to describe aspects of the house and other enduring preoccupations that permeate much of his work. These include a firm belief in opportunities presented by architecture to improve relationships between individuals who need to share space; the ability of architecture to establish more meaningful relationships between people and the built environment, and the capacity for architecture to mediate between man and nature. All of these can be traced through the design of Optical Glass House, with glass presented as a waterfall, sputter-coated metallic curtains manifesting the wind, and a water basin rooflight that projects the image of the falling rain onto the entrance floor. In terms of future ambitions, it comes as little surprise that Nakamura has high hopes, making specific reference to a sizeable project in Bhutan, called the GNH project; a project that will incorporate the notion of Gross National Happiness, in an attempt to ‘design buildings that will lead the world toward
a better future for all’. Why not?

 

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