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World Architecture Festival Preview

AR’s selection of highlights from the World Architecture Festival, held this year in Singapore, takes in modest yet exciting structures from the global south and east

World architecture follows the current seismic shifts in the global economy in the direction of the south and east. And so the World Architecture Festival (WAF) moves to Singapore, an economic and architectural hub for South-East Asia and its vast but still lightly tapped architectural hinterland. This October WAF’s international juries and super-juries are looking at 300 shortlisted buildings and designs from all over the world. Their organising framework is typological − from factories to housing, through buildings for culture, to landscape − which is an administratively sensible and fair way of doing things.

In these pages the AR has set itself a simpler task. We have picked half a dozen schemes from the WAF shortlist, largely from the south-east hinterland and often quite modest. They are chosen because they are intriguing in the way in which they address their briefs and their settings. There’s also a virtuously Calvinist theme of maximising what’s available. And although in a way they’re quite local, it’s clear that these belong to the international canon because of the complexity of their sources.

m2916_97568A more modest, and perhaps more interesting, room with a view: seasonal housing for Tasmanian sheep-shearers

There is a temptation to go with that argument about the virtues of localism espoused by architectural communities outside the international Europe-USA axis. It’s the idea that the contemporary architectures of India or New Zealand or China or Vietnam can be, without pandering to nostalgic historicism, somehow unique to those individual regions. The genius of Australian Pritzker laureate, Glenn Murcutt, with his outback aesthetic of corrugated iron sheeting and sawn timber, is regularly cited. Inevitably there is a nationalist architectural front which insists that this championing should be the case.

These schemes suggest the folly of that argument. One reason is that in these times you can’t be sure that the person who designs the localarchitecture is actually a local. Cox Architecture, for example, is indeed an Australian practice but it has offices all over South-East Asia and recently set up an outpost in London. Almost all the senior people involved in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay are English not Singaporean.


The project includes structural supertrees up to 50 metres high

It’s true that the local terrain and culture can trigger inventive and subtle architectural responses. In Abu Dhabi, the Rock Stadium design, for MZ Architects, could probably not have emerged from any other than a desert site. Equally it might not have not done so without the publication of Emilio Ambasz’s surreal architectural landscape designs in the 1980s.

John Wardle Architects’ sheep shearers’ quarters in Tasmania has a vernacular veneer and the building type has a long rough-house history, turned on its head by that clever late 20th-century game with the geometry of the roof. Cox’s dinosaur museum seeks to imprint the very essence of the mid Queensland topography concealing ancient fossils. But it needed 20th-century tilt slab construction in order to give its walls a unique surface treatment.

 So in the early 21st century localism is always tempered by internationalism, and by the fact that architects worldwide are educated and socialised more or less the same in that tribal longhouse, the studio. Perhaps the diversity in the underlying culture and topography of these schemes means that we should now be thinking in terms of internationalism tempered by the local environment.

1_The_Rock_Stadium_DayView___MZArchitectsCarved into a rocky ridge, the amphitheatre recalls Petra’s ruins

WAF Preview Introduction

The fourth World Architecture Festival will take place 3-5 October 2012 in Singapore. For further information on the event, which features an extensive lecture programme, including a keynote address by Peter Buchanan, go to:

WAF Preview Case Studies

Shearer’s Quarters, John Wardle Architects

The Rock Stadium, MZ Architects

Gardens by the Bay, Grant Associates, Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Atelier One, Atelier Ten, Land Design and Davis Langdon & Seah

Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, Australian Cox Architecture

Chasing Kitsune Food Truck, HASSELL Architects

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