Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 1)

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Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 1)
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Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 1)

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Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 1)
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How does the architecture we praise today square up with a sustainability mandate? Do green imperatives dampen the spirit at the drawing board or can they lift design excellence to new heights?

Paul Finch is the founder and programme director of the World Architecture Festival (WAF). He is an advocate, an analyst and a tastemaker, able to offer insights into the past and, at the same time, move the needle on what’s to come.

WAF is an annual gathering where architects and industry experts from around the world convene to celebrate good design. Over the years, projects and ideas presented here have become a reflection of the profession’s self-image and priorities.

Episode outline

00:05:44 “You find that a piece of architecture or group of buildings or a culture of a city start to reflect the entire society of that era at that time.”
00:08:12 “One of our ideas was that it would be three days where architects and designers could go to remind themselves why they fell in love with their subject in the first place.”
00:09:43 Architecture-at-large meets sustainability
00:15:45 “How do you achieve longevity? Well, you achieve it by creating buildings that can be used in more than one way to do the same thing and be used in completely different ways to do completely different things. And if you do that — and you have longevity — then that’s the first step, I think, towards low carbon…”
00:17:48 “Why wouldn’t you do more with less? Now, things have moved on since then because of what we’ve subsequently discovered about the perils of carbon.”
00:22:47 “But I think the fundamentals about creating shelter, creating infrastructure, creating cities, almost inevitably mean that you can’t take single buildings — or single building types even — and expect them to be totally transformed from scratch. I think this is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary process.”
00:25:49 Practice
00:28:23 “And the idea of a world in which the architects thought that they would be responsible for politics and economics and finance and social policy, I think, would be an absurdity. Why would any one discipline be responsible for all that?”
00:30:44 “Speaking as a non-architect from observation, one of the strengths of architectural thinking is the ability — I don’t use the word compromise because I think that’s too loaded; it’s pejorative — is the ability of an architectural approach and analysis to start to synthesise things which, on the face of it, appear to be close to irreconcilable.”
00:38:27 Delight
00:40:20 “Delight, beauty, whatever word one uses, should absolutely be part of the architect’s lexicon. And I think even a dull warehouse can be given some sense of — even if it’s dignity rather than joy — it can be more than the sum of its parts.”
00:50:16 “The test of any sort of urban proposition is: is this doing something for its street, for its area, for its neighbourhood, for its city, or is it doing something to it? And that’s a good litmus test: something for its neighbourhood or to its neighbourhood. And I think bad buildings do something to the neighbourhood and good buildings do something for it.”

Summary

At WAF, architects present their most recent projects in a variety of categories, with the grand prize being awarded to the ‘World Building of the Year’.

Lisbon played host to the event last year, drawing more than 1,500 attendees with over 420 projects in competition. Singapore will be next, welcoming WAF back for the first time since 2014, from November 29 to December 1, with almost 500 entries in the running.

Paul Finch presided over the World Architecture Festival 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal.
© World Architecture Festival

The World Architecture Festival brings together architects from around the world who present their latest projects in competition.
© World Architecture Festival

Paul feels that sustainability is a rising tide. Even though a quick survey of the WAF entries reveals that less than half speak of sustainability directly this year, he reckons that’s still a marked improvement over past iterations.

On the ground, the challenge is complex: architects must navigate a broad ecosystem of practice and norms, much of which is often beyond their control. Decisions most often derive from conversations between multiple stakeholders, each with an agenda that is often different from others.

An idea that stems from an architect’s viewpoint — which, Paul says, does not get enough attention in the sustainability world — is ‘long-life, loose-fit’, first championed by Welsh architect Alex Gordon in 1974. He made a case for buildings to last, principally because they are designed to adapt and evolve over time.


Paul Finch, an erudite speaker who commands attention, is viewed globally as a tastemaker.
© World Architecture Festival

Another aim that matters to architects but is often ignored in conversations on the environment is beauty. Paul makes the case that if people are drawn viscerally to buildings they consider beautiful, they are more likely to care for them, which improves the odds that they will endure.


Pan Pacific Orchard by WOHA offers a different kind of beauty by integrating performative ideas, such as passive design and shared space, into its form.
© Darren Soh / WOHA

Central to beauty is the perception of form. Some architects, such as Singapore-based WOHA, reinvent form by addressing ecological goals: for instance, the landscaping of buildings and their neighbourhoods. This reimagination of form follows Green functions that can be traced back to the work of practitioners like Malaysia-born Ken Yeang who, starting in the 80s, broke free of conventions of style-based beauty.


Pan Pacific Orchard boats biophilic components like greenery and vertical gardens in semi-outdoor spaces to reduce heat gain and cool the building’s interior.
© Darren Soh / WOHA

Historically, architects have always been interested in creating better environments. Paul puts this purpose into context with the current need for sustainability. He makes the case that there is much that architects do that is not sufficiently valued and that the profession, as a whole, is indeed well on its way to embracing the future.

There is some way to go, of course. However, to those who say that architects are not doing enough, he is quick to remind that decisions are not made in isolation. If there is to be change — real measurable change, that is — it will be because the views of stakeholders are aligned ultimately. The path leading to this convergence of minds is still the real challenge for now.

Videos

Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:06:34 “…you mentioned World Architecture Festival…”
World Architecture Festival
00:16:32 “…I recall that from Peter Buchanan’s ‘Ten Shades of Green’…”
Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World” | Architype Review
00:23:34 “…I don’t know if you remember ‘The Good Life’, the TV series…”
The Good Life (1975 TV series)” | Wikipedia
00:35:51 “…an important document called ‘Towards an Urban Renaissance’…”
Towards an Urban Renaissance” | Wikipedia
00:06:01 “…one of my World Architecture Festival colleagues, Jeremy Melvin…”
Prof. Jeremy Melvin” | Design Computation
00:14:54 “…by a man called Alex Gordon…”
Alex Gordon (architect)” | Wikipedia
00:14:59 “…who was president of the Royal Institute of British Architects…”
RIBA
00:16:32 “…I recall that from Peter Buchanan‘s ‘Ten Shades of Green’…”
Peter Buchanan obituary” | The Guardian
00:20:18 “…than I.M. Pei‘s pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre…”
I.M. Pei” | Britannica
00:21:59 “…in the late sixties and early seventies at the Cambridge School of Architecture…”
Department of Architecture” | University of Cambridge
00:22:19 “…The Centre for Alternative Technologies in Wales, which is still going to this day…”
Centre For Alternative Technology” | Visit Wales
00:29:55 “…where there is this idea of the myth of Frank Lloyd Wright…”
Frank Lloyd Wright” | Wikipedia
00:33:18 “…famously Richard Rogers in the UK…”
Richard Rodgers: Inside the mind of a political visionary” | Independent
00:35:19 “…by the first elected mayor of London, Ken Livingston…”
Ken Livingston” | Wikipedia
00:37:07 “…I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ridwan Kamil…”
Ridwan Kamil” | Wikipedia
00:37:41 “…of a man called George Ferguson…”
George Ferguson CBE PPRIBA RWA” | People & Cities
00:41:05 “…the interview I had with Mun Summ Wong and Richard Hassell…”
Mun Summ Won” | WOHA
00:41:05 “…the interview I had with Mun Summ Wong and Richard Hassell…”
Richard Hassel” | WOHA
00:42:26 “…Ken Yeang, the eco-architect from Malaysia…”
Ken Yeang” | Hamzah & Yeang
00:44:16 “…The painter John Constable had a wonderful quote…”
John Constable” | Wikipedia

 

00:20:14 “…The Great Pyramid of Cheops is considerably more complex…”
Great Pyramid of Cheops” | Egypt Time Travel
00:20:18 “…than I.M. Pei’s pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre…”
Louvre Pyramid” | Wikipedia
00:35:19 “…by the first elected mayor of London, Ken Livingston…”
London” | Britannica
00:37:09 “…who became the mayor of Bandung…”
Bandung” (West Java, Indonesia) | Britannica
00:37:49 “…who went on to become, as an independent, the mayor of Bristol…”
Bristol” (England, United Kingdom) | Britannica
00:42:33 “…when he did his Menara Mesiniaga and Menara UMNO…”
AD Classics: Menara Mesiniaga / T. R. Hamzah & Yeang Sdn. Bhd.” | ArchDaily
00:42:33 “…when he did his Menara Mesiniaga and Menara UMNO…”
The Bioclimatic Skyscraper: Kenneth Yeang’s Eco-Design Strategies” | ArchDaily
00:19:40 “…I see a lot of conversation about better facades, green walls, biophilic interiors…”
Green wall” | Wikipedia
00:19:40 “…I see a lot of conversation about better facades, green walls, biophilic interiors…”
Biophilia: Bringing Nature into Interior Design” | ArchDaily

There are no products or technologies mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Managing editor
Kruti Choksi Kothari

Communications executive
Sana Gupta

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown | Phlogiston

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