Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 2)

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Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 2)
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Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 2)

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Paul Finch, World Architecture Festival: The tastemaker (Part 2)
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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?

In the first of the interview with Paul Finch, the spotlight was set on an architect’s role in sustainable design. In this follow-up, the founder and programme director of the World Architecture Festival (WAF) deep dives into the specifics of sustainability: energy and carbon, nature and cities.

WAF 2023 is set to raise the curtains in Singapore from November 29 to December 1, with almost 500 projects in 33 categories in competition.

Episode outline

00:03:07 Nature and ecology
00:05:53 “You have to think about the city vertically rather than simply horizontally. So instead of having a horizontal building with a square or a garden in front of it, if you have a vertical building, then you need the equivalent of the square and the garden throughout that building.”
00:06:29 “Where do all the materials come from? They may be man-made, but… Actually, in the end, they all derive from nature one way or the other, even the most artificial things.”
00:14:56 Energy
00:16:48 “And what we’ve got to do is to make sure that we’re generating enough energy from virtuous sources to make our architecture and our build environment work with nature — in the sense that it’s not producing carbon, which is going to result in climate change.”
00:30:06 “So I think we just have to accept that we are in an era of transition. Fossil fuels are not going to stop tomorrow morning — or this decade or the next decade. And the question is how we move forward and try to synthesise things which are going to present difficult challenges but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it.”
00:32:17 Architect as activist
00:36:46 “I think there’s a growing groundswell of feeling that there cannot be an assumption that to build is automatically good, only that to build responsibly is good and to build irresponsibly is bad. I think there is a feeling that retrofit is here to stay.”
00:38:30 NEOM and the future of cities
00:40:39 “My feeling about NEOM is that it’s so extraordinary in its proposition that it deserves to be taken seriously.”
00:51:38 Hope
00:52:06 “So we have a condition in which 1.2 million architects around the world are thinking every day about doing something — which most of them will be thinking… will be trying to improve the world, making things better in some way.”

Summary

Paul rejects the notion that there is a divide between architecture and nature. In fact, he advocates a nature-centric design approach that considers material sourcing right at the drawing board, along with other decisive measures.

There are many compelling reasons, he says, to create buildings as subsets of broader natural systems. Citing projects in Singapore, he highlights the positive impact green walls, roof gardens and vertically distributed community spaces have in general.

Paul Finch regularly hosts panel discussions at the World Architecture Festival Hall Stage.
© World Architecture Festival

Today, many architects integrate landscape into architectural form. However, doing so often serves mostly the well-being of occupants. But designers have now access to an ever-expanding number of tools that let them see nature as a process rather than an artefact, providing metrics for ecosystem services that would have existed on the site in its original state. They offer a point of reference for what is to be built.

PARKROYAL COLLECTION Pickering in Singapore, designed by WOHA, showcases the seamless integration of landscape and architecture with vegetated terraces.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

Paul also questions the prioritisation of renewables at the city scale. He asks if the problem of greenhouse gas emissions might be more efficiently addressed with nuclear power which is, despite its known risks, a carbon-free option. A shift to this ‘virtuous’ source of energy, he contends, would relieve the need to curtail a building’s everyday consumption.

The conversation on energy alternates between what is pragmatic, impactful and cost-effective, between what architects really control and what is often decided by others. In professional practice, he notes, much is left to other stakeholders such as politicians and clients.

Nuclear power, a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuel, is a contentious issue Paul openly endorsed.
© IndustryAndTravel / Envato

Reflecting on the role of architects as climate activists, Paul remembers the boldness of Le Corbusier and his ideas on architecture and the city, heard a century ago. That audacity is largely absent today.

Of the architects practising now, he singles out Lord Norman Foster as one who consistently tackles the issues of buildings, urbanism and the environment.

Norman Foster’s design for London’s Stansted Airport includes energy-efficient technologies, water recycling treatment and natural light.
© London Stansted Airport

Regarding cities shaping up the urban future, Paul cites the Saudi project NEOM as a ground-breaking experiment with the potential to yield solutions in the long run. It remains to be seen to which extent it will succeed.

NEOM promises to push boundaries but could take decades to reap the benefits that would move architecture forward.
© NEOM

Over the course of the first and second episodes with Paul, a glimpse into the collective psyche of the architectural profession slowly emerges. Paul reflects on the challenges faced by practitioners who seek solutions that are pragmatic and yet bold. The design process, he believes, is a balancing act, juggling self-interest and hope.

On this inner struggle, faced by all architects, Paul Finch speaks his mind, unreservedly.

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.

00:03:33 “…there should also be concern with biocentric design…”
What is Biocentric Design?” | Biocentric Design
00:10:36 “…So it might’ve been a tropical rainforest or a savanna…”
Rainforest” | National Geographic
00:10:36 “…So it might’ve been a tropical rainforest or a savanna…”
savanna” | National Geographic
00:33:14 “…look at Le Corbusier’s City for Three Million in Paris in 1922…”
Ville Contemporaine: An Efficient City for 3 Million People” | Malevus
00:34:33 “…A model was included in Foster’s recent monographic exhibition…”
The Centre Pompidou Debuts the Largest Retrospective of Norman Foster’s Work in Paris” | ArchDaily
00:39:15 “…although it wasn’t formally part of the Venice Biennale…”
La Biennale di Venezia 2023
00:08:54 “…And I think practices like WOHA have taken this onboard…”
WOHA
00:13:26 “…When Norman Foster designed Stanford airport…”
Norman Foster” | Foster + Partners
00:17:48 “…We had a guest on the show, Amory Lovins…”
Amory Lovins” | RMI
00:33:14 “…I mean look at Le Corbusier’s City for Three Million in Paris…”
Fondation Le Corbusier
00:35:29 “…I suppose Buckminster Fuller did…”
Who was Buckminster Fuller” | The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI)

 

00:04:25 “…I think one of the great things that’s happened in Singapore…”
Singapore” | Britannica
00:09:40 “…And the classic example of all this […] is Gardens by the Bay…”
Gardens by the Bay
00:13:26 “…When Norman Foster designed Stansted Airport…”
London Stansted Airport
00:24:57 “…There’s a really interesting project in Sydney…”
Sydney” (New South Wales, Australia) | Britannica
00:33:14 “…I mean look at Le Corbusier’s City for Three Million in Paris…”
Paris” (France) | Britannica
00:34:36 “…Foster’s recent monographic exhibition at the Pompidou Centre…”
Centre Pompidou
00:37:24 “…when our festival was in Barcelona…”
Barcelona” (Spain) | Britannica
00:41:58 “…The area is a country the size of Belgium…”
Belgium” | Britannica
00:49:58 “…for example, you do a new Jakarta…”
Indonesia Plans on Building Nusantara, a New Capital City” | The New York Times
00:50:16 “…New Cairo… I mean there are plenty of examples…”
Egypt prepares to start move to new capital, away from the chaos of Cairo” | Reuters

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

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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Can architecture heal our planet? In this bonus episode, we delve into the power of regenerative design. From restoring existing structures to rethinking material ownership, find out how sustainability and healing go hand in hand.
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