Three Days Together

Sitting in the lounge at Lisbon airport, tucking into my final pastel de nata before the detox begins back in Dubai, I have time to reflect on another beneficial trip to the World Architecture Festival (WAF).

For those that don’t know, WAF is an annual celebration of all thing’s architecture. Last held in Amsterdam, and not since 2019 due to ‘you know what’, the festival this year held the theme of ‘Together’, celebrating the fact that we can be. The event was hosted in the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal and as with previous years’, the format remained largely unchanged.  The principle of the festival is for architects to present their projects to a panel of peers for ten minutes, this is then followed by an intensive five minutes of questions and feedback – all in the attempt to win a coveted categorical WAF trophy.

The festival took place over three days, had two stages, as well as 17 individual inflatable crit rooms – sessions that allow for open conversation between panels and peers. Topics throughout the event covered a range of sectors such as commercial, healthcare, residential, masterplan and so on, including both completed and future projects. In between crit sessions there were a variety of keynote speakers on the main stages. The large townhall space allowed for some respite between proceedings and a much needed injection of caffeine to keep you going.

There were a handful of manufacturers with modest stands, but there wasn’t an impression of the hard sell that you get at most other events. The conference is very much focused on project work and knowledge sharing rather than trade; a stance the lighting industry should very much consider taking.

Wednesday morning kicked off with a keynote speech from the wonderfully eloquent and passionate Professor Stephen Bayley on the subject of beauty, after which, the crit sessions started in earnest. Paul and I attended many interesting, thought provoking and inspiring presentations; too many to mention, especially when we were spoilt with over 700 presentations to choose from. Notes on each can be found on the WAF website.

What was pleasant and humbling to see was that each and every project was reviewed individually and on its own merit, regardless of the hierarchical status of the studio. What I mean by this is: there were projects presented by the large and mighty architectural firms such as Foster+Partners, Woods Bagot and HKS, all with multi-million-dollar budgets, being showcased alongside small boutique practices, husband and wife teams or those with budgets that pale in comparison. But most importantly, all were being received without prejudice or prejudgement, it truly was a level playing field. And the judges certainly didn’t pull any punches, regardless of your stature, they were brutally honest with their opinions and feedback. If they felt the architect had not explained the narrative or gave a lacklustre presentation, you knew about it. Equally, they were quick to celebrate truly outstanding world-class design. Again, an area where the lighting industry could learn a thing or two – criticism is healthy as long as it’s constructive; too often we don’t share our true opinions on projects for fear of being reprimanded by our peers.

One criticism I do have with the current setup up of the festival is the lack of acknowledgement of the peripheral consultants that work tirelessly in the background on these stunning projects. I’m in no way trying to steal the limelight (pun intended) from the architects who are unequivocally the stars of the show, but I do think that WAF could dedicate a small section of the programme to other creative disciplines such as signage and wayfinding, art consultancy and of course, lighting. Hopefully this might be addressed by this time next year at WAF 2023. Singapore here we come!