As World Architecture Festival (WAF) returns yet again after a first pandemic-induced move to the virtual world, the cerebral vision is greater than the spatial format – the former zoning in on the theme of ‘Resetting the City: Greening, Health & Urbanism’, and the latter abandoning the scheduled venue in Lisbon once more in favour of a live, interactive digital format.

Perhaps, if anyone can make magic happen in spatial terms despite the current limitations, it’s architects. Indeed, a sense of reimagining and a desire to embrace the reality of the world the way it looks now is at the heart of this year’s instalment of the world-renowned celebration of architecture. “We wanted to reflect the thinking that has been taking place in respect of city planning following the pandemic and lockdowns, including the role of nature and landscape going forward,” programme director Paul Finch says of this year’s conference theme.

World Architecture Festival 2021 – celebrating creative ideas to tackle the greatest challenges of our time

Shenzhen Natural History Museum, 3XN.

“One of our aspirations is to encourage discussion about possible futures, from the perspectives of architects from different cultures and geographies,” he adds. “We celebrate this through our WAFX Awards, which cover areas such as sustainability, food, water, climate, social equity and digital environments. We need creative ideas about how to tackle major social and environmental issues more than ever, and the contribution of architects needs to be encouraged and acknowledged.”

Accessible, jam-packed programme

No doubt, architecture, when executed well, has the power to emphasise unexpected benefits and hidden opportunities – and this year’s WAF will use that creativity to squeeze the very best out of what the world wide web as a platform has to offer. Crucially, stresses Finch, “now that the event is online there will be hugely enhanced access to every element of the festival. For the first time, we will record and make available every single awards presentation, as well as the three-day conference and final judging elements – which will also be live streamed. Delegates will be able to view whatever they want for 90 days after the festival – and there is more than 40 days’ worth of material in total!”

World Architecture Festival 2021 – celebrating creative ideas to tackle the greatest challenges of our time

Nanchang Waves, Nordic – Office of Architecture

No one will need to miss a thing, in other words – nor would you want to, considering the characteristically illustrious line-up of speakers and sessions. With the super jury including names such as Jeanne Gang from Studio Gang, Abdelkader Damani from Frac Centre-Val de Loire | Biennale d’Architecture d’Orléans and Kim Herforth Nielsen of 3XN, you get to watch the very best of the world’s architectural creations judged across categories including World Building of the Year, Future Project of the Year, Interior of the Year, and more. For three days straight at the start of December, delegates can enjoy a jam-packed, live-streamed programme of conference talks by leading architectural thinkers, awards, fringe events and a total of 18 digital crit rooms, making this the largest festival to date in terms of content since WAF first launched in Barcelona in 2008.

World Architecture Festival 2021 – celebrating creative ideas to tackle the greatest challenges of our time

Kirkkonummi Library, JKMM Architects. Photo: Marc Goodwin

Were there challenges along to road to a fully inclusive virtual format? Sure. “Particularly matching the time zones of award presentations with the zones of the juries,” acknowledges the programme director. “On the other hand, the pandemic forced us to think about accessibility in the digital age. We realise that what we are doing now could have been done before. The cultural shift towards remote communication has transformed the world of events forever. We plan to be live again in 2022, but the nature of the event will be hybrid, with both live and online delegates.”

World Architecture Festival 2021 – celebrating creative ideas to tackle the greatest challenges of our time

Left: Hospital Nova, JKMM Architects. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo. Right: Fisksätra Folkets Hus, Sandellsandberg Architects.

Some of the many Nordic agencies whose projects have been shortlisted for awards at this year’s festival are Sandellsandberg arkitekter, 3XN, Nordic – Office of Architecture, White Arkitekter, Liljewall, JKMM Architects, LINK Arkitektur and Dorte Mandrup, to name but a few.

The 2021 WAF comprises:

A thematic conference programme on the theme ‘Resetting the City: Greening, Health & Urbanism’
Electronic gallery of all award entries
Virtual partner and exhibitor booths
Live judging of finalists’ projects
Online networking and social events, including partner fringe events

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