Event, Interview, Volume #50

Archiprix International 2017

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Archiprix International 2017
Archiprix director Henk van der Veen interviewed by Arjen Oosterman

CEPT University, Ahmedabad (India): Archiprix International,  February 2017

Once every two years architecture schools around the world are invited to submit their single, finest graduation project to the Archiprix International competition and exhibition. Since its inception in 2001 (born out of the Dutch Archiprix), an ever increasing number of schools choose to participate. This year, Archiprix International selected Ahmedabad, in India, to exhibit the results. Volume spoke to Archiprix Director and “Mister Archiprix” Henk van der Veen.

Henk, we’re on the CEPT University campus, standing in the almost finished new library building, where the Archiprix International 2017 (AI 2017) exhibition is on show. Can you give us an impression of what we’re looking at?

Henk van der Veen: There are four major parts in this exhibition. The biggest is presenting all original panels (3 to 6 per project) of all 385 submissions, coming from 87 countries for this AI 2017. It is a huge amount of graduation projects. It gives an image of the state of affairs of architecture education worldwide. We’ve sorted it geographically. The exhibition (re)presents some 385 years of labor! We don’t have the illusion that anyone visiting will be able to get into all the projects. But it is very interesting, like walking in a city, to pick up what you’re interested in, and once you do that, you can dive in deeper.

The nominated projects as presented on large panels in the basement of the library building.

Part of the exhibition.

That is element one.

Yes. The second element, to make the exhibition a bit more accessible, is that we present 41 out of 385 projects on big panels. These panels are edited by us. It comprises the 23 ‘nominees’ as selected by the jury plus the ‘participants favorites’ selected by the participants themselves. So this selection shows the best of the best plus the most popular projects among all 385. This is also the part of the exhibition that can travel to schools that are interested to show AI on their campuses. You can download these panels from our website and print them locally.

To spread the news.

Indeed. That is a challenge, because when you organize such an international event in one spot, you miss out on a (potentially) huge audience. So this increases our ‘reach’. And the traveling exhibitions can be on show in different venues at the same time. So we really hope that this will be shown in many universities around the world to stimulate our future participants to participate, but also to give them examples of best projects, so they’re stimulated to reach that level as well.

Temporary stage for the Award ceremony.

So, this provides a platform for the current generation and also inspires next generations.

Yes, and it stimulates discussions in the schools, because the submitted graduation project doesn’t only present one excellent pupil’s work, but also represents the school in a national and international arena. The awards also reflect on the schools the winners come from and stimulate others to improve their teaching.

The third part is the presentation of the workshops preceding the award session. We invited all 457 graduates who designed the 385 submitted projects to come to Ahmedabad and work together on themes connected to Ahmedabad, that are relevant for the global community as well. The results of the 11 workshops with 78 participants is shown in small exhibitions in the center.

The fourth part is a new initiative that was developed with the host of this whole event, CEPT University. We gave the nominees the opportunity to have their model built during the winter school at CEPT. So CEPT students actually built the models of the nominated projects in dialogue with the nominees. We felt this to be a very substantial initiative. It adds the 3D model to the exhibition, which is enriching the communicative value of these projects. And next, since a model is not just a 1:1 3D version of the drawing, but  a choice in communication, it is a selection of the most relevant meanings of the design. And this a bit like real life. Their professional designs will be executed by other people than the architect, so communication is key. For the model builders it was a relevant experience to communicate with the designer about the intentions and meanings of the design. And the same for the designer. For most of them this was the first time someone ‘executed’ their design. Both parties were extremely enthusiastic about this element and experience, including the craftsmanship in the execution of the models.

A Walk Around Music.

Panel of nominated project ‘A Walk Around Music’.

I also heard stories about a translation element, that the ‘model builder’ proposed new interpretations, the designer hadn’t thought about.

This was different for each project. Some were quite literal translations, but others focused on for instance the atmosphere of the project. There is for instance a project based on the Firebird by Strawinsky, located in a mine. So a sort of negative design. And it isn’t a spatial design as we would expect, because the designer says that in her project you can feel the space, feel the music, hear the space. So how to translate that in 3D?

That will also have required some negotiation.

Haha, I haven’t extensively talked to the two, but yes.

Imagine this to be your daily walk to the university class rooms (entrance Faculty of Architecture building, CEPT University)

This is the ninth episode of AI. Over the years the event has grown ever bigger. This is the biggest to date?

Yes, the biggest ever. In 2015 we showed 350 projects. There are 1700 schools of architecture, urban design and landscape architecture in the world, so we can still grow!

The exhibition is bonding the international community of young professionals, but there is also a relation with ‘the local’. Most projects are rooted in a local situation, students select issues they’re somehow confronted with and surrounded by in their vicinity. So how do you see the relation between this internationalization and local specificity?

That is a very interesting question you’re asking because unlike most other disciplines, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design are tied to the location. And it is necessary to have knowledge of the location and conditions to make a good design. Otherwise you get what you see in China and in other places, that offices are flown in, do their object and leave again. So you’ll get a growing number of buildings that do not relate in any sense to their environment – environment in the broadest sense: users, climate, local circumstances, and so on. So it is only natural that schools are educating their students to deal with local problems and do ‘local’ graduation projects. Most of the projects here are like that. They deal with tasks in the neighborhood of the school. But also for those projects it can be very relevant to have knowledge of the international debate and international examples, or expertise that is located elsewhere. That can inspire you to raise the quality of your specific project.

We also see that some 20% of the submitted projects come from students that didn’t graduate in their home country. Students travel a lot, they often do part of their studies abroad. Specifically talented master students have this tendency to look for a school that fits their needs best. What you see then is that such students are not really equipped to take on a ‘local’ task, so they bring one from their own country. They import themselves plus a task and use the school to improve their knowledge in dealing with their subject.

CEPT’s outdoor student eatery.

Designer of the Faculty of Engineering building, architect Pankaj Vir Gupta during one of the ‘under the tree’ book reading sessions.

So in the end it is about export.

Haha, you could say so. There is a third category: some schools have long-term relationships with foreign countries. Austria specifically has a tradition. So for instance the school of former AI award winner Anna Heringer, has a relation with Bangladesh. They investigated the building methods in Bangladesh and added their own research and expertise and in doing so were able to improve local knowledge and methods.

In this category you see how fruitful exchange is, because you build up knowledge with the local population and sometimes even construct what had been designed. Like Anna Heringer did with her graduation project, a school building. That works extremely well. And you see that also reflected in the jury selection; in this category the percentage of nominees is twice the average.

If you can show your project here, as recent graduate, you cannot be shy in presenting ‘a project’. To be selected by your university in the first place, the project needs to have a profile, visual presence. Yet, there is another tendency among graduating students and young professionals to be less interested in the physical outcome of the intervention (every architectural project is an intervention of sorts) and to focus more on what kind of intervention would be needed; more process than product. Do you see that reflected in what’s presented here?

Yes, absolutely. And I don’t know what to think about it, because you could say that the skill set of architects, landscape architects and urban designers is based on the idea that you’re an expert in 3D design, spatial design. You’re not a sociologist or community worker. So I think it is very important to stick to that ability to arrange functions spatially. But the tendency you mention is also present because the profession needs to reinvent itself, at least in part, because the traditional practice of a client asking an architect to design a building is no longer functioning very well. So I think it very good that schools and architects are looking at ways to deal with wider contexts. And then these elements come into play: how to deal with the user and not only the client, how to facilitate social projects, or how to stimulate communities. So I think it would be better if architects learn how to cooperate with experts in those areas, than that they try to be community worker or something the like. Schools should anticipate that.

And this is kind of new to the profession, because in the past you as architect were leading the whole process, and now you have to negotiate on a more equal basis with other professions. So it’s a very challenging thing for the profession; also to survive as profession.

Panel of Hunter Douglas Award winning project ‘Badabing Badaboom; the Politics of Conditioned Air in a Goldrush Boomtown’ designed by Jason Tan.

Overlooking nine episodes of AI, do you see tendencies or trends over the years? And in relation to this one: do you see regional shifts happening, like some coming up, others fading away?

Earlier on we saw Eastern-European countries coming up, we saw the type of projects change and the quality increase. At the same time, it is a very hard question. The variety is enormous and we haven’t really investigated these questions properly. So I’m sharing my feelings. I do see that the architectural icon disappeared. And where it is still present, it is in countries you’d least expect this. For instance Iraq submitted an iconic museum and in the first edition, Vietnam presented a museum for the glory of a general. This changed or shifted into a more gentle approach, more bottom-up, less top-down. Also relevant: in the first years we saw a lot of ecological projects, dealing with sustainability, but at a certain stage this is not an item anymore. It is completely incorporated in the projects. These are a few developments I see. And it is relevant to notice, because graduation work is dealing with the future and these graduates are the architects of the future. You can see trends before they present themselves in practice and production.

Model for the ‘Super Pacific City’ project designed by Norman Ning Wei.

Do you appreciate these tendencies as a hopeful sign?

Yes, it’s a hopeful sign, but less hopeful is that in the reality of building, the role of the public partners is decreasing and the role of those in control of the money is increasing. And that doesn’t lead to more sustainable projects. And it doesn’t lead to more work for architects, because more and more plans are pulled out of the drawer. And that is a very worrying trend, that I also encounter in countries like India, where the government is leaving everything to the market. This is the more disappointing because to me it is absolutely clear that the designers we present can contribute a lot to the quality of the built environment and the public space when they get the chance.

Archiprix International provides a platform for young talent in architecture, urban design and landscape design. The character of current education and starting practices is further discussed in Volume #50, ‘Beyond Beyond’.

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