In an adrenaline-fuelled judging session, the winners of the first ever WAN 21 for 21 AWARDS were finally chosen last Thursday. The initiative aims to highlight 21 architects who could be the leading lights of architecture in the 21st century; outstanding, forward-thinking people and organisations who have the demonstrable potential to be the next big thing in the architectural world. The jurors were looking for architects whose directional ideas are helping to shape the future of architecture, whilst keeping within the boundaries of commercial viability and sustainability.
No stone was left unturned as the jurors examined the wide-ranging work of the 43 long-listed entrants, and while minds were changed and conflictions arose in terms of opinion, the jury enthusiastically agreed on the architects that they believed to be the deserved winners. According to the jurors, these entrants managed to encompass originality and strength of work (hybrid programmes, specificity of form or use/reuse of materials) and originality of practice (methods of research and finding, creating and delivering work) with a demonstration of how their work contributes to wider society and, to top it all off, outstanding aesthetic results.
There was an atmosphere of excitement as these future greats were unveiled, with one judge announcing that ‘I have never seen architecture like this before in my life!’ High praise indeed. Yet due to the rigorous and fair nature of the judging, and the passionate determination of the jury to find the top 21 architects for the 21st century, it transpired that not all 21 were going to be found this year. Many of the entries impressed the jury, and while these received recognition for their talents and achievements they were in some cases regarded as falling outside the realm of ‘emerging’ architecture that these awards aim to find – more ‘emerged’ or even ‘pre-emerging’, as the jurors coined it.
In the end, the conclusion was reached that only the five entries that absolutely blew the jury away on every count should be awarded ‘winners’, while sixteen practices were given the prestigious accolade of ‘highly commended.’ The five that were eventually selected as the leading exponents of the future of architecture were as follows: Atelier Ryo Abe (Japan), JDS Architects (Denmark), Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos (Spain), Patterson Associates (New Zealand) and Reiulf Ramstad Architects (Norway).
Atelier Ryo Abe was congratulated for its highly original designs and ‘impressive space-handling’ that, as the designers themselves professed, stepped away from the ‘white box’ aesthetic that is typically associated with contemporary Japanese architecture. Patterson Associates were praised for their visually strong designs and approach to sustainability with a ‘non-nostalgic’ appearance. The judges were left literally speechless by Reiulf Ramstad’s understated yet iconic buildings that sit so harmoniously within their surroundings that they seem to be part of the natural landscape, and were deeply impressed by the independent thinking and ‘stringent conceptual work’ of Julien De Smedt’s firm JDS. The projects presented by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos had the jurors literally jumping out of their seats, with one juror even exclaiming that it gave him a rare ‘tingling feeling’ that can only be generated by truly inspirational design – ‘something that none of us had seen before… instantly breath-taking’ (David West).
Jurors commented that ‘the quality of the submissions was fantastic’, and alongside the five winners sixteen entries were very highly regarded by the jurors for many different reasons. New York-based Easton + Combs and London-based Architecture 00:/ sparked discussion about the conceptual boundaries of architecture and how this is changing to become more open-ended, incorporating other fields of design and branding, and although they were not eventually picked as winners, the quality of the work’s execution was emphatically congratulated in both cases. In contrast, UK-based Piercy Conner and Feilden Fowles left a strong impression on the judges with their elegantly restrained, uplifting solutions that demonstrated a wholehearted commitment to the practice of architecture and intelligent responses to topographical context and human needs.
Field Architecture in the USA were commended for their sensitivity to site, context and sustainability whilst maintaining a strong aesthetic, and rare architecture delighted the jurors with their transformation of the Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel in London that bravely juxtaposes a Grade 2 heritage listed building with a flat-surfaced, geometric structure.
5468796 Architecture, Nuno Valentim and Enota also ranked very highly for their bold designs and conceptual underpinning, and were the subject of in-depth debate amongst the jurors before being awarded highly commended, as were Petra Gipp Arkitektur and Arquitecturia, while A/ZC, fjmt, Saucier + Perrotte, De Matos Ryan and Henley Halebrown Rorrison were recognised as slightly more experienced companies producing innovative and high quality designs.
But the search continues in what judge David West has called ‘the quest for the 21 for 21’, as WAN leaves sixteen places open for the remaining winners of the 21 for 21 Awards, to be filled over the years to come. The jurors have already expressed their excitement at seeing the next instalment of entries, with the ambition of finding the 21 most outstanding architects that are building our 21st century world.
fjmt | francis-jones morehen thorp
Saucier + Perrotte architects
Petra Gipp Arkitektur
Henley Halebrown Rorrison
Nuno Valentim, Arquitectura e Reabilitção
De Matos Ryan
Piercy Conner Architects