Beyond the brief

Friday 19 Aug 2011

Winners of 2011 WAN AWARDS Civic Buildings sector go the extra mile

The winners of this year’s WAN AWARDS Civic Buildings sector are classic examples of architecture that goes beyond the brief. Kengo Kuma’s banded competition win for the new Victoria and Albert Museum in Dundee, Scotland was victorious in the ‘Unbuilt’ category, while a scarlet museum for intricate paper lanterns in Aomori, Japan entitled Nebuta-no-ie Warasse by collaborating group molo / d&dt Arch / Frank la Rivière Architects Inc. blew the judges away in the ‘Completed’ category.

Both structures have (or will have) a significant impact on their surrounding communities, not only visually apparent from a great distance due to their size and highly influential design, but performing a vital function: the V&A Dundee will bring reams of tourists to the city’s stunning waterfront, providing many additional jobs in the tertiary sector and introducing a new cultural venue on the River Tay; in comparison, Nebuta-no-ie Warasse (Nebuta House) is an elegant addition to a thriving neighbourhood steeped in tradition whose annual Nebuta Festival sees ornate paper lanterns come to life for a single day. This new museum provides the community with a simple yet effective space to showcase these beautiful works of art, extending the festival throughout the year and injecting a hit of colour on the Aomori skyline.

Whilst the winning designs were selected by unanimous jury panels, the decision was not necessarily an easy one. Debate raged over the Nebuta-no-ie Warasse scheme as the judges considered whether the dramatic, highly glossed exhibition spaces were light enough to effectively display such treasured works. Miles Delap, Partner at Gardiner & Theobald was particularly taken with the building: “It has the complexity that’s important in a civic building. It blends very nicely the community uses, the community art form which is obviously really interesting. The community art form is visually exciting and the building doesn’t compete with that but it has a really beautiful and lovely façade and depth to it that you don’t often see.”

This sentiment was echoed by Morten Schmidt, Co-Founder of Schmidt Hammer Lassen who noted: “The project sees social energy and art blending together; a historical and traditional art form brought into a modern frame but done in a very elegant way.” Also vying for the title was Bunker Arquitectura’s Sunset Chapel in Acapulco, Mexico which struck a chord with Keith Williams, Founder of Keith Williams Architects for the studio’s savvy handling of the client’s brief: “The architects have taken a simple brief, a small place for worship, but have actually turned that into a theatrical piece of sculpture in a stunning landscape and tried to make a faux boulder. I suppose intellectually you could critique it quite hard but to carry it off with such bravura skill I find it rather compelling and that tends to sweep away any uncertainness that intellectual analysis might create.” The Sunset Chapel was subsequently awarded the title of Highly Commended.

In the ‘Unbuilt’ jury session, our experienced judges were immediately taken by Kengo Kuma’s concept design for the new V&A Dundee. The stepped volume came first in a design competition for the project in 2010 and met some equally fierce competitors in the 2011 WAN AWARDS Civic Buildings sector, yet once again it came out on top, Croz Crosling, an Associate of Grimshaw Architects in New York confessing: “Okay, it’s still unbuilt but I’m hoping it will be soon…”

The winning factor for the judges was clearly Kengo Kuma’s sensitive handling of the site and context. Each of the jurors individually stated how easily the inventive design slotted into its waterside location, with Hannah Lawson, Director of Education and Culture and Head of Initiatives at John McAslan + Partners taking the lead: “I really like this. I’m just going to put my cards out. There are some quite compelling narratives about the landscape with the twisting and turning, in line with the landscape and the harbour. The idea of it opening up and carving up the public realm, but then also at the upper layers of the 3-dimensional experience of what is an incredible setting. I think it weaves itself with the water as well at the ground plain, it’s not just a building that sits on the harbour but it somehow appears to sit within it and within the land as well.”

Congratulations to all this year’s successful entries!

Key Facts:

Civic Buildings

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