Recently I attended the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona. This was the first event of it’s kind, a combination between an architecture awards and an architectural themed conference. Now I’m not an architect, so why was I there. Firstly it was in Barcelona, and I’ve been wanting to travel to Barcelona for years to look at the architecture, especially Gaudi’s stuff, and Secondly I have a huge interest in Architecture and found a few years ago that just about every bit of travel I have done has been around Architecture, so why not combine the two – going to the Architecture conference in Barcelona combined a few things that I was interested in. (I recently did a Pecha Kucha presentation about my interest in Architecture and Travel which you can find here).
There were a few main themes at the conference, one was on Sustainability and one was on Height (eg how to build super tall buildings like the Burj Dubai). Whilst the presentations from both series were interesting there were a few things that just didn’t gel.
In the height series, not one architect discussed anything about the IT systems of the building – yes they discussed new features in Air Conditioning and Glass Facades but nothing about Fibre Optic cabling, how the building with that many people in it will all connect to the internet at the same time, wireless, or even locations and design of server rooms, maybe having a data centre in the building, or anything remotely resembling IT. As an IT geek I was a bit disappointed about that, but I suppose that’s a low priority when talking about building a mega structure.
On the subject of IT, there was no IT discussed at the conference at all. No practice management topics about the use of computers in architecture, no topics about how Second Life and other virtual worlds are (or are not) changing the face of architecture, or not even any topics on new presentation techniques. The most “out there” presentation technique was a powerpoint slideshow with maybe an embedded video. The only IT company that was present at the conference was HP, and that was mainly to give the student charrette access to printers. I would really expect that the next conference has a full stream of technology related presentations, and a showing from some of the major technology players in architecture such as Autodesk and Bentley to name just two. Architecture is about communication – communication of the idea behind the building, communication with the environment, communication with the occupants of the building. How can architects ignore the most prevalent communication medium of our times – the internet.
In the sustainability series I was very disappointed overall. They were just re-hashing passive solar principles that have been around for decades, and adding a bit of new technology in glass facades or particular materials. There was nothing startlingly new, no technology that is revolutionising the industry and helping make buildings “green”. Green buildings is just a fad and a label to say that the architect has actually designed the building properly, thinking about passive solar and energy efficiency principles, it is not new… One of the Sustainability presentations was a full hour on an architect who had designed a church to be moved from one location to another… now just moving a building once does not make it sustainable! what about all the custom materials it was constructed with in the first place. I think the organisers need to vet the content a bit before the event, to make sure the presentations are on the right track. Now of course that is just my gut feel from the 3 day conference, and I would really like to do a lot more reading and research about this to be a bit more informed, but it has definitely sparked my interest to learn more about sustainability of buildings generally, but I think that is another blog post.
But as far as the conference itself goes, some of the organisation of the conference was not very sustainable at all – sending out A4 sized envelopes around the world, containing posters and the agenda that is available on line, is not very sustainable – at least an opt in system would have been good, as I certainly did not need it.
Other aspects of the conference that were just not good at all was the food and coffee, or lack of it. If you pay AU$1100 for a 3 day conference you would at least expect to get some coffee and a small snack at morning tea – they had nothing, not even water. And at the opening drinks there was plenty of alcohol, but only crisps and olives to nibble on (obviously Spain does not have responsible service of alcohol laws). They really need to pick up the game on this next year.
But on the subject of price, the post conference survey suggested that they may be increasing the price significantly next year to make it much more exclusive. I don’t think it was economic value for AU$1100 so it would need to be much much better if they were increasing the price. And on the subject of exclusivity, I really felt that there were three types of people at the conference – those like me who were interested in the conference and the content of the presentations; those that were in the competition and were there to meet and greet as many people as possible; and then the superstars – those that were not allowed to mingle with the rest of us (one of the organisers made a comment “we wouldn’t want anyone to ask Lord Foster what his favorite colour is”), and were whisked away to their private meetings and luxury hotel suites as soon as they came off stage. I would really like to see less of that at the next conference.
Technology at the conference was lacking also – there were about 6 PC’s available for internet usage (which was at least good) and no wifi. There was no streaming of the presentations on-line for later viewing by attendees and the “social networking” (if you could call it that) on the WAF site was a huge joke, as it only allowed emails to one person at a time. Next time please just set up a free Ning site or something simple like that to enable attendees to interact before, during and after the event. One thing they did do quite well with technology was the World Buildings Directory online site – a complete list with details and images of all the buildings that entered the awards. Hopefully this site will just grow from here and become even better. But the same can’t be said for the main WAF site, which was quite ugly and very difficult to navigate.
I covered most of these topics in my evaluation survey of the conference. But even after all these negative points, I actually quite enjoyed the conference content and got a lot out of some of the sessions and met some really great people. I don’t think I would go again (unless someone paid me to), so it was a great opportunity to go to this one. I hope next year they have it in a different city to move it around Europe each year.