World Architecture Festival, plus its sister event Inside: World Festival of Interiors, will be back in Singapore this year from 29 November 2023, after a seven-year spell in European cities.

Paul Finch, Programme Director of the World Architecture Festival (WAF), on how the event is going to tackle key issues faced by the architecture community and why it’s worth a visit for everyone interested in design.

World Architecture Festival 2023

Launched in 2008 in Barcelona, the festival is a three-day annual celebration of great architecture and design from around the world. The key element from the beginning was an awards programme, with shortlisted entrants required to present their designs live, to international jurors and festival delegates.

The three-day event includes a series of competitions and break-out discussions.

The awards format has expanded since its launch and now has four sections – Completed Buildings, Future Projects, Interiors and Landscape, with a total of 43 categories.

World Architecture Festival 2023 Shortlist

On the first two days of the festival, we have 17 inflatable ‘crit’ rooms, where the shortlisted architects and designers compete for a ‘best- in-breed’ award, with up to 17 competitors in each category. On the final day, the 43 winners compete for ‘best-in- show’ awards, presented at a gala dinner which concludes the festival.

Held in Singapore, this year’s events will see design lovers from around the world converging to participate.

‘Crit’ Criticism Rooms

So there are three days of constructive criticism, and a chance for the design community to see how different professionals from across the world are addressing the same sorts of issues: housing, the environment, health, education and so on.

Love for Architecture

The point is to encourage conversation and comparison – to allow professionals to escape from everyday concerns to focus on what matters to them as designers. You might say the festival is a reminder to delegates of why they fell in love with architecture and design in the first place, and this aspect of the festival is a continuing pleasure to me as its founder.

There has been a considerable degree of continuity in our programmes, though welcome changes have included the greater percentage of women judges and speakers, and the introduction of the World Festival of Interiors in 2011.

Conference Stages

In addition to the awards programme, we also have two busy conference stages where we host sessions featuring contributors from across the world.

On our main stage, we have a thematic conference, while on the secondary stage we focus on future projects, and the ideas addressing key challenges facing society, for example Climate and Carbon; Social Equity; Food and Water and so on. The contributors are the winners of our WAFX Awards, which focus on those big global challenges.

2023 Main Theme: Catalyst

Our main stage theme this year is ‘Catalyst’, and is intended to focus on the way in which architecture and design can bring about transformational improvements in the way we live, work and play, by acting as a sort of accelerator, speeding up necessary change which is starting to happen but needs a push.

Design can bring about change in many different ways. It can absorb changing patterns from the world of housing or office development or shopping, and go on to produce designs which reflect those changes, allowing new patterns of use.

Post-Covid Housing Issues

An example of this might be the way in which we think about housing units, especially in a post-pandemic world, where there is a greater emphasis on open space for exercise, and more attention paid to how we might work at home in a more efficient way.

Do you sacrifice a second bathroom in favour of a study? Should apartment blocks have communal workspace? Should every apartment have a balcony?

Paul Finch, Programme Director of the World Architecture Festival (WAF)

Architecture from Home to Hotel

Then there is the question of approaching design differently, on the basis of research into elements, such as colour and light, both artificial and natural, and the look and feel of interior spaces. For designers, what they (and we) think about these matters can swiftly migrate to the commercial world: for example, how do you create the feelings of comfort and familiarity from the home environment in hotel rooms?

These days, hotel operators are making serious attempts to make their customers feel ‘at home’ by use of materials, sound, smell and soundtracks, customising the experience of those who can afford it. This can work the other way: how do you take high-end fixtures and fittings in the bathroom back into home life, in a way which is affordable but maintains quality of experience?

World Architecture Festival in Singapore

Big issues facing us all are the key talking points at WAF, and we expect to review a good cross-section of these at our festival this year. It will be a pleasure to be back in Singapore, where key social and environment issues have been addressed in a creative way since the country’s independence from the UK in 1965, leading to a formidable record of housebuilding, the creation of new environments on ‘made’ or reclaimed land, and the attention given to community health and well-being programmes.

For anybody who has not visited before, a highlight will be the experience of Singapore itself; but for everybody, the most important element of the festival will be the interaction with delegates, speakers, judges and presenters, part of a ‘Big Conversation’ about the future. As ever, it will be a memorable three days.

Photos courtesy of World Architecture Festival