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Opinion / Gaia Lutz

Fair play

Fair play

Over three days last week, about 1,500 architects, developers, design enthusiasts and journalists descended on the Feira Internacional de Lisboa in Portugal’s capital for the 15th edition of the World Architecture Festival (WAF). While there are plenty of other industry events on the architectural calendar, from Salone del Mobile to the London Design Festival, the WAF is special because it allows architects both to view materials to complete their work with and to share their projects with others in the industry, from clients to competitors.The festival’s main draws were the dozen inflatable tents around the perimeter of the feira. Inside them, shortlisted practices competed for awards in 45 categories over the course of the event, presenting their projects in 10-minute sessions, after which they took a grilling from judges. It was like the television talent contest The Voice but for architects: instead of singing and dancing, contestants tried to impress judges with technical drawings, renders and images of completed and future work.The snappy format forced the best contenders to perfectly balance concept and detail. While the judges critically examined all of the technical aspects, the best presentations also involved engaging storytelling, whether the project addressed how the communal spirit of 1970s Amsterdam can be revived in a new co-living concept or how learning from earthquakes can shake up dusty notions of a building’s symmetry. The awards were also a reminder that it isn’t necessarily the flashiest or most expensive projects that are the most meaningful, with hi-tech sport stadiums winning prizes alongside a modest lifeguard tower.While practices such as Denmark’s 3XN and Hong Kong-based Condition_Lab walked away with the awards for building of the year and interior of the year respectively, others will have emerged from the festival with great ideas inspired by the concepts presented by their peers. Event organisers can learn something too. The WAF has a format that breaks from more static industry conferences, with its awards proving that a little friendly competition goes a long way when it comes to spicing up a programme.Gaia Lutz is Monocle’s Lisbon correspondent.

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