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Architects and designers delineate what constitutes ‘all’ and ‘everyone’ at UIA 2023

STIR offers a glimpse into the oeuvre and aspirations of prominent designers, architects and academics, in tandem with UIA’s overarching theme of ‘Leave No One Behind.’

by Almas SadiquePublished on : Aug 31, 2023

The UIA World Congress of Architects 2023, held this year at Copenhagen, Denmark, from July 2 to 6, 2023, brought together creatives from the realms of architecture, design, planning and building industries to speak about and discuss the pressing issues of climate crisis, unsustainability, non-inclusivity and more. With the overarching theme of Sustainable Futures - Leave No One Behind, the four-day event platformed a series of presentations and conversations pivoted on an unrelenting penitence over past (unsustainable and inconsiderate) practices by First World countries and an understated promise to do better and to include all.

The congress, which witnessed the attendance of 6000 participants from 135 countries, hosted 150 sessions, led the way for the presentation of 250 science papers, and welcomed 400 speakers from across the globe, and from across disciplines, to take the stage. The various panels set up during the event aimed to respond to an assortment of issues that have recently become difficult to shrug off. The central and sweeping question, however, of all these discussions, remained the same: Can architecture mend the future?

STIR spoke to various practitioners present at the congress, about this panoptic question, while also discussing their work, their goals, their realisations, and their attempts at both mending that which is depraved and bridging the gaps that pervade architectural practices and societies as a whole. Some of them include Danish architects Natalie Mossin and Bjarke Ingels, Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari, Burkinabé-German architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, German architect Anna Heringer, Danish architect and urban design consultant Jan Gehl, architect and politician HY William Chan, Rotterdam-based design and architecture curator, critic and writer Aric Chen, American architects Jeanne Gang and Chris Downey, African architect Christian Benimana, Chinese architect Xu Tiantian, Colombian-French urbanist, author and professor Carlos Moreno, Dutch architects Nathalie de Vries and Reinier de Graaf. Snippets from these conversations—that delineate a holistic definition of inclusion—can be viewed below:

Architects and designers pondering on the question of who ‘all’ and ‘everyone’ constitutes Video: Courtesy of STIR

From these dialogues emerged a wide range of perspectives—from laying focus on the importance of listening and collaboration and asserting the need for allotting greater attention upon those who have, so far, been left behind, to point out the hypocrisy of using such a statement at a time when the provisions and privileges available to different spectrums of the society seem especially skewed.

These perspectives were further explored in the various discussions undertaken as part of the event in Copenhagen. From pondering on rethinking resources, aiming to do more with less, rehabilitating migrants, tackling health inequities, to adapting the built environment in lieu of an unpredictable future, building resilient communities in tandem with nature, and construing the needs of the divergent society in order to design inclusive spaces, the keynote speakers at the congress addressed a wide range of pulsating issues and agendas. The architectural event also hosted an array of experimental pavilions innovated with the intent of showcasing sustainable practices. The event concluded with an elaborate awards ceremony that acknowledged both students and professionals dedicated to the task of designing and building in ways that are inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

Gathering the myriad agendas raised during the event and the numerous stances revealed by the participants, STIR approached prominent practitioners and theorists at the congress with questions that probed their practices against the theme of the event.

Natalie Mossin defines future built environments in 'The Copenhagen Lessons'

Danish architect Natalie Mossin at UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen, 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

Danish architect and President of the Congress, Natalie Mossin, concluded the four-day event with the launch of 10 principles, The Copenhagen Lessons, that called for the rerouting of previously undertaken approaches and methods such that they can hover closer to the fulfillment of UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Mossin further emphasised the grievousness of the overarching theme and talked about the importance of tending to all sentient beings without discrimination. In a conversation with STIR, the architect stated, “Climate emergency is so devastating. If we fail, we fail all the non-human species, all life forms, and we certainly fail people. The effect is felt across the board. At the core of Leave No One Behind is really the human rights, the belief that life has dignity. All life has dignity. I hope we are not ready to give up on any life form and I hope we are not ready to give up on the dignity of any life form.”

'Architecture to me is caring', Francis Kéré at UIA World Congress of Architects 2023

STIR in conversation with Francis Kéré at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

Diébédo Francis Kéré, the Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate of 2022, presented a keynote speech on ‘Rethinking Resources - How To Do More With Less’ at the congress, wherein he delivered the message of moving towards a more ‘sustainable resource paradigm’ and healing the planet we inhabit in slow, but efficient and intentional actions, with architecture. In a conversation with Amit Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, STIR and Samta Nadeem, Curatorial Director of STIR, the architect discussed the themes of collaboration, co-creation, community and commitment to the environment.

Seeking answers to urban issues with Jan Gehl at UIA World Congress of Architects

STIR in conversation with Jan Gehl at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

Jan Gehl shared "more than 50 years of experience in designing cities for people" in a brief speech delivered as part of the panel ‘Cities For People - 50 Years Later.’ The lessons conveyed through the narration of his experiences, hinted at one sweeping objective—ushering people to step outdoors, from their homes, offices and cars, and onto streets that can present habitable environs and easily navigable locales.

Yasmeen Lari: "Even within poverty, you can become a millionaire"

STIR in conversation with Yasmeen Lari at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

Yasmeen Lari, the first female architect in Pakistan—who promptly re-routed her approach as an architect when encountered with the plight of those affected as a result of a massive earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale in 2005—spoke at UIA 2023 about the need to orient our attention towards marginalised communities. She pondered upon the rights of the underprivileged in acquiring and enjoying structural amenities that are most often gatekept by the privileged few, and highlighted the merits of collaboration over solitary architectural initiatives.

Addressing the miscellany of obstacles that thwart inclusive design, with Chris Downey

STIR in conversation with Chris Downey at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

Chris Downey, who lost his sight in 2008 after undergoing surgery for the removal of a brain tumour, talked about the shift in his perspective and experiences while exploring the same structures and urban locales that he earlier frequented. Pondering upon minor details that can make or mar the experience of differently-abled individuals, he drew focus on the necessity of designing and building in a manner that does not remit the accessibility of any user.

Pondering if architecture hurts or heals, with Christian Benimana of MASS Design Group

STIR in conversation with Christian Benimana at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

Moving beyond the discussions on sustainable design and architecture, Christian Benimana questions whether architecture should be produced at all, if not for the purpose of healing. “As architects, I want us to question whether we deserve to produce architecture that is not for health,” he says. The architect, in his speech as part of the panel ‘How To Tackle (Climate) Health Inequities,’ delineated the health effects brought on by the climate crisis in different regions of the world, especially Third World countries, and spoke about the potential of good architecture in ensuring good health of its inhabitants.

Towards an exodus of sustainability at the UIA 2023 OBEL Award Talks

  • STIR in conversation with American architect Jeanne Gang at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR
  • STIR in conversation with German architect Anna Heringer at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR
  • STIR in conversation with Chinese architect Xu Tiantian at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR
  • STIR in conversation with Dutch architect Reinier De Graaf at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Video: Courtesy of STIR

As part of the panel 'Obel Award Talks: Mending - Creative Mending Through Climate-Positive Construction or Design,' four architects, namely Anna Heringer, Xu Tiantian, Jeanne Gang, and Reinier De Graaf, came together to discuss the responsibility and potential of architecture in healing the planet. Straying the panelists away from the event, STIR enquired each architect about their practices, their design ethos, and the attempts they are undertaking to 'mend all that has gone bad.'

Bjarke Ingels leads a walkthrough of BIG's new HQ in Copenhagen

Bjarke Ingels leads a walkthrough of BIG's new headquarters in Copenhagen Video: Courtesy of STIR

During the architectural event, STIR had the opportunity to visit the BIG HQ in Copenhagen harbour, which is set to open later this year. BIG founder Bjarke Ingels led a tour of the building, talking about the structure’s design, parts of which are redolent of various contextual elements. Ingels also delivered a keynote speech at the UIA congress, where he presented the concept of “hedonistic sustainability”. “If every building would only care about its ‘own’, you would end up with a city of self-centred individuals, in that sense we always try to use the need, to build as an opportunity to create an invitation or contribution to that particular neighbourhood or place,” te architect shares.

The next iteration of UIA World Congress of Architects will take place in 2026 in Barcelona, announced as the next UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture.

The UIA World Congress 2023 programme featured talks, panel discussions and presentations by influential and innovative creative practices. STIR as an official Media Partner, brings you the highlights of the congress through a series of interviews, visits and conversations.

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