Binging on WAF by Hamish McMichael at Berman Guedes Stretton Architects


Checking one of my favourite news websites during a short break in the marathon crits of the World Architecture Festival, I read that “Binge-Watch” has been named by Collins Dictionary as their word of the year, defined as “to watch a large number of television programs (especially all the shows from one series) in succession”.  This is a relatively new phenomena, enabled by the rise in popularity of on-line media delivery, where the viewer can indulge their curiosity or obsession with their programme of choice.

Whatever your area of interest or expertise, there is a constant stream of new information being generated and new platforms on which to present it. WAF (now in its eighth year) is perhaps the apogee of the gathering and dissemination of architectural content, a three day extravaganza with hundreds of architectural projects exhibited, being simultaneously presented and peer reviewed, leading to category winners and then the ultimate prize, world building of the year.

To assess the hundreds of exhibited projects, it is inevitable that we start to categorize, and make quick gut reactions as to which projects capture our imagination, or make a visceral impact. Old prejudices about style and substance surface, with the suspicion that amongst the exceptional projects there are also some less well considered schemes. However without the opportunity to hear the architects speak and justify their work, it is unfair to make such quick assessments.

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WAF was held at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

This is why WAF is a fantastic proposition, but also a victim of its own success, as the sheer quantum of projects becomes overwhelming, white noise. It is impossible to view more than a fraction of the crits, and I witnessed architects scurrying from one room to another, with their conference programmes marked up like a Glastonbury veteran trying to catch all of their favourite bands.

So I opted for the strategy to concentrate on a single category, in effect “Binge Watching”. “Binge- watching” is a symptom of our on-demand society, where inundated with an overwhelming array of choice, consumers seek comfort and solace in the known, helping to make (or more likely avoid making) a decision. They can therefore gather together the episodes of their programme of choice, and immerse themselves in the story, finding escapism.

This is a consequence of information overload, as we navigate through a torrent of information, we are looking for a haven. There is comfort in the familiar.

I found this a more rewarding and focussed approach to WAF, enabling a more critical evaluation of a small section of the projects on display, and looking for a consistency or narrative in the evaluation by the judges.

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Gary Collins from Berman Guedes Stretton Architect presenting the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum at WAF

However the negative side to “Binge-watching” is the tendency to fail to sensibly regulate the consumption, hence the binging, which can lead to negative repercussions. Research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found binge television watching is correlated to depression, loneliness, self-regulation deficiency, and obesity.

I hope that my WAF marathon didn’t lead to any of the above… but given such a deluge of information, some truly inspiring and some critically challenged, there is a definite risk of screen burn, or at the least a blurring of one’s critical perception.

An obvious solution would be to reduce the number of categories, is there an unnecessary duplication of both completed and “future” versions of many categories? Conversely  this is perhaps the delight of WAF, the opportunity to give light and space to the hypothetical or whimsical projects,  (perhaps in the full knowledge that it will never truly be realised that way).

WAF feeds on the buzz of creativity from the sheer volume of architecture in different categories, therefore to reduce the pool would be to diminish the event.

Perhaps the solution is to capture more of the presentations and upload them to Youtube, so that we can binge watch them on the flight home at our leisure?