Amsterdam – The grand Westergasfabriek was illuminated in atmospheric purple as it opened on the morning of 21 February to welcome jury members, nominees and nearly 1,000 St-W Lab visitors. An LED runway guided visitors to the core of the space, encapsulated by an ethereal black curtain that maximized visual transparency throughout the impressive venue with diverse exhibits dotted around the circumference.
The day began with the long-awaited live judging of 130 spatial projects nominated for a St-W Award. Jury members India Mahdavi, Jaime Hayon and Clive Wilkinson, among many others, critiqued and lauded the projects – which covered the spectrum of scope and scale – carefully deliberating on which of the five nominees per category produced the strongest design. Nominees including Moment Factory, Neri&Hu, Heatherwick Studio, One Plus Partnership and dRMM were there to defend their work; engaging in debate with the jury and often sparking divisive opinions among members of the panel.
The full St-W Lab programme followed the live judging, where nominees, jury, speakers and all of those in attendance roamed the interactive exhibits and attended various talks and discussions on topics from virtual reality to the mobility of working environments.
The scene for the various talks and panel discussions over the course of the two-day programme resembled an analogue chatroom; individual headphones made speakers easily audible to those present, offering a core of absorption amid the larger area bustling with activity. The physical proximity aided by technology was also a prime example of an ever-present theme in the talks: merging the digital with the physical to create a unique analogue experience.
The theoretical topics and multidisciplinary creatives in attendance made for an intriguing mix of thoughts, ideas and forecasts that depicted the future of our built environment in a multitude of different – and sometimes controversial – ways. Of note among the crowd-pleasing programme was the upbeat personal reflection by Sevil Peach, a clever revelation by Hans Vermeulen on his technique for 3D-printing architecture, and a peek into the future of living in response to global demographic trends by Space10 founder Carla Cammilla Hjort.
Midday breaks from the plethora of visual and theoretical stimuli were easily accommodated with a coffee from the café or drink at the bar where attendees, speakers, nominees and jury members could relax alongside otherworldly furniture by Julica Morlok or translucent solar panels by Wellsun.
Above all else, one thing was certainly evident from the wealth of information shared by speakers and exhibitions: we are entering an era of human-centred design in which the focus lies on creating empathic environments concerned with individual experiences. Technology will play a leading role in our future surroundings, but as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Networked digital technology will be synthesized with the natural and built environment, producing immersive and interactive spaces.
The two-day St-W Lab left visitors with much to consider, incited curiosity and provided a platform for the exchange of knowledge from industry leaders themselves.
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