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The World Architecture Festival and the best buildings of 2021

The World Architecture Festival (WAF) unveiled its prestigious list of the best buildings and landscape designs worldwide. The list of 200 projects covers commercial, residential, furniture, and cultural projects, including the expansive open-air Chinese Cultural Exhibition Centre in Lanzhou and a plan to preserve Abu Dhabi's oldest building, the Qasr Al Hosn Fort. Meanwhile, in the Chinese coastal city of Sanya, a verdant mangrove park has been restored after three decades of pollution and development.

But smaller, more distant efforts were also recognized. For example, in the remote Swiss Jura Mountains, a whimsical green spiral rises above the landscape and houses a new museum from luxury watch manufacturer Audemars Piguet. And off the coast of Iran, on the island of Hormuz, a cluster of colorful domed tourist residences aims to connect visitors to the local community.

Following the cancellation of last year's WAF awards due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's shortlist includes architectural projects completed worldwide between 2019 and 2021. The winners will be decided at the festival in December, when more than 100 judges gather in Lisbon, Portugal, to determine the awards for each category and crown one project as World Building of the Year. A selection of projects from the WAF Awards 2021 shortlist can be seen in the gallery above.

Nikken Sekkei won the Engineering Award for the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, a 12,000-seat timber-frame building designed for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The judges admired the structural use of timber on a heroic scale over a 90m span, with elegantly resolved geometry and detailing. In addition, it was noted that most importantly for an Olympic venue, the building is also designed for a second life as an exhibition hall. A specialist jury awards the esteemed Engineering Prize.

Maggie's Leeds by Heatherwick Studio won the award for the best use of natural light, a UK center supporting people affected by cancer. The award recognizes the best use of natural light in finished buildings, emphasizing projects that impact human well-being, performance, and joy.

Atelier Sérgio Rebelo is the winner of the Visualization Award, supported by Lumion, for their presentation of Alto Douro Winery and Hotel, a forward-thinking project celebrating Port wine production in Portugal's Douro Valley. The award honors the best rendering videos of architectural projects, celebrating both in-house visualization teams and agency collaborations.

RTA Studio and Irving Smith Architects have won the Best Use of Certified Timber Award, endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), for Scion Innovation Hub, Te Whare Nui o Tuteata, a workplace located on the edge of the redwood forest in Whakarewarewa Forest Park, New Zealand. The judges noted that the building managed to incorporate zero carbon at the time of completion and features dovetail knot joints that fit together in an expression of "craftsmanship and beauty." The award celebrates the use of certified timber in innovative, educational, and artistic ways within architecture.

Revolution's Temporary Housing Pavilion for Healthcare Workers won the Small Project of the Year award, a modular temporary housing solution from the Russian practice in response to Covid-19. The judges were impressed by the elegant means of designing this minimal structure and found the use of poly-aluminum boards made from recycled bottles and drinks packets to be "ingenious and innovative". The award celebrates projects that are small in scale but big on innovation.

The world's best building is a ski slope over a recycling plant.

The World's Best Building 2021 was unveiled on October 4, 2019. After the suspension of the awards last year, the World Architecture Festival (WAF) has returned these days with a virtual ceremony in which the most brilliant and intelligent buildings completed in the previous two years have been unveiled. And, according to the jury, the best of them all, the World Building of the Year, is in Copenhagen. The CopenHill building, also known as Amager Bakke, is an eye-catching creation of the Danish architecture studio Bjarke Ingels Group that combines three of the most characteristic elements of these times: energy, sustainability, and leisure. It is a plant that converts waste into energy, topped by a synthetic grass ski slope and a climbing wall, among other leisure options.

CopenHill is the fourteenth project that can boast the title of World Building of the Year since the first edition of the World Architecture Festival - one of the most important events of the year in the sector - in 2008. The architects' approach has made it possible to combine industry, sustainability, and entertainment, turning this building into a place for tourism and recreation. Skiers ascending to the highest part of this park can appreciate the 24-hour operation of a waste incinerator and a multipurpose building with a rooftop bar, a cross-fit area, a hiking trail, a climbing wall (the world's highest artificial climbing wall, 85 m) and a lookout over the city.

The work commended with this award is truly unique. The CopenHill area is 41,000 m2, and a maximum of one hundred skiers are allowed on the slopes at any one time. Underneath, there are the furnaces, steam, and turbines that convert 440,000 tonnes of waste a year into enough clean energy to supply 150,000 homes with electricity and district heating. They say Copenhagen will be the world's first zero-carbon city by 2025.

Logically, the message of recycling and zero emissions has been essential in the jury's decision. But they also valued the fact that "a building can be fun." Anyone who wants to slide down the CopenHill slopes - on the island of Amager (in the southern part of Copenhagen) - does not need to bring the equipment with them. You can rent or buy it on the spot. You can also sign up for a ski or snowboard lesson. Otherwise, the slopes are open on grass or snow all year round. Unfortunately, in the two years that the pitches have been in operation, Danish newspapers have reported a faster-than-expected deterioration of the ski area, which will require a renovation planned for 2024.

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