The fifth annual LEAF event packed in an impressively varied schedule of presentations, round tables and workshops, and brought together top architects and senior executives from the world's leading building suppliers. It was a relaxed, friendly and intimate event marked by some exceptional presentations, excellent networking opportunities and good-spirited socialising.
LEAF 2007 PROGRAMME
Throughout both the first and second days there were pre-arranged one-to-one business meetings. The seminar programme was also interspersed with interactive workshops led by companies including Adobe, Giesse, Whirlpool, Sanvik and Laufen Bathrooms.
Nicola Leonardi, editor of leading architecture journal The Plan, kicked off proceedings with an opening presentation on the state of architecture in Italy and its future direction.
Leonardi, a long-standing LEAF supporter, set the tone for the rest of the event, as this year, perhaps more than any other, the conference content had a real sense of place, with talks from such Italian luminaries as Mario Cucinella Antoni Citterio and Tommaso Valle.
But before any of these, it was off to Japan and a presentation by Blaine Brownell on Japanese material innovation. LEAF has always placed sustainability high up the agenda and this also served as Brownell's launch pad. The visiting professor in sustainability at the University of Michigan's A Alfred Taubman College of Architecture has recently returned from a year in Tokyo and was keen to discuss how much of what he had seen there was translatable to the West.
"The architect-engineer relationship there is fantastic," he told the assembled audience, "it allows them to be far more experimental. There is an emphasis on using the city as a power plant." Brownwell's fascinating presentation showcased highlights included offices lit by natural daylight through the use of mirror ducts and a multi-storey car park with a wind turbine façade powering an entire shopping mall.
Brownell returned later in the day to participate in a round-table discussion, 'Building sustainable cities'. Alongside him sat Cibic & Partners founder Aldo Cibic, Paolo Desideri, professor of design at the University of Pescara, and Bernhard Franken, CEO of Franken Architekten GmbH.
The final presentation of the first day was one of the highlights of the entire event. Sebastain Finkh from emerging German practice Jurgen Meyer H presented 'Questioning the obvious – a guided visual walk-through of Jurgen Mayer H Architect's studio projects'.
Finckh's profile of the Berlin practice and their design philosophy captivated the audience. Explaining the creative process behind some of the practice's most striking projects – including the incredible, otherworldly Metropol Parasol in Seville due to be completed next year – Finckh gave an extraordinary insight into a young practice set for great things.
After a busy first day the delegates headed out into the Roman night for dinner at one of the city's finest seafood restaurants, Pierluigi.
Situated in Piazza de'Ricci, amidst beautiful renaissance buildings, we were met by the restaurant's ebullient owner and feasted on delicious food washed down with plenty of wine.
PRESENTATIONS AND ROUND TABLES
Day two began with a presentation by Bernhard Franken on the relationship between architecture and branding. Franken explored the enigmatic prospects facing the practices of the future where designers will increasingly become more 'fringe stream' than 'mainstream'.
Franken's well-received presentation was followed by a talk given by James Thomas, a senior partner at London-based Make architects. Thomas engagingly described how the practice, founded by Ken Shuttleworth in 2004, had grown from a team of six working out of a borrowed office with 'one laptop between them' into one of the foremost architectural firms in the United Kingdom.
The company has over 130 employees based in studios in London, Edinburgh and Birmingham and is currently working on 400 projects in ten countries.
The second round table discussion followed a workshop by Whirlpool. Nicola Leonardi oversaw a passionate debate between Marion Cucinella, Piero Lissoni and Antonio Citterio, about creating an architectural practice fit for the 21st century. All three discussed the difficulties in running a small practice within an industry dominated by global giants, and the topic had a particularly Italian flavour.
Perhaps Mario Cucinella described the dilemma most succinctly, saying: "We may be large on the Italian scene, but pale into insignificance at the international award level. Now, we must either stay small and retain real control, or become a large entity and risk dilution. The Italian profession has made a leap forward in the last ten years, but this remains a difficult decision."
The final day ended with a talk given by acclaimed Italian architect Tommaso Valle who looked back on his 50-year career. In a long, engaging presentation, Valle discussed his early student projects right up to some of his goliath commissions including Rome's Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci airport as well many unrealised designs.
Engaging and self-deprecating throughout, he made light of his length of time spent in the industry. "Sometimes you have to take revenge on your colleagues," he joked, discussing the commissions he had missed out on, "I have had plenty of opportunity to do so."
The event closed with a gala dinner. Delegates and suppliers enjoyed gourmet Italian cuisine, fine wines and live jazz; a fitting end to a busy and highly productive forum.
THE LEAF AWARDS 2007
Next year's LEAF event will take place in Dublin from 13–16 September. Before then, however, there is plenty more to look forward to.
The LEAF Awards will be held at the Waldorf Hilton in Central London on 29 November, 2007. LEAF London runs from 22–24 January 2008 and the inaugural LEAF India will be held in Mumbai from 27–30 March 2008. For information on all of these events, please click here