The awards ceremony in real time streaming

Special circumstances, special measures. Fortunately, the Cologne Architecture Prize was not prevented by Corona. But it did have to be adjusted and postponed a little. We talked to someone from the kap board about the special circumstances this year and how the award ceremony was received:

Rolf Vollmer, kap Vorstand

Rolf Vollmer, board member and treasurer of the “Kölner Architekturpreis e.V.”. In our interview, he tells us what it was like this year.

The Cologne Architecture Prize (kap) was awarded for the 14th time in 2021. Actually, the prize winners should have been honored earlier. Normally, the award ceremony takes place every three to five years with an on-site event. In 2017, at the 13th kap, it was impossible to foresee what would be in store for everyone in 2020 and then in 2021.

The Cologne Architecture Prize, which is already 51 years old, is one of the oldest German architecture prizes. What was different this year?

Vollmer: Until the very end, all those involved and also the four organizing institutions – the BDA Cologne, the Kölnischer Kunstverein, the Deutscher Werkbund NW and the Architektur Forum Rheinland – had hoped that an exhibition of all the works would be able to take place at the latest after the expected withdrawal of the Corona restrictions. The date was thus postponed to March 2021 for the time being. Arrangements and contracts for the award ceremony and the exhibition with the Catholic University Community/the Archbishop’s Vocational College as well as the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum were therefore cancelled. However, since no one could estimate where, and above all, in what setting such an event may take place again, it was decided in October 2020 to hold the award ceremony in March exclusively online via live stream. In this way, all interested parties could follow the events on screen at home.

Surely this meant that the preparations were different? Can you tell us something about the jury meeting or other challenges?

Vollmer: The jury consisted of five members: from the “Architecture” category with Donatella Fioretti from Berlin, Anne Kaestle from Zurich and Thomas Kröger from Berlin, from the “Journalists” category with Laura Weißmüller from Munich and from the “Public figure” category with the artist Marcel Odenbach from Cologne. Fortunately, all five jury members were able to coordinate the postponement with their calendars and come to Cologne in person, except for Laura Weißmüller from Munich, who was connected to the jury meeting via Zoom due to illness.

The meeting took place in the event hall of the Kölnischer Kunstverein, with daily Corona self-testing and a large distance between the seats of the jury and board members. Laura Weißmüller was then digitally connected from Munich with a laptop monitor. In addition, there were two screens for beamer presentation of the submitted projects. The project boards could thus be discussed, also in comparison with each other, just as thoroughly and conscientiously as in a real exhibition. The final selection of awards and recognitions was made on the second day of the meeting on the basis of a bus tour of the jury to the shortlisted projects. The size of the bus was also determined by the required “Corona non-harmful” seating distance. So all jury procedures new, unfamiliar and exciting – but everything worked well, the mood within the jury and board members was excellent.

So the best was made of given possibilities. And you relied on digital support. What was it like to follow the Cologne Architecture Prize ceremony online as a live stream?

Vollmer: That, too, was of course unusual and exciting, both for us and for the more than 200 interested visitors and listeners, clients and colleagues at the screens. It was interesting to see that digital solutions now make almost anything possible. With the support of an external service provider, we did quite well as organizers to ensure that the audience experienced a good piece of Cologne’s urban development – completely digitally. But it was also a great pity, of course – especially for the award winners. The atmosphere is different, and of course it’s not quite as dignified if you can watch it from your sofa at home – possibly still in sweatpants.

Were all the submissions presented live?

Vollmer: No, of course not all of them. 66 entries from 52 architectural firms would be a bit much. Out of all the entries, there were 10 winners at this year’s Cologne Architecture Prize. Five awards and five recognitions. The award-winning projects were presented in detail. Through photos and the comments and statements of the architects and their clients, as well as the reading of the jury’s verdicts, the audience was able to see successful examples of fruitful collaboration between designers and clients. By the way: On the website everyone can now view the awards including jury verdicts as well as all submissions.

Why is it necessary to have such formats, despite some obstacles and unpredictable circumstances?

Vollmer: In the earliest Cologne Architecture Prize awards, only individual outstanding buildings were honored. Today, the kap is also awarded for urban planning installations, open spaces and interventions in public spaces in Cologne and the surrounding area. This is exactly the right way to go about it, because it makes Cologne’s building culture known to a broad public and is not just reserved for interested experts. The exhibitions, which are usually held every three years in inner-city locations, have shown that a large number of interested visitors are not specialists, but simply attend the presentation out of interest in the cityscape and good architecture.

One of the sponsors of the Cologne Architecture Prize is the Architekturforum Rheinland, which you represent as a member of the board of the Kölner Architekturpreis e.V. (“Cologne Architecture Prize”) association. There, the focus is on “Knowing the past, understanding the present, shaping the future. How do you influence the process? Can the kap provide even more inspiration in this direction?

Vollmer: To clarify: the kap board organizes the procedure, appoints and accompanies the jury, acquires and looks after the sponsors and is responsible for the content and financial management of the entire measure. The influence on design and architectural developments in the architectural discourse is thus limited. However, by selecting and justifying the projects worthy of an award, the jury members can very well influence the discussion, consideration and assessment of the entries, also with regard to ecological and social aspects. At this year’s jury meeting, for example, the discussion on the subject of renovation, expansion and conversion of existing buildings and facilities took up a great deal of space. In my opinion, this shows that a sustainable approach to existing buildings can also provide an impetus for the future. That was not so much in the spotlight in the past architecture awards.

What did you take away from this 14th kap? What did you like about it?

Vollmer: Despite all the uncertainty and unpredictability of breaking new ground for such an event, what excited me the most was the adventure of holding the awards ceremony via live stream. I was very pleased to see the consistently high quality of this year’s submissions. And I am particularly grateful to our sponsors who, despite Corona and the economic impact it often entails, have again supported us financially, in some cases repeatedly. As you know, our association is non-profit, without a budget of its own and relies on the help of supporters and sponsors to carry out the measure and all related costs. Therefore, I would like to especially thank the office Angeler Architektur & Projektmanagement as one of our main sponsors this year for their first and hopefully not last commitment.

What would you like to see from the next Cologne Architecture Prize?

Vollmer: Despite the good experiences with holding the award ceremony via livestream and the digital exhibition on our website, I hope that Corona will no longer be an issue – at least for the analog execution of the Cologne Architecture Prize – and that people will be able to celebrate the award ceremony together with colleagues, clients, sponsors and friends over a glass of wine and then stroll through the exhibition of all the submitted works at their leisure. If necessary, digital support could be helpful in the context of the jury meeting and project assessment and perhaps even at the award ceremony through parallel livestream. However, that is for the board of the next Cologne Architecture Prize to decide.

Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Vollmer!