Marilyne Andersen, Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies at EPFL Lausanne, in her role as head of the Academic Committee of the LafargeHolcim Foundation, was a member of all five regional LafargeHolcim Awards juries. She found the differences between the juries substantial – and important.
Foundations: You were the only juror participating in all five meetings. What was your role?
Marilyne Andersen: I did not want to be the unofficial jury head. We had excellent moderators everywhere who did not need leadership. But everyone was probably also happy that I had an overarching perspective. It is important that someone consistently represents the Foundation’s values on all juries. Furthermore, I was also able to carry experiences made by one jury into the next, for example with regard to the procedure. I thus saw it as my job to create a certain unity in terms of values and procedures.
F: Creating unity - does that mean that the five jury meetings were all the same in the end?
MA: Not at all, the differences between the juries were actually substantial - also because the focus of the projects were quite different in the various regions. The juries for Europe and North America, for example, judged very academically, often dealing with architectural theory and methodology. As we had fewer projects to assess in North America, there was more time for debates on principles. The jury for Europe debated about how construction should develop in general, but we had to move faster because of the higher number of submissions.
In Latin America the social influence of the projects played a particularly large role, we were looking for concrete answers to real challenges; thus, the projects and discussions in Latin America were very contextual. I also noticed that the Foundation is very important in Latin America. There are architectural offices there that develop their projects based on our five “target issues”!
F: What about the juries for Middle East Africa and Asia Pacific?
MA: The conversations of the Middle East Africa jury were emotional, there were pronounced local sensitivities – which did not occur anywhere else. In the case of Middle East Africa, I was particularly shown how important it is that the juries consist primarily of people from the region. They look at projects from a perspective that others cannot take; for example, they know the economic and political framework conditions exactly. Finally, in Asia Pacific there were – hardly surprising in such a large and diverse region – groups with very different agendas. For example, one group focused more on social influence, while another was primarily looking for impressive innovations. However, the jury head managed to create a balance between the groups.
F: Each jury also included a representative from the LafargeHolcim Innovation Center (LCR) in Lyon. What was their role?
MA: First of all: They impressed me very much because they were extremely committed and competent. One might expect them to argue mostly technically, but that was not the case. They are all scientists and got involved in discussions as scientific thinkers.
F: Are they particularly interested in projects using a lot of concrete?
MA: On the contrary: sometimes they even spoke out against such projects because they were not innovative enough for them. The employees of the LCR are of course up to date and have high expectations.
F: For the first time, the jury meetings were held virtually. What are the advantages of such an approach – besides the fact that there is no need to travel?
MA: I believe a virtual meeting creates more balance between the jury members. Professionally, everyone is very strong, but of course the presence and appearance are very different. Body language, for example, also plays an important role in face-to-face meetings, and besides the actual discussions, informal chats during coffee breaks can also have an influence on jury members’ decisions. In a virtual meeting, the importance of personal appearance takes a back seat; people with a strong personality cannot prevail so easily, the technical argument gains weight compared to the convincing demeanor.
F: So are virtual meetings the future?
MA: I hope not! What I dearly missed were the informal discussions. They are important in understanding the attitudes of other members. In many cases I would have liked to know more about the backgrounds of the others. It was hardly possible to exchange ideas with a single colleague, everything happened in plenary. If there are virtual meetings again, we must certainly offer more technical options to enable these exchanges.
F: Were there any innovations due to the special format that you would keep at future face-to-face jury meetings?
MA: Two things come to mind. First: The jury members received project submissions early on. In previous meetings, the documents were ready for jury members in their hotel room when they arrived for the meeting. This time the jurors had time to deal with the projects beforehand. This reduced the importance of beautiful visualizations that impress on the surface and increased that of the content. The discussions therefore started on a different level.
F: And second?
MA: Previously, when we nominated the potential winners, we openly distributed points to the projects. If three jury members already voted for a project, this already influenced the attitude of the others. In the virtual meeting, the administrator collected the votes, and at first nobody knew how the others voted. On the one hand, that was very exciting, and on the other, I am convinced that this objectified the voting. In the future we should rely more on such approaches to voting.
F: How do you rate the quality of the projects in the sixth cycle in general?
MA: It was very broad, but the number of outstanding projects is still not very high. Convincing architecture and sustainability are still far too seldom merged; a lot of efforts are still required in this regard.
F: Are you satisfied with the results that the juries produced?
MA: Very! The projects that impressed me were awarded. I am also very satisfied that the jury meetings were so fair. The downside is that virtual meetings are simply less fun than face-to-face meetings because the human touch is less pronounced. And finally we all became members of a jury also because we want to have fun!
From virtual to tangible
It was not a coincidence that the Eclépens cement manufacturing plant was chosen to host the Awards jury meetings and set the frame for evaluating the level of sustainability the potential prize-winning projects live up to. The plant sets international benchmarks with regard to sustainability. Marilyne Andersen (center) and Philippe Block, Professor of Architecture and Structure at the ETH Zurich, and newly elected member of the Board of Directors of LafargeHolcim Ltd (left), took advantage of the opportunity to visit the cement production facility. Plant manager François Girod (right) enabled the two representatives of the Academic Committee of the Foundation to switch from a virtual jury environment to a tangible site tour. They were pictured before changing into PPE and entering the plant.