A Social Contribution

A Social Contribution

Architizer calls upon the general public to define what makes a successful building – collaborative practices, ecological consideration and social appeal.

“The best architecture may be crafted from concrete, glass, wood and stone,” writes Content Director of Architizer, Paul Keskeys, “but when it all comes together, it amounts to so much more: it is a social condenser, an atmospheric cauldron, a visual delight. It is a spirit lifter, an educator, a calming influence, and, maybe, a home.” Keskeys’ meditation on the value of, and need for, innovative modern structures serves as the introduction to his latest title, The World’s Best Architecture, released by Phaidon. This appropriately titled compendium shares a selection of more than 130 imaginative projects which have been chosen by readers as 2018’s most superlative and exciting new builds. He continues: “Architects shape every space where people spend their lives,” reads the online description for the yearly poll, “so we created the A+Awards to remind the world of how important this is.” 

In honouring the structures that mean the most to consumers – rather than relying on critics and leading industry organisations – Architizer is bending an ear to those who arguably should matter most in this field: the public. “The programme’s aim is not to produce more starchitects,” writes Keskeys. Instead, the honorees “illustrate the essential ingredients of amazing buildings, defined not by the ‘inner circle,’ but by everyone who uses and participates in the creation of the built environment.” Whilst few featured selections are built for public use, they impact those around them both directly and indirectly: they permanently alter the aesthetics of a skyline; take centre-stage on a daily commute; motivate tourism, bringing new populations to remote cities; and inspire passersby through a culmination of beautiful, functional forms. In essence, the structures included affect human beings on multiple levels, contributing to the wider narrative of the landscape whilst we move through it together.

The sheer magnitude of architecture as a practice – the space it occupies, both physically and theoretically – lends itself to a competition of this design, and it’s one to follow for years to come. Buildings are, indeed, experienced by the many, not the few, and should therefore be critiqued and contemplated in a manner reflective of this fact. Through asking individuals which buildings resonate most with them, the results encompass a wider assortment of practitioners than in other competitions. Ranging from Patrick Schweitzer & Associés’ red-roofed Faculty of Architecture and Design in Rwanda to a mountain-side performing arts space by META-Project – offering spectacular views of snow-covered slopes 

– the publication’s images and texts reveal the properties that earnestly make a building the best it can be. 

Keskeys states: “Whilst the projects in this book are incredibly diverse – both in terms of geography and typology – they share traits which elevate them from being simply good to being truly exceptional.” Through these pages, it becomes evident that chief amongst the winning factors is a structure’s materiality. Beside the dozens honoured is Rojkind Arquitectos’ sand-coloured Foro Boca Concert Hall, an imposing and magnificent homage to concrete. Situated in the small Mexican city of Boca del Río, this stately, beachfront space mirrors the craggy surface of the nearby seawall. 

Also of note in the materials category is Zeitz MOCAA, another formidable concrete design, this time produced by Heatherwick Studio. Located in Cape Town, this former silo houses Africa’s first major museum to be devoted to contemporary art from the continent and its diaspora. The practitioners called upon a network of thick tubes to support the institution, removing elements of the old silos that no longer serve the space aesthetically or functionally. Steven Holl Architects should also be mentioned here for their Maggie’s Centre in Barts, London. This three-storey former town home is a support centre for individuals and families affected by cancer. Described by Holl’s firm as “a vessel within a vessel,” this luminous, translucent-polycarbonate construction emanates a soft, white glow that is reassuring to both its inhabitants and neighbours. The structure provides a destination, serving its functional purpose whilst responding to the emotions of its visitors intuitively and sensitively. 

Other categories consider the intelligent, and in some respects, essential, ways in which buildings respond to and work with the natural world. As global environmental concerns pertaining to climate change continue to mount, architecture’s role in offering a brighter ecological future has become crucial. Listed as an eco-friendly standout is Plano Humano Arquitectos’ Capela De Nossa Senhora de Fátima in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal. This lean-to of the future is situated within the National Scout’s Activities Camp and offers panoramic views of the surrounding natural landscape. With open access at both ends of the tent-like structure, the space is illuminated by the morning sunrise, which fills the chapel with luminous colour and rich, ethereal ambiance. Evening and winter light brings in cooler tones that accentuate the tranquillity of the construction, providing synergy between nature and manmade construction.

Meanwhile in Milan, Zaha Hadid’s massive CityLife Shopping District tows the line between a sprawling urban oasis and a monumental green space, playing host to a number of homes, office spaces, piazzas, shops, a cinema, a school and a 42-acre park. Towering above the city’s Tre Torri, this LEED gold-certified complex comprises, internally, a twisting labyrinth of engineered-bamboo flooring, as well as ceilings and columns that introduce elements of the organic world into this cosmopolitan shopping centre. 

Alongside the other environmentally considerate structures favoured is the Fleinvær Refugium in Norway. This Arctic Circle artist’s retreat was conceived by TYIN Tegnestue Architects and Rintala Egertsson, and is home to a suite of modest yet mindful Kebony-wood cabins that embrace the rugged topography outside. Each of the projects is dedicated to a specific pursuit: there are sleeping houses, a sauna and studio, and a creative-idea space designed to inspire its guests. Readers have also gravitated towards the terrain-mimicking Martin’s Lane Winery in Kelowna, British Columbia. At once simple and savvy, the building was envisioned by the Seattle-based firm Olson Kundig. Its blueprints draw many parallels between the winemaking process and the regional geography, celebrating the fickle yet beloved grape that is cultivated here: the Pinot Noir. Built on a hill, the angles of this construction allow for sweeping views of nearby Okanagan Lake and for the painstaking gravity-flow production of Pinot Noir wine – known, for its capriciousness, as the Heartbreak Grape – to take place. 

Voters in this poll also applaud social components – smart structures that foster collaboration and community building. In an age of increasing disconnect and political uncertainty across Europe, it’s not hard to see why. ZAV Architects of Tehran employs cutting-edge sandbag construction to forge a much-needed gathering place, known as the Rong Cultural Center, on Hormoz Island in Iran. The designers involved describe it as such: “Rong is an urban space that people can walk on. It has harmony with the island’s geomorphology and is iconic at the same time.” In a similar vein, Matthew Mazzotta – a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University – conceived a camouflaged storefront that morphs, as if by magic, into a stage and seating area for local theatrical productions. Located in Lyons, Nebraska, this whimsical structure was named the 2018 Project of the Year by Deezen.

One overarching theme – not explicitly enumerated in the text but that encompasses many of the listed entries – is imagination. The buildings that uplift and inspire voters are those that share a deep and wondrous sense of playfulness. The imaginative project selected by participants in this year’s competition is the ultra-photogenic Tianjin Binhai Library by the Netherlands-based practice MVRDV. Instagrammers the world over will recognise this 362,740 square-foot flexible cultural facility in China’s Binhai district, which features a radiant spherical auditorium and a beguiling suite of floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Images of this camera-ready creation have been shared across social media widely for the past year – a search of the location hashtag yields thousands of posts highlighting the facility’s extraordinary height, its unusual, undulating form and otherworldly scale.

The popularity of MVRDV’s Tianjin hub speaks to the extraordinary ability that architecture has to connect and excite people across the globe via photography, literature and social media – further developing tourism through digital platforms and online identities. Those who can’t make the pilgrimage to this Binhai literary gem – or other blockbusters like BIG’s candy-coloured LEGO House in Billund, Denmark, or Sanjay Puri’s shapely and futuristic Mathura city hostel, known as The Street – have an awareness of and interest in contemporary constructions thanks to these practitioners’ unusual and outside-the-box approach. Technology enables those interested in the subject to have virtual exposure to buildings, thus making the opinions and reactions of the general public even more timely and appropriate. The best places, as demonstrated in this book, do not merely arouse one to look up, snap a photo, and post it to Instagram, or to simply pass by without inspiring thoughts or questions – they invigorate, amuse and connect people from all walks of life. Accessibility, it seems, is high on the list.

The very existence of the Architizer awards and this related publication points to the notion that what makes an individual structure compelling is also what makes design, as a practice, deeply exciting: it’s for everyone to experience, enjoy and contemplate. Successful buildings, like those highlighted within the pages of this title, not only consider the needs of a specific client, but also the needs of humanity – the diverse communities, neighbours and passersby who engage with the material both directly and indirectly. The planet’s future inhabitants will also reap the benefits of forward-thinking, energy-saving, eco-conscious and sustainable design, and those voting in this year’s poll understand this. Looking ahead is, therefore, on the agenda. Keskeys’ introduction again offers an apt summation of why each structure merits a place in the canon: “It is the power of good architecture [that makes us] perform ordinary tasks exceptionally well.”

Stephanie Strasnick

Architizer: The World’s Best Architecture is published 8 February courtesy of Phaidon.