Last week, ArchDaily unveiled the 14 winners of this year’s Building of the Year award. Selected by ArchDaily readers from a pool of over 3,000 candidates, these 14 projects represent the best designs published by ArchDaily in the past year, as determined by an unbiased network of 55,000 voters who took part - each of them a judge in one of the world's most democratic architecture awards.
Representing a diverse field of architects, locations and project types, each design has a very different story about how it came into being, how its design responds to its context, how it fits into an architect's oeuvre, or what it says about the direction which architecture is traveling in. But despite the many different types of story represented, each of the stories behind the Building of the Year winners is a fascinating architectural tale. Here are those 14 stories.
Public Architecture: Community Kitchen of Terras da Costa / ateliermob + Colectivo Warehouse
Caught in the land between the small but densely packed coastal Portuguese city of Costa da Caparica to the West and a protected landscape of fossil cliffs to the East, the 500 mostly African and Romani residents of Terras da Costa have had a strained relationship with the local authorities. Since the early 2000s, the Parish Council has repeatedly attempted to rid themselves of the illegally-constructed neighborhood, with one letter from the Council Chairman to the President of the Municipality of Almada describing the community as “a real scourge” which was “increasing the level of degradation of land of tourist value.”
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed. Terras da Costa was taken up as an academic matter by the Architecture Department (DA/UAL) and the Architecture, City and Territory Studies Centre (CEACT/UAL) of Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa with their Noutra Costa workshop, providing the institutional backing for the community and the authorities to work as partners rather than adversaries. With the blessing of the Municipality of Almada, the community of Terras da Costa formed a neighborhood commission with the intention of commissioning a new structure to improve, rather than eradicate, the neighborhood.
The resulting program for a communal kitchen was developed and selected by members of the community itself. The design, by one of the original Noutra Costa teams ateliermob in collaboration with Colectivo Warehouse is modest in appearance, but its strength lies in its symbolic value: for the people of Terras da Costa, it represents a new paradigm of inclusionary urban policy, the end of their time as an invisible scourge on the edge of the city; for architecture, it demonstrates the ability of architects to change policy through sustained advocacy - the power of the architect’s voice in the political arena.
Commercial Architecture: Miu Miu Aoyama Store / Herzog & de Meuron
Located across the street from their own 2003 store for Prada, Herzog & de Meuron’s design for the Miu Miu Aoyama store is designed to be different in almost every way to their earlier, seminal attempt. Located in the fashion district of Aoyama, the two buildings are part of a milieu of showpiece architectural designs which advertize their respective brands. Miyuki Street itself though, where the two buildings are situated, “is heterogeneous – a hodgepodge of freestanding buildings of different heights and shapes, with neither historical tradition nor common standards,” explain the architects. “Never meant to be a space of its own... the atmosphere is not inviting, like a boulevard or a plaza.”
While the Prada store was an attempt to add this missing atmosphere to the street with a transparent facade and a public plaza, the recent Miu Miu store instead removes its interiors from the public realm with an opaque facade, broken only by the enticing slice in the front wall. The two-story Miu Miu store was planned on the principles of “more like a home than a department store, more hidden than open, more understated than extravagant, more opaque than transparent.”
As a result, the Miu Miu Aoyama Store is a rare example of architects in conversation with themselves, responding to a decade of architectural thought and showing that, ultimately, there are often two (or even more) very different ways to approach a given architectural conundrum.
Hospitality Architecture: Cella Bar / FCC Arquitectura + Paulo Lobo
Located on the outskirts of Madalena in the Portuguese Azores, Cella Bar by FCC Arquitectura and Paulo Lobo is characterized by contrasts. One half of the building, a careful restoration of an abandoned vernacular building, is contrasted and almost overpowered by the other half, an organically-shaped growth of timber which according to the architects recalls “the outline of the island, rocks, whales and wine casks.”
As with many cases where one structure is intended to reference many different forms, all of these comparisons are true, yet simultaneously none of them tell the true story. Instead, the design of Cella Bar is about reconciling the paradoxical nature of the design brief: the desire to create a contemporary wine bar in a traditional coastal setting, and to bring something new to the structure which manages to enhance the existing building.
It is therefore the connection between the new and the old which provides the most fascinating element of the design. On the lower level, the timber interiors seep through to line the orthogonal part of the building, while on the upper level a terrace established in relation to the preexisting structure spills out over the top of the new addition.
Terra e Tuma Arquitetos’ Vila Matilde House was not just a house for a cash-strapped elderly homeowner; it could also adequately be described as a race against time. The project began in 2011 when the son of Ms. Dalva approached the architects about the possibility of replacing her dilapidated old house. It was clear that moving to a different location, away from her family, and further from the center of São Paulo, was not an option.
The project was kicked into hyperdrive in 2014, when Ms. Dalva’s original house began to collapse. Required to dip into her savings for temporary accommodation, speed became a key requirement as the client’s budget was eaten up by rent payments. Within 10 months, the old structure was removed, and the new one constructed in its place.
The new building, expedited by Terra e Tuma’s ultra-simplistic concrete block construction, may not sound like much on paper. But thanks to the thoughtful layout including a central courtyard, generous windows, and crisp detailing throughout, the project is a tour-de-force in expressing the dignity of simple materials, showing that a paucity of budget and time do not necessarily mean uplifting architecture is out of reach.
With its sparse vegetation, it takes a lot of land to make a decent living from a cattle ranch in the outback. Fortunately, land is something that Australia has a lot of, and the country is known for having some of the world’s largest ranches (the largest, Anna Creek Station in Southern Australia, is famously bigger than countries such as Slovenia and Israel). However, such colossal scale brings a unique architectural challenge: during mustering season, when the cattle are rounded up, employees often spend weeks away from the ranch’s main homestead.
In building a solution to this problem, Luigi Rosselli relied on the earth itself. His row of dormitories is marked by a jagged rammed earth wall on one side; on the other, the rear of the structure is covered with an earth berm, meaning the striking building is simultaneously made from and part of the ground it sits on. All of this earth serves a purpose too, providing significant thermal mass to regulate the interior temperature of the dormitories.
Despite the rugged location and brief, the building is as refined as they come. Cor-Ten awnings complement the design’s rich colors and shade the interior from the strongest sunlight, while the wall’s jagged plan provides each veranda with privacy. Atop the mound of earth itself, a small oval chapel forms the spiritual and communal centerpiece of the ensemble.
Refurbishment: House in Guimarães / Elisabete de Oliveira Saldanha
In refurbishing this large four-story house in Portugal, Elisabete de Oliveira Saldanha faced a familiar conundrum: how much of the original structure do you keep, how much do you update, and how do you relate new additions to the building’s historic fabric?
The architect’s solution to the problem was almost equally challenging: address every space individually. Asking these questions separately for every part of the building, the result is a tapestry of masterfully refurbished spaces, with some appearing almost entirely original and others seemingly all new.
The layout of the original building helped in this endeavor: set into a steeply sloping site, the many level changes and changing floorplan create a rich sequence of spaces which is well suited to the many varied treatments of the historic fabric.
Industrial Architecture: Factory on the Earth / Ryuichi Ashizawa Architect & Associates
Sandwiched between an industrial district on one side and a Malaysian jungle on the other, this factory building is clear about which of its neighbors it takes its inspiration from. Masking the boxy industrial building in green walls and a swooping canopy that connects the green roof to the ground below, the project is full of sustainable features, from the rooftop soil that acts as insulation to the rainwater collection.
However, unlike many other sustainable buildings (and indeed unlike more traditional industrial buildings), the factory is not simply a mechanical tribute to efficiency and savings. Ryuichi Ashizawa Architect & Associates wanted to design a space that “would make the Islamic workers proud of the new working environment they would be facing,” incorporating elements such as pillars inspired by Islamic architecture, and a rooftop path which the workers can use for exercise and leisure.
The resulting design perfectly marries both the technical and humanistic aspects of sustainability, creating a building that is part of a rich landscape of green lawns, hills and pools; quite literally the factory in the earth and of the earth.
Educational Architecture: School of Architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology / Tham & Videgård Arkitekter
In the words of the architects, this site at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology “could be described as the opposite of a blank slate.” Inserted into a courtyard between a series of early 20th century brick buildings, the new School of Architecture building is an attempt to disrupt the atmosphere of the courtyard as little as possible - in spite of the fact that it is now largely occupied by a six-story building.
The attempt to achieve this difficult goal starts with the building’s exterior, where the Cor-Ten facade provides a modern response to the red brick of the surrounding buildings, while curved walls ensure a continuity of the spaces that remain of the courtyard. Inside, this approach is continued with open sightlines and paths through the building’s ground floor to encourage a “free campus” where the building interior is a part of the courtyard itself. This is achieved through the use of more curved walls, forming a clear relationship between the exterior and interior of the building and defining a series of impressive spaces such as the double-height atelier and exhibition area.
As a result, this design by Tham & Videgård Arkitekter is an excellent example of a building that sensitively responds to its context - not just through its external treatment, but in its internal design as well.
Healthcare Architecture: Partners In Health Dormitory / Sharon Davis Design
In 2011, the newly-completed Butaro Hospital in Rwanda achieved critical acclaim, kick-starting the success of its designers, MASS Design Group. A year later, responding to the fact that improving patient care requires good doctors as well as good facilities, the Butaro Doctors’ Housing was also completed. With the Partners in Health Dormitory in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda Village Enterprise, Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health are once again bringing progressive thinking to healthcare in the African country.
This time designed by Sharon Davis Design, the model for the Rwinkwavu Partners in Health Dormitory is much the same as that used in the Butaro Doctors’ Housing: provide high quality living conditions for the hospital staff, and you stand a much better chance of convincing talented individuals to work in rural areas where they are desperately needed, rather than in cities where there might be opportunities for higher income. The design of the building carefully accounts for the difficult climate, incorporating a ventilated roof and deep overhangs to protect against the sun and the rain, while a screen of eucalyptus wraps the building to provide privacy to the residents.
The building by Sharon Davis Design did not only have an eye to the future of the village, either. A great deal of care was taken during construction to ensure that the building was sustainable, both environmentally and socially. All of the construction materials were sourced from within Rwanda, with most coming from the local area, while the construction was mostly sourced locally, with at least a third of the work being carried out by women in an attempt to reverse the gender imbalance that slows economic development. Thanks to these efforts, the building is transformative for much more than just Rwinkwavu’s healthcare.
At a time when many are skeptical of skyscrapers - believing them to be symbols of inequality and a lack of care for the rest of the city - it might seem almost suicidal for Intesa Sanpaolo to puncture the Turin skyline in such dramatic fashion as they have with this building. Yet the architectural ingenuity of Renzo Piano Building Workshop makes the city’s second tallest building, standing just a couple of meters short of Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana, a valuable addition to the urban landscape.
The building’s middle section, making up around 75% of its height, comprises offices for the client, however it is the use of the top and the bottom of the tower which demonstrate its value to the city. In the lower floors is a 364-seat performance space, while the top of the building features a restaurant, exhibition hall and rooftop terrace around a truly enticing skygarden.
Externally, the building does not draw attention to itself. Its white steel combined with darker glass and photovoltaic panels form a dialog with the mountains to the north of the city, while the building’s different sections, along with its vertical circulation routes, are clearly readable on its lively facade. As a result, the Intesa Sanpaolo tower is a perfect example of combining humility with public benefit in a building that reshapes the city for the better.
Cultural Architecture: Harbin Opera House / MAD Architects
As one of China’s many rapidly expanding cities, Harbin has grown to a population of almost 7 million with few significant cultural presences. Aiming to correct this imbalance, in 2010 the city commissioned MAD Architects to masterplan a new “cultural island” for the city. The centerpiece of this island is the Opera House, also designed by MAD.
The design arises from a relationship with the wetland site; in particular, during the long winters experienced by China’s “Ice City,” the white building melts into the landscape. The Architectural Review describes how the building’s external appearance and plaza show “a deliberate willingness to create a surreal setting,” but, it is the building’s interiors that set it apart from other works of showpiece architecture. In particular, the wood-clad main performance hall, built over 4 months by a team of 50 craftsmen, stands out as an object of beauty within the building’s dramatic shell.
It is this attention to details and to craft which marks Harbin Opera House as worthy of an award while other works of showy, signature architecture are falling out of favor. While at a glance the building bears similarities to such structures, at closer inspection it is in fact a much more accomplished work of design - a complete and pure work of architecture.
Sports Architecture: Matmut Atlantique Stadium / Herzog & de Meuron
In an era when stadiums are becoming increasingly complex spaces - confusing agglomerations of entertainment, distraction, commerce, services and circulation all wrapped up in an obscuring facade - Herzog & de Meuron’s New Bordeaux Stadium (officially known as the Matmut Atlantique Stadium) is a breath of fresh air.
The design, as described by the architects, is “light and open; it is elegant, if such a term can be used for a building of this size.” Elegant is indeed the correct term, as the architects demonstrate their ability to reduce the stadium typology to its basic elements: roof, seating bowl, structure, circulation and entrance. Not only does the design simplify these five elements, but it also puts them on display - all are immediately visible from outside the stadium, and visitors can almost see the route to their seat before even setting foot on the building’s steps.
In their description of the building, the architects tentatively draw a comparison to classical greek temples, comparing the structure of plinth, columns and roof. This would not be the first time a European stadium has been compared to a religious building, as in many countries the sports team has overtaken religion as the key focus of communities. By stripping away the unnecessary additions to the spectator’s experience, Herzog & de Meuron’s design puts this communal reverence for sport in sharp focus.
Interior Architecture: House of Vans London / Tim Greatrex
Located in 5 tunnels under the railway tracks outside London’s Waterloo Station, the House of Vans is set in a unique location perfectly suited to the skateboarding mentality which prizes the creative use of leftover urban space. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the project was easy: with the brick arches being protected historic fabric, it was forbidden for the designers to alter their structure or add any permanent fixings to the brickwork (“the irony was not missed with Vans ‘Off the Wall’ having occupied the site,” adds the Tim Greatrix in the project description).
The design also presented a multitude of other complex challenges, such as how to adequately and evenly light a skatepark with no access to natural light, and how to design more prosaic elements of the design such as the entrance counter in a way that encouraged interaction from skateboarders.
The resulting interior, produced in collaboration with professional skateboarder and designer Pete Hellicar and skatepark designer Marc Churchill, is a complex and enchanting series of spaces that completely embody the ideals of the Vans brand, providing a multi-purpose experience for skateboarders to completely immerse themselves in their hobby.
Religious Architecture: Ribbon Chapel / NAP Architects
NAP Architects’ Ribbon Chapel might be envisaged as a building composed almost entirely of movement. Composed of two helical staircases meeting each other at their summits, the building has no walls or roof in the traditional sense. Instead, the staircases create the form of the chapel, with the gaps between them simply filled in with glass.
This concept of frozen movement emerged from the building’s function as a wedding chapel on the land of a hotel. The purpose of the staircases was to “architecturally embody the act of marriage in a pure form,” as the partners are intended to climb one staircase each, meeting at the top with spectacular views of the Japanese coast. Enclosed by the staircases, an 80-seat chapel space hosts the ceremony itself.
The ArchDaily Building of the Year award continues an excellent few months for Hiroshi Nakamura and his studio NAP Architects. At the end of last year, the studio was awarded not one, but two “highly commended” awards in The Architectural Review’s Emerging Architecture awards. If the fusion of form and symbolism shown by the Ribbon Chapel is anything to go by, this won’t be the last time we hear from the firm.