With our annual Building of the Year Awards, over 30,000 readers narrowed down over 3,000 projects, selecting just 14 as the best examples of architecture that ArchDaily has published in the past year. The results have been celebrated and widely shared, of course, usually in the form of images of each project. But what is often forgotten in this flurry of image sharing is that every one of these 14 projects has a backstory of significance which adds to our understanding of their architectural quality.
Some of these projects are intelligent responses to pressing social issues, others are twists on a well-established typology. Others still are simply supreme examples of architectural dexterity. In order that we don't forget the tremendous amount of effort that goes into creating each of these architectural masterpieces, continue reading after the break for the 14 stories that defined this year's Building of the Year Awards.
With the success of e-books and the rise of online shopping, traditional bookstores are slowly becoming obsolete, unable to compete with the greater convenience of shopping from home. However, Studio MK27's client Livraria Cultura realized that there could still be a place for the traditional bookstore, not as their primary way of selling books but instead as a way to boost their brand image and enhance their online sales.
To achieve this, Studio MK27 aimed to create "a bookstore with a meeting place," where people could read, discuss literature and occasionally even hold literary events. This description of the store's program is in many ways reminiscent of that other maligned house of books: the library. Making full use of the building's previous function as a cinema, the main space in the book store is an expansive indoor plaza, featuring comfortable seats and a set of amphitheater-style "bleachers." Recalling the layout of many old libraries, the walls of this two-story room are entirely clad in bookshelves with the second level accessed by walkways surrounding the edge of the room - leaving the rest of the space as a spacious, airy social space.
With its miniature amphitheater and a "philosophy room" for smaller gatherings, the store has become a favorite of authors and others in the literary world for holding readings, debates and other events. Through their creative combination of two at-risk typologies, the bookstore and the library, Studio MK27 have provided a safe space for those buildings' most important function, and the namesake of the store itself: the culture of books.
Cultural Architecture: Fogo Natural Park Venue / OTO
It's tough to imagine a more challenging brief than to construct a building in an area which hopes to become a natural World Heritage Site, with no access to utilities and aiming to serve a poor community which the architects describe as living there "on the fringes of legality." This is the challenge that was accepted by OTO with the Fogo Natural Park Venue, built for a community of 1,200 people near the crater of a volcano at 1,800 meters above sea level.
Through the building's low, subtle massing combined with extensive use of local ash from the volcano as an aggregate in the building's concrete walls, and as a roof and ground finish, the resulting building seamlessly blended into the landscape. By using a combination of photovoltaics, natural ventilation, rainwater collection and greywater recycling, the building was also entirely self-sufficient.
But, the real story of the building is in its sad demise in November: having been inactive since 1995, the nearby volcano erupted, destroying the Fogo Natural Park Venue and its surroundings. The Building of the Year award will hopefully be a fitting tribute to a building that deserved a much longer lifespan.
Education Architecture: Farming Kindergarten / Vo Trong Nghia Architects
There can be no doubting Vo Trong Nghia's popularity right now. In addition to winning multiple awards recently - including one of ArchDaily's 2012 Building of the Year awards and a total of three WAF awards last year - the practice was nominated to the Building of the Year Shortlist in four categories, making them the most shortlisted practice in this year's awards.
Their style epitomizes a recent resurgence of regional design, and though the Farming Kindergarten does not display the bamboo structure that has virtually become their trademark, this doesn't mean it isn't rooted in a deep understanding of the context they work in. Expressing a concern about the rapid urbanization of Vietnam and a lack of access to open green space for young children, the singular, ribbon-like roof provides a space for the kindergarten students to learn about agriculture with a number of small vegetable plots, while the shape of the building provides three safe, green courtyards for the children to enjoy.
Healthcare Architecture: Livsrum – Cancer Counseling Center / EFFEKT
At the beginning of the 20th century, the leading cause of death in most countries was infection. Thanks to tremendous advances in medical technology, people are living longer and in Western countries are now most likely to die of cancer, heart disease of a stroke. While this is a great achievement, it requires a significant rethink of how we design hospitals, with patients often staying in hospitals for longer periods of time, or visiting as a part of a regular schedule.
In response to this challenge, EFFEKT's cancer counseling center continues a rich architectural line, taking an ideological inheritance from the UK's Maggie's Centres with a space that is designed to project the comfort and warmth of a home instead of the coldness of a hospital or clinic. The building's volume is split into seven individual "houses," each with a distinct program, enclosing two external courtyards. The effect is completed by the rich, warm interiors, resulting in a building which complements and enhances the work of the adjacent hospital.
Hospitality Architecture: Nine Bridges Country Club / Shigeru Ban Architects
Rightly praised by last year's Pritzker Prize jury for his humanitarian work, the discussion of Shigeru Ban's work over the past twelve months has often focused on his work creating emergency shelters and responding to humanitarian crises. While this conversation is important, it is also important not to overlook the spectacular work Ban does in a more traditional context.
The Nine Bridges Country Club is a prime example of this, with its signature being the dramatic timber gridshell structure that is typical of Ban's larger works. However beyond this high-profile trademark, the design also features two smaller buildings - a VIP members clubhouse and VIP members accommodations - which each feature a different scale and different structural method, demonstrating Ban's ability to use a variety of techniques to always create unique and appropriate spaces.
Houses: Sambade House / spaceworkers
It's a question almost as old as architecture itself: how can one build a house in a beautiful natural setting, without the house itself ruining that environment? Answered differently by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and many others, for spaceworkers the answer lay in a long, low volume of simple geometry and simple materials.
The simplicity of the design enables a single dramatic gesture, a balcony the full length of the building overlooking the landscape, to dominate the building's main facade. The result of all of these approaches is a building which incorporates the purity of minimalism with the confidence of brutalism, all the while deferring to the landscape that is the reason for its existence.
With four practices working on one project, The Iceberg is a potential case study in the benefits of collaboration over the fusty stereotype of the lone genius that is endemic to the architecture profession. However, the building is perhaps even more fascinating as a case study of a diagrammatic exploration into providing maximum views on a dense site.
Ignoring the rectangular blocks set out in the masterplan, the development uses four L-shaped blocks, with the buildings' dramatic angular shape resulting from slices made through the blocks in order to give each apartment a view to the harbor. This form in turn provides an opportunity to insert a variety of different apartment types into the development, attracting different types of people to form a cohesive community.
Interior Architecture: Wieden+Kennedy NY / WORKac
At a time when it's seen as almost rebellious to "put work back at the heart of creative work," as the architects describe, WORKac's design for Wieden+Kennedy's New York office is a refreshing antidote to the reigning orthodoxy in office design for creative companies. Aiming to foster a variety of environments that aid Wieden+Kennedy's highly collaborative style of work, the office features everything from "over-the-counter" meeting spaces for very brief discussions, all the way up to formal conference rooms.
The design features open offices and glass walls to aid visibility and increase the chances of helpful encounters with colleagues, but the improved visibility doesn't stop there: one of the most striking features of the design is the "moments" created by the vertical circulation, which open the floor slabs as much as possible. These "moments" provide increased visual connection between different floors, as well as a key space to gather at the focal point of the office.
In Álvaro Siza's first work in China, completed in collaboration with Carlos Castanheira, the stunning completed work is almost inseparable from the remarkable vision brought by their client, Shihlien Chemical Chairman Por-Shih Lin, who had the idea to build the offices for the company in the middle of the plant's artificial lake.
The response by Siza and Castanheira to this unusual commission was an equally unorthodox office building. Unrestrained by site boundaries, thanks to the 100,000 square meter area of the lake, the building is a dynamic curving linear entity, with bridges crossing between to connect distant parts of the building. The sculptural serenity of the office building over the water is in sharp contrast to the utilitarian structures of the main factory which surround it on the land, providing a hierarchical distinction between the two which marks the new building as the center of operations for the company.
Public Architecture: Twin Stations / sporaarchitects
Despite Budapest's pioneering history as home to the world's second-oldest underground metro line, the city's transport system remained unchanged for years, with the last upgrade being the new stations added to line 3 in 1990. With the creation of the new Line 4, a project conceived decades ago but only recently put in motion, sporaarchitects were offered the opportunity to redefine the metro for the 21st century.
Their twin stations of Szent Gellért tér and Fővám tér occupy pride of place on the new line on either side of the Danube river. The heavy, criss-crossing concrete beams used to support the walls of the excavation create a spectacular dramatic descent into the underground space, and at Fővám tér a crystalline skylight is used to bring abundant natural light into the depths. The aim was to create a subway station that could act as an underground public space, encouraging people to use public transport and to revive these key locations in the city.
Refurbishment: The Number 6 / Building
The need to restore and preserve buildings of historical and architectural importance is now acknowledged by most people, but when faced with a "disfigured" 17th century palace for which there is no immediate need, what can be done? The answer provided by Building is to refurbish it and split it into 36 individual apartments, in a way that is respectful of the building's historic features but also not afraid to add modern touches.
Their refurbishment of the Palazzo Valperga Galleani opens up the building's central courtyard to the city, and adds a twist to the original design with touches such as a vertically transposed version of the original giardino, new lighting and abundant planting.
Religious Architecture: Sancaklar Mosque / Emre Arolat Architects
This mosque by Emre Arolat Architects, the first mosque ever to win the Building of the Year Award's Religious Architecture category, addresses the question of what a religious building should look like in the 21st century by eschewing traditional forms in favor of pursuing what is most fundamental to spirituality. The design focuses on providing seclusion from the highways that surround the site, and consistently highlights the tensions between natural and man-made that can form the basis for religious contemplation.
While the building does of course include the elements that are required by Islamic tradition, it does so in a modern way; for example the 'minaret' which borrows from the main building's simple geometry and natural materials, or the Qiblah wall which is marked by a simple rift at its center and slits along the roofline which light it from above. Through these subtle joins between the modern and the traditional, the building reminds believers of one of today's biggest responsibilities and challenges as a religious individual.
Sports Architecture: Arena do Morro / Herzog & de Meuron
Just the first stage in Herzog & de Meuron's wider "vision for Mãe Luiza," the Arena do Morro provides a world-class piece of social infrastructure in a disadvantaged community in Brazil. Through their subtle use of concrete blockwork and steel roof panels, the entire building is naturally ventilated by sea breezes, but perhaps more importantly it provides a significant building at a scale not previously seen in the neighborhood - a landmark space for gathering which at the same time disintegrates into a permeable collection of smaller elements on approach.
As ever, the true mark of a successful social space is its acceptance by the local community, and at Arena do Morro the community has taken it to their heart.
Industrial Architecture: Carozzi Production and Research Food Center / GH+A | Guillermo Hevia
When the original Carozzi factory, an icon of Chilean modernist architecture from 1964, was damaged by fire in 2010, GH+A | Guillermo Hevia saw it not as a tragedy, but an opportunity to add a new chapter to the factory after 50 years. The new extension is respectful to the original, but adds a key element to the complex in a central "civic square."
A new visual identity is also given to the complex in the form of the undulating roofs which reflect the forms of the nearby Andes. To improve the working conditions within the factory, the building uses a double-skinned facade and natural light and ventilation.