Architecture’s Most Inspiring Leaders, Projects & People in 2015

Architecture’s Most Inspiring Leaders, Projects & People in 2015

5,000 3D cameras to help preserve the architecture of a country torn by war; A team of Latin American architects that moved into Venezuela’s most dangerous neighborhoods in order to design and build with the community; A legendary architect who understood architecture’s relationship to the transformation of technology -- and whose projects have celebrated technology across a trajectory of multiple decades. These are the projects, initiatives and people who have proven to be leaders in 2015.

ArchDaily’s editorial team wanted to recognize these projects for their commitment to promoting practices in architecture that serve many, in all corners of the globe -- from Bolivia to London, from Chicago to Venice, from public spaces in favelas to projected drone-ports in Africa. These are the stories that have inspired us in 2015, and whose influence we hope to continue to see into 2016.

Category: New Technologies

Harvard + Oxford Digital Preservation

Temple of Baalshamin. Image © Bernard Gagnon via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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As the Islamic State advanced through Iraq and Syria earlier this year they captured some of the world’s most precious historical sites, and wasted little time in demonstrating an iconoclasm which would be more at home in the religious wars of a thousand years ago than today. Faced with this medieval attitude to cultural conflict, the Institute for Digital Archaeology - a collaborative project between Harvard and Oxford Universities - opted for an impressive 21st century response. Arming local partners with 5,000 low-cost 3D cameras, they hope to collect 20 million images of at-risk structures by 2017, and plan to 3D print replacements for those monuments where the unthinkable does indeed happen.

ArchDaily’s selection of the Institute for Digital Archaeology is a reflection of the fact that defending cultural monuments in the region is about more than just retaining memory. As Amr Al-Azm argues in an article for TIME, “once the current violence ends, the people of Syria will need to find ways to reconnect with symbols that once united them across religious and political lines. The country’s ancient past, represented in its rich cultural heritage, is key to this.” With their high-tech response to this existential threat, Harvard and Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology is not only preserving the region’s past, but helping to safeguard its future [RS].

Oculus Rift 

Oculus Rift. Image © Agnese Sanvito

Architectural representation has tried to transmit the essence of buildings with the help of different mediums - from the sketch to the video. But what those mediums have lacked is the possibility to actually capture and transmit the experience of being in the building (in the architecture). The centuries-old story of the architect who traveled near and far to learn from the architecture of the world’s greatest buildings culminates in his sketching of the visited spaces. Le Corbusier did this, going east and capturing his experience with sketches and notes. The ubiquity and ease of photography has also deeply impacted the representation of architecture. And during the past few years, video documentation of buildings and spaces has added another layer to architectural storytelling. But Virtual Reality truly opens new doors into how we can transmit actual experiences. No matter how many sketches, photos, drawings, or videos you see of the Pantheon, you won’t really experience it until you are physically there and witness the light passing through its oculus. Now, however, that experience can be approximated and captured in way that rivals an actual trip to Italy.

The technological breakthrough and general availability of the Oculus Rift opens a completely new world to architects. Our profession is based on materializing new realities which will be experienced in different ways (depending on the time of the day, the season of the year) and filtered through the unique view of each user. The advancements pushed by Oculus is finally capitalizing on the promise of technology, allowing architects to transmit reality in a digital way. The opportunities offered by Virtual Reality are endless... and exciting.

Soon we will be able to experience the light passing through the Pantheon’s oculus and sense the volume of its dome, just with one click on our Facebook stream, through the Oculus Rift. [DB]

Norman Foster

Droneport in Rwand. Image Courtesy of Foster + Partners

In the 1960s, Norman Foster burst onto the British architectural scene as a key player in the High-Tech movement which fetishized technology as a solution to architectural problems. In almost 50 years since, it would have been easy to remain attached to the aesthetic of that movement; Foster instead carries the torch of its spirit. ArchDaily was particularly impressed earlier this year by his design for a drone port which would help supply rural Rwandan communities with medicine. With this project, Foster truly showed the power of embracing technology for humanitarian ends. [RS]

Category: Commitment to Society

Venice Biennale 2016's Motto

Alejandro Aravena and Paolo Baratta. Image Courtesy of Biennale di Venezia

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Faithful to his interest in understanding architecture and cities as a means to equality, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena has proposed a central theme for the next Venice Biennale of Architecture: Reporting From the Front. Along with this theme, Aravena calls for the discussion of battles that the inhabitants of diverse territories fight in order to better their built surroundings, noting practices that, despite shortages of means, have managed to amplify the possibilities available resources.

This humanist focus echoes the interest of new generations, a growing demand for architecture with a social conscience. We have enthusiastically watched how young architects have become inspired by the idea that their own work can help build a better world. This Biennale should be the perfect platform for the exchange of these experiences, in a more inclusive way, possibly diluting the role of the prodigal architect towards a more collective figure that includes societal actions as well as political and social leaders, in order to improve our built world. [PM]

Arquitetas Invisiveis

Courtesy of Arquitetas Invisíveis

Initiated by students of the Architecture and Urbanism Department at the University of Brazil, the Brazilian collective Arquitetas Invisiveis (Invisible Architects) promotes discussion about gender equality within the field of architecture and urbanism through recognition and divulgence of the life and works of the architects (dis)credited by history.

The collective began its investigations two years ago in the search of women who worked in the country and discovered different projects that, though extremely relevant, did not have the recognition they deserved. On International Women’s Day 2015, ArchDaily presented the work of 48 architects. With the idea of discovering and revealing more about the work of female architects, the collective opened a public invitation for articles that address the theme and have since started a collective financial campaign in order to publish their first booklet. [VD]

PICO Estudio’s Espacios de Paz

Espacios de Paz in Venezuela. Image Courtesy of PICO Estudio

Formed in 2010, this Venezuelan collective is giving back good architecture to the citizens. Their fieldwork became visible through Espacios de Paz, an exercise of participatory design that in two years brought together more than 30 teams of architects to create 10 new public spaces in the most violent and degraded neighborhoods of Venezuela.

Moving away from charitable contributions and business logics, and instead taking the social responsibility of the architect as a basic principle; its 13 members have succeeded in making each of their built projects a space for the transfer of knowledge and experiences based on the cooperation and feedback of several social actors. [JT]

Category: Urban Commitment

Municipality of São Paulo

Inauguración de 'Av Paulista Aberta' para todos los domingos en São Paulo - Image © Leandro Moraes

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Last year, the Municipality of São Paulo approved a new city master plan (Plano Diretor) and since then the construction of its main structural axes are already underway, with significant changes in the capital city already evident. The plan has garnered extensive media coverage for city’s current administration, which has been internationally lauded for its visionary and courageous approach.

The principles and strategies of the new Master Plan are based on the creation of the Urban Development Fund (Fundo de Desenvolvimento Urbano). By reconciling urban growth with a new standard of mobility, and creating incentives for new buildings to be better integrated with the urban environment, the Fund has strengthened the city’s commitment to a sustainable agenda while simultaneously addressing other key issues such as social housing.

Even in this notoriously conservative atmosphere, the city’s current government managed to gain favor through key actions such as inserting a network of bike paths (which before would have been unimaginable), creating new dedicated lanes for buses, opening the iconic Avenida Paulista for pedestrians on Sundays, and for encouraging art and urban culture.

Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, has said she believes that the current administration is laying the groundwork for a more sustainable São Paulo. If the largest city in Latin America still cannot be considered as one of the most globally developed, we can certainly conclude that São Paulo has made great strides toward that goal. [ADBR]

Canal 180’s Creative Camp

Located a short drive from Lisbon’s capital in the sleepy, balmy town of Abrantes, a bustling group of young artists, musicians, designers and architects is perhaps the last thing you expect to find. Yet for one week July, a festival (called “creative camp”) organized by open-source TV station Canal 180 brings a notable amount of life to the small, aging city. Canal 180’s focus on architecture and design led them to invite ArchDaily to participate in the selection of urban intervention projects. [BQ]

Discussion on Public Space in Mexico

Iztapalapa. Image © Alejandro Gutiérrez

Iztapalapa, presently one of the least valued zones in Mexico City but one with a rich ancestral history, has been a focal point for both local and foreign architects and urban planners who support the recovery of public space as a means of improving living conditions and unifying social and cultural groups.

According to conversation within the community, these three urban areas, restored in both their formal and functional aspects, create a domino effect combatting uncertainty and improving the quality of life of its inhabitants. [DC]

Category: Design & Conceptualization

Freddy Mamani

Freddy Mamani's work at El Alto. Image © Alfredo Zeballos

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When he was a child, Aymaran and Bolivian architect Freddy Mamani played with mountains of rubble, cement and sand - the materials his father worked with. Later in life, while working in construction, Mamani wanted more; he studied engineering, construction and eventually architecture. At 44 years old, he has already constructed 60 works in El Alto and has established a new “Andean architecture.” His mixed-used buildings are characterized by eclectic design and formal expression. Inspired by the Tiahuanaco culture (a precursor to the Incan Empire), Mamani sets his buildings above the rest through the use of eye-catching colors and geometric elements designed on-site.

Despite formalism and rejection by local universities and the “white elite,” Mamani has proven to be the answer to the convergence of specific economic, social and political factors in Bolivia. The new Aymaran bourgeoisie emerged while El Alto -on the outskirts of La Paz - expanded without planning or control. This new group found Mamani to be someone without academic impositions, someone who seeks to capture the Aymaran identity in architecture, and in the consolidated process of recognizing the multinational heritage of Bolivia after the rise of Evo Morales, the first indigenous president. [NV]

Chicago Architecture Biennial

Johnston Marklee (Los Angeles, US). House is a House is a House is a House, 2015. Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland) + Self-Assembly Lab, MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States). Rock Print, 2015. Photo Tom Harris, Copyright Hedrich Blessing. Courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Biennial

The highly-anticipated Chicago Biennial did not disappoint. From the construction of four full-scale houses to the curators’ decision to highlight an incredibly wide range of projects, the Biennial brought architecture to the public in an unprecedented way (in this century, on the North American continent, at least). In turn, architects were united in fruitful -- if also at times controversial -- conversation. ArchDaily applauds not only the organizers and curators of the Biennial, but also Chicago itself. Seeing the city promote a love for the built environment and embrace the event is commendable. Our full coverage of the CAB can be found at [BQ]

Assemble Architects

Design for a winter garden in a derelict home in Granby Four Streets. Image Courtesy of Assemble

Assemble are a British collective who operate between the fields of art, design and architecture to, in their own words, “create projects in tandem with the communities who use and inhabit them.” Established in 2010 by 18 members straight out of the University of Cambridge, they are architects, historians, and philosophers. 2015 has seen their portfolio of work expand exponentially, from their contribution to the first Chicago Architecture Biennale and—to the shock of the art world—named as recipients of the Turner Prize for an urban regeneration project in Toxteth, Liverpool. [JTF]

Category: Social, Environmental, Economic Sustainability

Global South Architecture

Post Disaster School by Vin Varavarn Architects. Image © Spaceshift Studio

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The concept of the Global South is more than just a question of economics. Not only does it involve developing countries (and even ones whose development has stagnated), but it also refers to a platform for experimentation, development and consolidation of an architecture that focuses on local identity and the recovery of construction and spatial experience - all the while seeking to adhere to architectural standards of the developed world. Thus, ArchDaily seeks to recognize this local architecture, one that is increasingly aware of their economic, social and political ecosystem.

In 2013, then Director General of the World Trade Organization Pascal Lamy referred to Africa as “the Growth Continent for the 21st Century.” This predicted growth will come with significant challenges for architects: by 2030 the population is predicted to rise by 58% compared to 2010; over the same period, the percentage of city dwellers is expected to rise from 36% to 50%, bringing almost 450 million new residents to African cities in just two decades.

The responsibility for meeting this daunting demand will fall primarily to African architects. Thankfully, in recent years we have seen the emergence of an increasing number of incredibly talented African designers: from names like David Adjaye, Francis Kéré and Kunlé Adeyemi who made it big overseas and are returning to their home countries and others nearby; to committed local designers like Mokona Makeka and Mphethi Morojele; and even to young guns like MASS Design Group’s Christian Benimana, who this year presented a proposal for a “Bauhaus of Africa” to the UN with the goal of training the continent’s next generation of designers.

National Park of Mali / Kere Architecture. Image © Iwan Baan

In spite of the apparent differences between Asian countries, we can identify two common factors: the growing need to create new homes (due to the high population density) and the constant threat of natural disasters. They must construct and reconstruct continuously.

These architects find their greatest challenge in trying to produce sustainable architecture of quality while also developing an architecture that responds correctly in an emergency. This apparent problem has transformed into an opportunity as fast, cheap and efficient solutions reveal themselves.

This situation has compelled many great Asian architects to work at other scales and adjust their immediate objectives (rapid execution, use of alternative materials, and reduced dimensions), recalling the architectural vernacular and local traditions. Among them, Japanese architect and 2014 Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban developed innovative shelters, homes and emergency community installations all made with recycled materials. In Vietnam, responding to the lack of homes in low-income areas, the Vo Trong Nghia architects designed a series of low-cost home prototypes, using abundant local bamboo as a primary material. Both examples have allowed a greater number of people, especially those most in need, to be exposed to good architecture.

Diamond Island Community Center / Vo Trong Nghia Architects. Image © Hiroyuki Oki

Latin America is rich with cultural diversity. However the architectural establishment in recent decades has rewarded design that conveys a global picture of development in which glass facades completely ignore their urban context or the utilization of nature as a mere backdrop to achieve formal aspirations.

Now, Chilean, Mexican, Peruvian and Argentinian architecture have returned to the urban context (either in topics of discussion or materialization), throughout Latin America young design collectives have emerged, like Arquitectura Expandida (Colombia) and Pico Estudio (Venezuela), who advocate for participatory design in areas that most need it. Latin America constantly has to navigate between economic development and a lack of basic utilities. Meanwhile gt2P and LAB.PRO.FAB have expanded their efforts in parametric design and Latin American technology, causing the design logic of the 1% to quietly break down.

The current discourse has awarded coherent design, unostentatious but efficient, conceptually solid, aware of its economic and social climate, and capable of construction in the scarcity of resources, such as the recent 2nd place finished of BOTY, Smilijan Radic (Chile), Estudio Terra e Tuma (Brazil), Gabinete de Arquitectura (Paraguay) and AMA (Peru).

As a result of its maturation, the challenge that most architects of this movement face is to see if they’re able to increase the scale of their management, design and construction. In the case of the emerging collectives, they seek to test the consistency between the theoretical and practical, withstanding changes to their teams. 

Those who participated in the nomination, voting and writing reviews:: David Basulto (Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief), Becky Quintal (Executive Editor), Pola Mora (Editor-in-Chief, ArchDaily en Español/Plataforma Arquitectura), Joanna Helm (Editor-in-Chief, ArchDaily Brasil), Rory Stott (Managing Editor, ArchDaily), Katie Watkins (Editor, ArchDaily), James Taylor Foster (European Editor-at-Large, ArchDaily), Karissa Rosenfield (US Editor, ArchDaily), José Tomás Franco (Editor de Contenidos, ArchDaily en Español), Nicolás Valencia (Editor de Contenidos, ArchDaily en Español), Daniela Cruz (Editora de Contenidos, ArchDaily México), Fernanda Castro (Managing Editor, Projects), Diego Hernández (Production Editor, Projects), Danae Santibáñez (Editora Latam/España ArchDaily), Luca Ameri (Editor, ArchDaily), Igor Fracalossi (Editor de Clássicos e Artigos, ArchDaily Brasil), Pedro Vada (Editor de Projetos, ArchDaily Brasil), Victor Delaqua (Editor, ArchDaily Brasil), Romullo Baratto (Editor de Notícias, ArchDaily Brasil).

About this author
Cite: AD Editorial Team. "Architecture’s Most Inspiring Leaders, Projects & People in 2015" 17 Dec 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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