It is difficult to start any retrospective text on 2020 without sounding too cliché. While facing an invisible enemy that changed everyone’s lives, this past year has taught us that humanity is more fragile than we ever imagined. At Archdaily, it’s our job to synthesize how the buildings and the world we live in will be impacted by COVID-19 not only in the short term but in the distant future as well. Has our perception of the built environment changed this year? And has our relationship with the tectonics of buildings changed with all of the obstacles we’ve faced along the way?
It’s usually during a moment of difficulty and a time of great disruption that we disregard the superfluous and take the time to reflect and focus on what we need the most. In the construction industry, we’ve seen the use of technology to make the industry more efficient and sustainable as a result of growing societal concerns around protecting natural resources. In buildings themselves, we saw an increased awareness around creating spaces that were healthier and safer with an overall focus on wellbeing.
As expected, with people around the world being forced to work from home for the past nine months, ArchDaily saw incredible numbers from our global audience. When we look at the most viewed projects of the year, we can get a sense of what has been drawing the most attention in the world of architecture. Below, we’ve analyzed and compiled a list of materials that shaped the most iconic houses, interiors, and public buildings of 2020:
Houses & Housing
This was a year where almost everyone spent most of their time at home. We had to reframe our relationship with housing, which transformed into a place of work, sport, and leisure. This increased time at home also meant that people began to realize that housing no longer met all of their needs and desires were being met in their current situations. Many of our readers were interested in discovering new ways to redesign homes, especially through painting walls.
Here at ArchDaily, homes have always been one of the most popular search categories on the site, and this year was no exception. What particularly interested readers were the use of materials, especially large quantities of wooden surfaces, exposed concrete, and exposed bricks. The touch, textures, and slight variations that apparent materials offered made both the interiors and exteriors of many projects more aesthetically pleasing- some might even say "homey". Readers were also interested in the presence of vegetation in homes. Perhaps with the increased time indoors, readers were drawn to the greenery of internal gardens.
For multi-family housing projects, the interests were similar with ideas about bringing nature closer to residents through the design of gardens and internal squares, green walls, or large flower boxes being the highlight of this year. Several more popular projects utilized brick facades and exposed concrete throughout residences including on the floors and ceilings.
Interestingly, many readers weren't curious about traditional apartment buildings, but the more unconventional typologies and volumes with dynamic and radical angles and textures. Another recurring element is the use of translucency on the façades, as if creating a cushion between the urban environment and the domestic internal environment, whether through perforated sheets or polycarbonate panels. In the case of Álvaro Siza's project and in this Sauerbruch Hutton building in Berlin, the use of marble and stainless steel on the facades, respectively, also proves that noble materials will always have a place in our hearts.
Public & Cultural
The more distant we are, the more important public and cultural spaces seem to us. Quarantines around the world have helped confirm what has been a motto for planners, city planners, and architects for decades: there is value in the accessibility and design of public spaces that allow people to meet and enjoy the outdoors. The presence of public and cultural spaces in a neighborhood has multidimensional effects, from the enrichment of the landscape to the consolidation of communities. Public use projects that stood out this year tend to go beyond their function, standing out in form and color to become landmarks that rescue the symbolic value of spaces for the community.
The works are as varied as the context in which they are inscribed. From a theater in Ghana to a place of worship in Slovenia, the collection covers a variety of construction techniques and materials in accordance with their place of origin, aesthetics, and tradition. The designs meet common strategies to address challenges of scale, magnitude, and integration into their context, whether vast or dense. In open spaces, curved structures, textures, and light effects define spaces that evoke natural conditions. In buildings, we've seen a transversal trend towards monolithic figures: homogeneous and mono-material units, whose patterns give them a human scale through modulation. Thus, the envelope takes on particular importance, giving unity to large-scale projects and facilitating their incorporation into the landscape, either by mimesis or by contrast.
Materials such as wood and brick form the basis of medium-scale buildings, while concrete is preferred for more monumental architecture. The materiality of each sized building helps to set a contrast between their scale and the rich, textured surfaces. They offer versatility to build curves and choose between their natural or treated color, to be incorporated into natural environments or to break with the usual rigidity of the urban fabric. Color is used to accentuate form in contrast strategies and to design light effects that are projected inwards. In this diverse selection of complex, graceful or monumental projects, in urban or natural contexts, the material is fundamental to define an identity and to host a variety of collective activities into an experience.
Interiors & Refurbishment
In recent years, architects have been forced to look inside buildings, down to their core, delving into two areas that were not always the focus of our work: interior design and refurbishment. This plunge into interior space has unfolded interesting movements in our discipline that encourages us to better observe and understand human beings, forces us to analyze materials and products to their deepest composition, and gives us the great responsibility of helping to create efficient and healthy spaces for everyday life, all while considering the past, the present and the future simultaneously.
Within the varied wave of new projects focused on indoor environmental quality, we notice interesting operations that are repeated. First, the essential characteristics of each material and/or product, in itself, are being used to their fullest potential, building expressive spaces where the constructive element is more of a protagonist and less of a backdrop. The furniture begins to be included from the conceptual stage, giving meaning to the project but without committing to fully determined functions, contributing to the flexibility of the design. Color –monochromatic or textured– is being used as a spatial solution: zoning, highlighting, guiding, and even evoking sensations. Overall, the smart use of space becomes imperative, and not only in minimal projects but also as part of a promise of adaptability to new uses and users. The vegetation, natural light, and the wind finish by harmonizing the entire project.
These operations can also be seen in recent refurbishment and renovation projects. However, we highlight the designs that mainly consider the reuse of pre-existing materials and elements to expose them or give them a new value, eliminating the possibility of waste. Ancient structural stones reappear as textured coatings; vernacular roofs are restored and updated as greenhouses of the future, and forgotten techniques are recovered with the efficiency of the materials available in the market. In many of these cases, the new materials respectfully appear as simple additions, highlighting the architecture of the past, and even the new functions are separated from the original structure, taking advantage of its largest dimensions to create half levels, inner courtyards, service rooms, or simply new perspectives.