Best building designs of 2021
The rest of the decade will be about pushing forward and building a new era. We’ll stop and smell the roses more and appreciate things we took for granted before. We’ll also look to put our own stamp on history as a clear line is drawn separating pre- and post-pandemic times. These new building projects will serve as harbingers of this new society and make a statement on where their designers want to take the future.
Studio Weave’s installation in east London hearkens back to Victorian greenhouses but looks forward to the potential climate of 2050 when higher temperatures might see the growth of tropical plants such as guava, mango, and pineapple in a place where greenhouses once supplied locals with cucumbers and tomatoes. Should temperature rise continue at its current rate, these plants might thrive in the northern latitudes of England, and the exhibit underscores just how quickly the environment is changing.
After Hurricane Sandy left Manhattan’s Pier 54 damaged, business mogul Barry Diller partnered with the Hudson Park River Trust to reimagine the space. “What was in my mind was to build something for the people of New York and for anyone who visits—a space that on first sight was dazzling, and upon use made people happy,” Diller said. The result was Little Island, at once a work of art and a public park. Inspired by the wooden piles left in Sandy’s wake, designer Heatherwick Studio fused 280 concrete piles topped with horticulture together and to granite at the base of the Hudson River.
Amsterdam’s Zuidas area rapidly became an international business center. MVRDV’s Valley aims to restore the balance by providing living and green space in the heart of the neighborhood. The development features three peaks of varying heights with a multistory bar showcasing panoramic views of Amsterdam 100 meters up. Hydrated planters scattered throughout give the appearance of wild forest against the backdrop of sophisticated urban living and shopping.
Jean Nouvel’s high-rise apartment towers in the Cumbaya neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, call to mind the lush volcanic valley Cumbaya sits in. Stone facades and vertical gardens of native vegetation help the buildings blend in with their background. Filtered wastewater from the development’s 573 apartments will be recirculated and collected rainwater keeps the greenery fresh. Inside, residents can enjoy a skating rink, mini golf, and bowling alley along with salons for humans and pets.
House of Hungarian Music
Hungarian composers have left an indelible mark on world culture, and the celebration of that deserves a fitting home. Architect Sou Fujimoto design is almost entirely translucent and serves as a bridge between the human and natural worlds, much like a great piece of music. The undulating roof features nearly 100 holes for trees to grow through, further marrying nature and man’s creation. The project “might serve as an example for future urban developers since it managed to create exceptional harmony between the green and the built-up environments,” Fujimoto said.
Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre
The 2,000-seat theater combines traditional elements of a city that has been an arts center since the Han Dynasty with contemporary illustration and tattoo designs. The exterior resembles an embroidered silk tapestry inspired by the local myth of 100 birds paying homage to the Phoenix. Steven Chilton Architects collaborated with artist Zhang Hongfei to translate Hongfei’s drawings to thousands of perforated aluminum panels.
The UAE’s leading waste management company needed a new headquarters that reflected its sustainable zero-waste goals. It turned to Zaha Hadid Architects, which designed a space using minimal materials with ultra-low carbon emissions and low water consumption. The shape of the exterior mimics the dunes of the surrounding desert. They encircle an oasis of a central courtyard, and the building is powered by 100% renewable energy.
Grand Egyptian Museum
After many delays, the GEM is finally open to showcase the many glories of Egypt’s ancient past. This year it has nearly 5,000 artifacts belonging to Tutankhamun on display. Works of art from all over the country are among the 50,000 pieces that have a new central home on the Giza plateau with panoramic views of the pyramids. A giant statue of Ramses II greets visitors inside a Heneghan Peng Architects design inspired by the ancient tombs of the pharaohs.