In 2016, the best architects rethought everything. They transformed familiar building types like skyscrapers, offices, and museums. They resurrected once-neglected materials like brick and plywood. They tweaked expected features like skylights and balconies. And they found novel ways to fuse structures with their surroundings, carving out new public spaces, inserting contemporary forms into historic fabrics, and merging buildings with landscapes. Some of the very best designs were sequels—extensions to existing structures, reuses of historic buildings, or painstaking renovations. And structures that are often ignored or overlooked—salt sheds, filtration plants, and the like—finally got some love. Here, in no particular order, are 25 projects of note from the past year. Part 1 of 2.

Author: Sam Lubell


OMA, Faena Forum, Miami

The architects at OMA decorated the Faena Forum with geometric windows and is divided it into two volumes. The first is a spiraling cylinder that accommodates gathering spaces, meeting rooms, and a hotel. Architects formed the second, an exterior plaza along Collins Avenue, by removing a wedge from the front of the building.

Photography: Iwan Baan

BIG, Via West 57th Street, New York

BIG’s greatest gift is its ability to contort and adapt building envelopes to their sites, and its Via West 57th, a tetrahedron-shaped Manhattan apartment tower, is no exception. The design wraps, pyramid-like, around an internal courtyard bathed in natural light. It’s a combination skyscraper-courtyard building. BIG calls it…drumroll please… a courtscraper.

Photography: Iwan Baan

Steven Holl, BNIM, University of Iowa Visual Arts Building

This visual arts complex is a three dimensional piece of art. Light reaches the center of the building through multiple vertical shafts, while floor plates slide past one another to create projecting balconies and gathering spaces indoors and out.

Photography: Iwan Baan

Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is perhaps the most symbolically important building of the year. (For space reasons, it’s also likely to be the last museum to be built on the National Mall.) A visitor’s path through the museum’s exhibits—which begin in the building’s subterranean lower levels and ascend, chronologically, toward the upper floors—parallels African Americans’ ascent out of bondage and injustice. Lead designer David Adjaye calls it narrative construction. It’s an architectural approach also embodied in the museum’s façade, a three-tiered, trapezoidal structure inspired by the staggered crown of an early 20th century Yoruban sculpture.

Photography: Alan Karchmer

Diller Scofidio and Renfro, Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, New York

Columbia’s medical school had a problem: it lacked a real campus. Diller Scofidio + Renfro came up with a clever solution: a building that served as one. Their 14-story Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center incorporates classrooms and labs as well as a glassy, interconnected network of social and study spaces known as the study cascade. Oh, and don’t forget the incredible views.

Photography: Iwan Baan

Snohetta, SFMOMA, San Francisco

Snohetta’s gorgeous, glacier-like expansion of the SFMOMA finally opened this year, following a three year renovation. The addition doubles the museum’s exhibition space and includes numerous innovative design touches, including a new grand staircase, location-aware audio guides, and one of the largest living walls in the US.

Photography: Iwan Baan

Zaha Hadid Architects, The Port House, Antwerp

Zaha Hadid Architects transformed a derelict fire station into a mesmerizing new headquarters for the Port of Antwerp. Clear and opaque glass sheets clad the elevated, rippling extension, which hovers above the historic building like a giant gem, flat on one end and pointed on the other.

Photography: Hufton & Crow

wHY, Speed Art Museum, Louisville

wHY’s redesign of Kentucky’s oldest art museum consists of what the firm calls acupuncture architecture—a series of precise interventions meant to modernize and bring new life to what was a rather predictable, if noble, institution. It’s not predictable anymore.

Photography: Rafael Gamo

SOM, United States Courthouse, Los Angeles

Located in the middle of downtown LA, this cube-shaped building is clad with a folded glass facade that reduces heat dramatically and gives the building a gem-like quality. Inside, the courtrooms are organized around a warmly lit atrium that feels anything but institutional.

Photography: David Lena

Herzog & DeMeuron, Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

Ten years in the making, this tent-shaped, mirrored, glass-clad concert hall is perched atop a historic brick warehouse along the Elbe River. The building also contains a chamber music hall, restaurants, terraces, a large raised plaza, apartments, and even a hotel.

Photography: Iwan Baan

Beyer Blinder Belle, Met Breuer, New York

Marcel Breuer’s legendary Whitney Museum was reborn this year as the Met Breuer. The architects at Beyer Blinder Belle have actually improved the space, preserving its patina, restoring concrete, stone, bronze, and wood, and removing unwanted past interventions. Some new exhibitions have broken up the space, but the best ones let the architecture breathe and speak for itself.

Photography: Ed Lederman

Dattner and WXY, Spring Street Salt Shed, New York

This folded, exposed concrete structure evokes the faceted forms of salt crystals. It’s probably the most beautiful building ever created for storing NaCl. Enough said.

Photography: Field Condition

Saitowitz Architects, Raymond G. Perelman Center For Jewish Life, Philadelphia

Brick, it seems, is making a comeback, and no building better illustrates this than the new Raymond G. Perelman Center at Drexel University. Clad with a rich, tactile pattern of red masonry, the four-level building looks surprisingly light inside, thanks to ethereal lighting and large, geometric skylights.

Photography: Richard Barnes