January 7, 2022

(photo by Junya Ishigami + Associates)

Once again, I look back at the past year in search of stand out projects. Instead of “the best”—which I dare anyone to define—I listed the most intriguing for 2020 and the most seductive for 2019. For closing out 2021, the operative adjective is striking. Common synonyms for ‘striking’ include: stunning, dramatic, prominent, remarkable, unusual, and beautiful.

(photo by Spaceshift Studio)

1: In Thailand, elephants are seen not as random animals or pets, but as family members. For this project, elephants are the clients. Bangkok Project Studio created Elephant Museum Elephant World, housing 200 elephants in accommodations of grandeur and beauty, honoring their place in the country’s ancient history and royal ceremonies. With a nod to heritage and community, half a million bricks were proudly handmade from regional soil using a traditional local method.

(photo by MAD Architects)

2: Whether a metaphor of a potato chip or a clamshell, the Yabuli Entrepreneurs’ Congress Center sits gracefully in the dramatic topography and freezing climate of Shangzhi, Harbin, China. Capturing an agenda of critical thinking and ambitious vision, MAD Architects has designed the headquarters for the international economic platform known as the China Entrepreneur Forum.

(photo by ZAV Architects)

3: Housing for this historic port at the strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf explores colors, shape, scale, and playfulness. A project of both childlike simplicity and heroic vision, ZAV Architects has offered numerous domes using an adobe technique of rammed earth and sand, pioneered by the famed Iranian-American architect, Nader Khalili.

(photo by Birdview)

4: MUDA-Architects delicately weaves architecture into nature for the Garden Hotpot Restaurant. Located in Chengdu, China, the design reduces the building to almost nothing, as it plays hide-n-seek with its amoeboid-like forms twisting through trees. The structure’s circumference measures 1,000 feet with a mere height of 10 feet, and white fluorocarbon paint finishes the galvanized steel roof which is held up by pencil-thin columns only 3 ½” in diameter.

(photo by Birdview)

5: As if Donald Judd installed land art in Puerto Natales, Chili, the abstract beauty of reduction is captured at the Aka Patagonia Hotel. By designer Larrou, an elevated walkway links the prefabricated wood cabins to each other. Together, the elemental box-like quarters—mute on one side but open on the other—embrace views to Chile’s Golfo Almirante Montt canal.

(photo by Alejandro Arango)

6: Known as the Santa Fe de Bogotá Foundation, this 12-floor hospital expansion uses brick in innovative and non-intuitive methods. Rather than the typical gravity-driven compressive state of masonry, architect El Eqiupo de Mazzanti explores brick in an extensive state like a woven fabric. Located in Bogota, Colombia, the massive iconic cube of a building with its signature dent on the surface is both massive and light, both solid and translucent.

(photo by Edmund Sumner)

7: A community building and a work of street sculpture, the Gallery House by Abin Design Studio serves the neighborhood with multipurpose spaces, gathering hall, dormitory, and garage. In Bansberia, West Bengal, India, the architect teamed with a local ceramic artist to select masonry blocks that were discarded for industrial use, a kind of reincarnation of rejected materials.

(photo by Jonathan Leijonhufvud)

8. The Chapel of Sound, an 8,500-square-foot open-air concert hall, is a music venue never before seen. Located in Hebei Province, 200 yard from the Great Wall of China, the structure looks like an outgrowth of the hillside terrain , or perhaps an alien rock formation. By Open Architecture, this concert hall of cantilevered, stacked layers of concrete sits near a mountain resort, and includes a dressing room, green room, and restrooms.

(photo by Philip Vile)

9: Old meets new in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the music campus at Snape Maltings. Architect Haworth Tompkins has conceived of an artist studio where a weathering Corten steel box is inserted into a Victorian ruin of brick and decay. Within the plywood interior sits a flexible art space or performance/rehearsal room, which includes a mezzanine and kitchenette. With no intention of blending the new addition with the existing conditions, the result is less about cohesion and more about a curious parasitic relationship.

(photo by Junya Ishigami + Associates)

10: (See first image and above.) Striking due to its ambiguity, this plaza at Kanagawa Institute of Technology, Tokyo, is a versatile semi-outdoor gathering space, a massive urban sculpture of 59 ceiling cutouts, and an amazing feat of engineering akin to a suspension bridge. Architect Junya Ishigami states, “The process of passing time becomes the subject”.

(For the 2017 list of my all-time 15 favorite buildings, visit here.)


December 31, 2019

UCCA Dune Art Museum, Qinhuangdao, China (photo by Qingshan Wu)

I am avoiding “The Best of” list, because I don’t know how to define “the best.” Instead, I have chosen the adjective “seductive.” Seduction is an act that might lead to enticement or worse, being led astray into questionable moral ground. Seducing someone suggests lurid temptation and even sexual desire.

So why not? Why not list ten projects of 2019 that have led the creative mind astray, enticed and tempted us to desire such an experience?

(photo by Iwan Baan)

1: The 500,000-square-foot National Museum of Qatar is both a structural feat of glass-fiber reinforced concrete over steel frames, as well as a metaphor of the local mineral formations called the Desert Rose. Upon seeing this work of Atelier Jean Nouvel, I initially questioned if such a striking work of originality was real or a make-believe digital image. Yes, it is real.

(photo by Ameen Deen)

2: Architect Formzero designed this “Planter Box House” for a retired couple in tropical Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With edible plants abound and sustainable split bamboo as the concrete formwork, the design is a combination of a green house, garden courtyards, and vertical farm, as well as a statement of Abstract art and Minimalist sculpture.

(photo from cityfodreamsmacau.com)

3: For me, the 770-room Morpheus Hotel in Macau doesn’t represent the curvaceous surfaces of China’s traditional jade carving—as PR statements promote. Regardless, Zaha Hadid’s free styling steel and aluminum exoskeleton presents a stunning visual character unlike anything seen before in city skylines.

(photo by Edmund Sumner)

4: In Kopargaon, India, the undulating roof of a building is transformed into a walkable surface, a social area for this children’s library. Sameep Padora’s singular exploration of local tile vaults in structural compression defines the Maya Somaiya Library.

V&A Dundee

5: Is it a museum or a massive sculpture? A giant symbolic ship honoring the historic waterfront? Or maybe the bizarre building surface recalls the cliffs of Scotland? Over 2,500 textured precast concrete panels create this enigmatic and beautiful United Kingdom project called V&A Dundee.

(photo by Maurizio Montagna)

6: In my early years living in New York City, I was fascinated by the works of Peter Eisenman and his propaganda of Formalism, Deconstructivism, the Avant-Garde, Post Humanism, Jacques Derrida, Giuseppe Terragni, blah, blah, etc. I have no idea what the “emancipation and autonomization of the discipline” is about. Critics and users alike considered Eisenman’s buildings to be hostile environments or simply confusing. But at the Residenze Carlo Erba in Milan, the result is not an overly complicated pompous statement of critical theory and mathematical analogs, but rather, the design is an elegant and beguiling composition of program, structure and geometry.

(photo by Iwan Baan)

7: Toshiko Mori’s Fass Elementary School is much more than yet another one-classroom schoolhouse. It is a poetic statement of global and local proportions. The modest output of village labor and techniques, such as the bamboo structure, mud brick walls and a grass-thatched roof, delivers a profound, elemental and humane building for the remote area of Sengal, West Africa.

(photo by Aesop)

8: To his students, Louis Kahn famously suggested, “You say to a brick, what do you want, brick?” In Brooklyn’s Park Slope, how far can Frida Escobedo go with a brick for Aesop, the beauty products boutique? The theme-and-variations on brick patterns, details, tones, and textures are far-reaching, as Escobedo finds inspiration in the historic fabric of New York’s brick and brownstone buildings.

(photo by Edmund Sumner)

9: Simply called the “House in a Garden,” Gianni Botsford’s 2,500-square-foot jewel-of-a-building occupies a tight urban London site. Recalling the Pantheon in miniature, a heavenly oculus tops off the double-curved, copper and timber roof.

(photo by Qingshan Wu)

10: (See first image and above.) Yes, this is the third museum on my list. Buildings that house art are usually also seductive statements of art themselves. In Qinhuangdao, China, the UCCA Dune Art Museum goes bizarrely further. Dug into sandy dunes like children with beach toys, this museum is sometimes there and sometimes not. With cave-like galleries partially hidden from the sea, OPEN Architecture’s design for Qinhuangdao is primitive, raw and unforgettable.

(For the list of my all-time 15 favorite buildings, visit here. )

© Poon Design Inc.