By Catherine Osborne and David Dick-Agnew
1 Best use of materials: B+B House by Studio MK27 and Galeria Arquitetos
It would be easy to assume B+B House is of vintage Brazilian stock. Its flagstone and pebbled walkways, its ramped entrance that extends from one end of the house to the other, and its exposed concrete bricks with holes (allowing light to come in but not the overbearing heat) are features reminiscent of the country’s modernist past. But Marcio Kogan – one the most accomplished residential architects working today – together with Galeria Arquitetos, is riffing on these familiar moves in a refreshingly new way. B+B House, comprising two stacked volumes, is cast in pressed-wood concrete with wood brise soleil covering one portion of the house to visually lighten the mood. Kogan himself calls B+B a “cozy refuge.”
2 Best green architecture: House for Trees by Vo Trong Nghia Architects
In Ho Chi Minh City, only 0.25 percent of the city is green, adding to the serious problem with air pollution due the over-abundance of motorbikes and nonstop traffic congestion. This depressing news spurred one of the most inspiring multi-unit projects of the year: five box-shaped houses that are clustered in a circular formation to create a shaded inner courtyard garden and with trees growing on each of the rooftops. Beautiful in form and in their nature-loving message, the concrete boxes are designed as “pots” with a thick layer of soil functioning as storm-water basins. House for Trees won for best residential project at the World Architecture Festival in November for the Vietnam firm Vo Trong Nghia Architects – the same studio that is designing the Vietnam pavilion at the Milan Expo in May 2015, which looks like a forest of lotuses supporting trees above a pool of water.
3 Best social housing: La Brea Affordable Housing by Patrick Tighe Architecture and Mutlow Architects
While its location on a West Hollywood corner is unremarkable, La Brea Affordable Housing is nothing short of a model of exemplary citizenry matching up with good design. Its most striking visual feature is one corner that appears to be lassoed by layers of laser-cut white metal ribbons. Santa Monica architect Patrick Tighe, who worked on the project with John V. Mutlow Architects, told Architect magazine: “We wanted to celebrate that corner and treat it almost like a fifth elevation. The corner really becomes an important element. It’s almost like a beacon of activity.” The affordable housing project - funded by local government bodies and with a budget of US$8.3million - is devoted to housing formerly homeless LGBT youth, people living with disabilities and people living with HIV and AIDS. Its 32 apartments range from single units to two bedrooms, and they all share a communal interior courtyard filled with palms and planted greenery.
4 Best prefab: P.A.T.H. by Philippe Starck with Riko
Philippe Starck is the first to say P.A.T.H. is not about architecture; it’s about humans (particularly families) living in open spaces and in environments where more energy is generated than used. In October, the French designer invited the press on a tour of the first P.A.T.H. house, located 40 kilometres outside Paris. The prototype features a rooftop lined with photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar panels, wind turbines (designed by Starck), and a rainwater recovery system. The goal is for buyers to order online and have their dream prefab built within two weeks of arriving on site. The website’s “configurator” walks shoppers through 34 floor plan options, ranging from one bedroom to six; flat roofs or double pitched ones with cornices; and structurally made of wood, steel or both. It will be interesting to see if the Starck brand will help sell a concept that has been around since the days of Sears Roebuck.
5 Best use of landscape: T-Project by Youssef Tohme
From the ground level, this villa in the countryside east of Beirut is virtually invisible, camouflaged into its pine-forested clifftop site that overlooks the sea. On approach, the program is revealed: three flowing sections of concrete that together define the home’s livable spaces. From above, the 3,000-square-metre house is divided into long sections that snake down the hillside, with a garden above, a stepped terrace leading down the hillside, and a broad wooden deck below. From within, the concrete walls cantilever out from the hill, seemingly suspended in midair; with no encompassing building envelope – only a series of retractable glazed partitions fitted between the winding layers, including one 50-metre expanse of glass – each space feels like an extension of the cliff face itself, open to the valley views below.
6 Best addition: Dulwich Residence by Naturehumaine
There are many ways a contemporary extension to an older home can go wrong, but Naturehumaine’s addition to a 1920s house in Montreal deftly side-stepped all of them. The new and old volumes are visually matched in scale, and the black steel and charcoal-toned brick that clad the addition highlight – rather than compete with – the existing red brick. But most importantly, the home has gained new functionality: by reorganizing the existing structure’s spaces to redirect traffic throughout both sections of the 265-square-metre house, Naturehumaine has achieved a balance between intimate private spaces, and a new double-height kitchen and dining area with a stronger connection to the outdoors.
7 Best facade: Flip House by Fougeron Architecture
Flip House began life as a typical San Francisco row house, with its primary orientation towards the street, and its largely enclosed bedrooms overlooking the back yard. Local firm Fougeron Architecture flipped this model, blowing out the back of the top two floors and replacing this facade with three glazed sections that undulate in and out like origami, drenching the formerly gloomy interior with sunlight. By moving the bedrooms to the front of the house, overlooking the street, Fougeron has preserved their privacy. A new staircase, meanwhile, links the public spaces of the home together physically as well as visually.
8 Best cladding: House 1.130 by Estudio Entresito
The architects refer to the sprawling 500-square-metre House 1.130 as “a house with no appearance.” Although the Madrid home definitely has an appearance, the description alludes to its extensive brise soleil composed of polycarbonate panels in aluminum frames that zigzag, fence-like, around the structure, lending the house a luminous, ethereal quality. Estudio Entresito deliberately camouflaged the white brise soleil against ridged white concrete walls, making it difficult to visually identify the contours of the house’s solid volumes. From inside, the panels admit copious light and create an impression of porous walls, simultaneously private and open to wider views. Combined with a complex, fractured floorplan that layers two programs, one on top of the other, the result is a house whose limits evade the eye.
9 Best multi-unit: Gwell Residences by Julien De Smedt
An offset of 30 degrees gives each of the balconies that front Julien De Smedt’s Gwell Residences, in the posh Gangnam district of Seoul, its own angle on the city. Although the roughly 700 single-resident units are a diminutive 25 square metres in size, this gesture grants them better privacy from their neighbours to the sides, and also admits light from a wider slice of the sky – especially crucial to the many north-facing apartments in the massive complex, which gain eastern or western exposure. The program – a distinctly South Korean variant of the studio apartment called an “officetel” – combines living and working spaces within the same building to reduce commute times in the densely populated capital.
10 Best infill: Vertical House by Muji
Japan’s Muji is known worldwide for its housewares – furnishings, kitchen and office accessories – but if you live in Japan, the retailer will also sell you the house to put them in. Its latest, the three-storey Vertical House, sits on a narrow 67-square-metre footprint, intended to squeeze into the narrow lots of Tokyo’s cramped streets. There are no walls to obstruct free movement or sight lines through the predominantly white, cedar-floored interior – just open space, plenty of wall storage, and a screened-in staircase. Vertical House is assembled on site, so although it’s not technically a prefab, it does offer reduced cost and build times.