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This year’s AZ Awards of Merit in the category of Architecture over 1,000M² went to bold and inspiring large-scale projects in five different countries.

Projects: Visual Arts Building, University of Iowa

Location: Iowa City, U.S.

Firm: Steven Holl Architects, U.S.

Team: Rychiee Espinosa, Steven Holl and Chris McVoy with Garrick Ambrose, Christiane Deptolla, JongSeo Lee, Johanna Muszbek, Garrett Ricciardi, Christopher Rotman, Filipe Taboada, Christina Yessios, Bell Ying Yi Cai and Yiqing Zhao

Iowa’s newest centre for the visual arts is itself a work of art, albeit an abstract one, with the blocky segmentation of a Nicolas de Staël painting – a playful composition of volumes interspersed with swoops and curves that belies the building’s incredible functionality. Steven Holl Architects included seven “centres of light” via vertical canyons that bring sun deep into the structure.

Interiors are similarly porous, with spaces devoted variously to individual creativity or collaboration and camaraderie. The private artists’ studios include glass partitions that allow students to see what their peers are doing, while the floor plates incorporate massive apertures that give way to gracious, light-filled atriums.


Projects: Frederiksbjerg School

Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Firms: Henning Larsen Architects with GPP Arkitekter, Denmark

Team: Margrete Grøn and Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen with Eva Bryzek, Kasper Christiansen, Glenn Collett Poulsen, Tobias Dræger, Henrik Jacobsen, Peter Munch, Anders Nielsen, Dorte Nielsen, Vanda Oliveira, Eva Ravnborg, Vanja Scott and Zazia Wihlborg Bigom

At this primary school in Aarhus, Denmark, the playground is everywhere. The atrium has indoor swings, the gymnasiums have obstacle courses, and the tiered roof is topped with multi-purpose sports areas. Henning Larsen Architects designed the 15,000-square-metre school with copious windows, ensuring that every space (from the classroom to the rumpus room) is bathed in natural light.

But the real emphasis here is on movement: travelling from one floor to the next, students can take the stairs or ascend via the adjacent climbing wall, making the school every bit as dynamic as the students who run, jump and swing through its interiors.


Projects: Community of Municipalities’ Offices in Les Herbiers

Location: Les Herbiers, France

Firm: Atelier du Pont, France

Team: Anne-Cécile Comar and Philippe Croisier with Julie-Laure Anthonioz, Aline Defert, Michel Joyau, Hélène Laurin and Quentin Perchet

Architecture firm Atelier du Pont’s municipal office in Les Herbiers, a remote industrial township in western France, is a multi-purpose civic building like no other. It incorporates the old city hall – a thickset 19th-century mansion – into a curvilinear, tapered form adorned with vertical louvers that keep the building cool and save energy. Instead of cutting down trees, Atelier du Pont worked around them, and the resulting building twists and turns like a vine through its parkland surroundings. This botanical approach is replicated inside, where offices are arranged in seed-pod-like clusters of collective spaces that foster collaboration.


Projects: Bahá’í Temple of South America

Location: Santiago, Chile

Firm: Hariri Pontarini Architects, Canada

Team: Siamak Hariri, Justin Huang Ford and Doron Meinhard with Adriana Balen, Michael Boxer, Jaegap Chung, John Cook, Jimmy Farrington, Tiago Masrour, Jin-Yi McMillen, Donald Peters, George Simionopoulos, Mehrdad Tavakkolian and Tahirih Viveros

On the outskirts of Santiago, Chile, where suburban sprawl meets the foothills of the Andes, the Bahá’í Temple of South America rises like an exotic flower on the cusp of blooming, its nine translucent glass-and-marble sails bulging outward before spiraling over a single interior space to converge at a 30-metre-high apex. The material draws in dappled sunlight by day and radiates a soft interior glow by night.

The Bahá’í Faith is all about universality, so Hariri Pontarini Architects was careful not to refer to specific religious iconography in their work. The result, with its hearth-like radiance, unambiguously evokes spirituality – and even transcendence.


Project: Church and Parish Center Santa Maria Assumpta

Location: Tarragona, Spain

Firm: Gimeno Guitart, Spain

Team: Daniel Gimeno and Miguel Guitart

Gimeno Guitart’s church in the coastal city Tarragona, in the Spanish region of Catalonia, is an unmistakably 21st-century place of worship. Its design evokes brutalism, but with an urban and modernist simplicity. While the parish centre, with its soft skin of perforated metal, feels lightweight and inviting, the church next door – a heavy concrete polyhedron – is suitably imposing for a house of God. Visitors enter through narrow foyers that open dramatically to the main space: a tall sanctuary lit by bands of hidden clerestory windows. Raw concrete has never looked so divine.

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