What defined the best architecture of 2022? As the year comes to an end, we add another chapter to an annual tradition of celebrating the highest achievements in design around the world. This year, our list includes an eclectic array of projects, reflecting a diversity of cultures, geographies and contexts: These are projects that expand the possibilities of what architecture can accomplish — and what it’s for.
From an affordable apartment complex in Los Angeles to an innovative long-term care home in Iceland and a cultural memory centre in Bangladesh, many of our picks are focused on community wellbeing, harnessing the power of design to foster social good. And while no unifying aesthetic or trend defines the best architecture of 2022, the projects all draw the eye and — in their own way — lift the heart.
- Ace Hotel, Toronto, Canada, by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects
- Rose Apartments, Los Angeles, USA, by Brooks Scarpa Architects
- Maison Owl, Ube, Japan, by Junya Ishigami
- National Centre for Art, Crafts and Design, Mindelo, Cabo Verde, by Ramos Castellano Arquitectos
- Móberg Nursing Home, Selfoss, Iceland, by LOOP Architects and Urban Arkitektar
- El Salitre Community Centre, Zapotlanejo, Mexico, by Omar Vergara Taller
- CIBC Square/Legacy Room, Toronto, Canada, by WilkinsonEyre, Brook McIlroy
- New Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, UK, by Níall McLaughlin Architects
- Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, by Rizvi Hassan
- Winter Park Library & Events Center, Winter Park, USA, by Adjaye Associates
In Toronto, where glass and steel condo towers reign supreme, the Ace Hotel is a stunning and welcome deviation from the norm. Local award-winning firm Shim-Sutcliffe Architects designed the first Canadian outpost of the popular brand (and one of its first ground-up new builds rather than retrofits) with a definitive nod to the city’s architectural heritage. Clad in ruddy precast brick, the building conjures the red-brick warehouses that once populated the city’s Garment District, the neighbourhood Ace now calls home. From there, the impressive moves continue to magnify.
An epically swooped Douglas fir-lined canopy frames the street entrance, which opens to a triple-height lobby anchored by a contingent of poured-in-place concrete arches edged in steel. Along with repeating the shape of the exterior, these arches also support the entire structure — with some help from gigantic exposed “knuckles” that connect to underground pillars and transfer the building’s load to the foundation walls. Suspended from steel bars, a floating oak-lined mezzanine bar occupies the centre of the soaring atrium and serves as a cap for the sunken restaurant below, itself appointed with a robust materiality of brick flooring, textural bush-hammered concrete walls and sophisticated copper accents. It’s a magnificent feat that, as Simon Lewsen put it in his Sept/Oct cover story on the project, is a “heroic design that flaunts its heroism.”
While the public spaces are commanding, the private guest suites with their locally sourced and crafted furnishings, Douglas fir accents and muted terracotta and indigo colour palettes have a subdued “Canadiana ruggedness” to them. With the Ace Hotel Toronto, Shim-Sutcliffe’s first hotel project to date, a new and intriguing character has been added to Toronto’s urban landscape, one that feels individually unique while also thoroughly Canadian.
Not only did Brooks + Scarpa design this vibrant courtyard building in Venice, California, but the firm also worked with the community to ensure that the affordable building project would be a welcome addition to their neighbourhood. After convening four public consultations, and taking stakeholders’ feedback into account, the firm won the day with its design. And it’s easy to see why.
The Rose Apartments consist of a four-storey mixed-use building with 35 affordable units for people who have aged out of youth facilities, as well as 185 square metres of office space for the Venice Community Housing Corporation (whose original offices on the site were torn down to make way for the development). The exterior is made of cement plaster with a scalloped texture and sparkle grain – it is quite literally luminous. But what makes the architecture especially successful is that it “eschews the solid walls and fences” that characterize housing projects. Instead, the building’s densely packed studio apartments radiate around a raised courtyard carved out of the second storey. This openness towards Rose Avenue is balanced by cascading planters – as well as the raised elevation – which provide residents their privacy.
Brooks + Scarpa has consistently delivered housing developments that prove it’s possible to integrate affordability and sustainability within a beautiful project that elicits community pride. (Rated LEED Gold, Rose Apartments was designed with passive strategies, including orientation for natural ventilation, as well as active ones, such as solar roof panels; nearly all the waste created in its construction was diverted from landfill.) The firm has also taken on an activist role in helping to shape the very types of legislative changes needed to add more affordable housing throughout California. This project is exemplary of all the ways in which Brooks + Scarpa should be emulated.
Recent horror/comedy movie The Menu parodies the extreme lengths that some chefs go to in their quest to deliver exceptional dining experiences. In past years, new culinary destinations have left us chasing reservations for dinners served on top of the world or even in the depths of the ocean. Maison Owl in Ube, Japan introduces another rarefied dining spot: a cave-like building dug out from a mud trench. And yet perhaps the most spectacular thing about the subterranean restaurant that architect Junya Ishigami designed for chef Motonori Hirata is how intimate it feels.
As we wrote in our original coverage of the project, it helps that Ishigami didn’t set out to create something explicitly flashy, but rather to establish an institution that reflected the “roughness of nature.” Ishigami’s solution involved digging holes into the ground to create moulds that were then filled with concrete, forming a structure that was eventually excavated. As a testament to the project’s singular nature, each of its hinged glass windows is custom-sized based on a 3D scan of the resulting frame. Encased in mud, Maison Owl has a rich, earthy appearance that matches the authenticity of the cuisine it serves. Wide arches lead to lush, open courtyards, as well as integrated living quarters that provide a home for chef Hirata and his family at the southern end of the site.
Designing a building on an island where everything needs to be imported requires some savvy construction strategies. In the case of a new art centre in Mindelo, Cabo Verde, local designers Ramos Castellano rose to the challenge by embracing shipping drums as a building material in their own right. The firm’s concept for a major addition to the country’s National Centre for Art, Crafts and Design (CNAD) transforms 2,532 barrel caps into a vibrant facade treatment, with each steel cap painted one of 15 colours that correspond to the notes in a piece of music by a local composer. These caps are not purely decorative, either: The mosaic screen acts as a second skin, with an access corridor allowing each cap to be tilted to control for daylight and airflow.
As Tapiwa Matsinde wrote in our recent feature about CNAD, Ramos Castellano’s clever design solutions are a perfect reflection of the creative ingenuity of Cabo Verde’s artistic community. The project’s construction is another demonstration of local talent, with Mindelo artisans engaged throughout every step of the build. The architects credit this strategy with helping to promote both local wealth distribution and two-way learning. In other words, CNAD does as much to support art as it does to showcase it.
This forward-thinking long-term care home for dementia patients wholeheartedly embraces circular design — both formally and environmentally. Danish firm LOOP Architects and Reykjavik-based Urban Arkitektar leveraged the building’s round floor plate to create a continuous circulation loop, ensuring residents always return home safely when moving around independently. The space prioritizes dignity and autonomy in every regard, offering sensory stimulation via sweeping views of the Icelandic landscape from each unit and a central courtyard that provides areas for therapy and much-needed opportunities for social interaction, along with nostalgic elements that can improve memory recall such as clotheslines and herb gardens.
These feats are made even more impressive when considering the facility’s sustainability credentials. The building is certified Very Good by BREEAM, making use of local materials including volcanic ash and FSC-certified wood cladding, and a lush green roof that is deftly integrated into the terrain. It’s proof that nursing homes don’t have to be the cold and institutional spaces that have become normalized in North America, and that sustainability is indeed an essential component of human-centred design.
Most importantly, the home demonstrates the tangible benefits of Iceland’s investment in its people and social programs. As designers the world over grapple with a growing aging population, this project offers many valuable lessons in designing dignified spaces for senior care. As the architects note, “there is great potential in reimagining this typology to centre daily experience, creating stimulating and sustainable places to live.”
A successful project does not spring from the vision of a lone genius, but rather the collective vision of its community. The El Salitre Community Centre in Mexico’s Jalisco province is paradigmatic of this collaborative approach to design. Local firm Omar Vergara Taller conducted a series of public workshops where Zapotlanejo residents (ranging from community leaders to children) could contribute ideas for the architectural program, and even went so far as to provide training so that they could be involved in its design, construction and operation. The result is a building deeply embedded in its rural context.
Merging technical and artisanal processes, the architects embraced the local vernacular: mud brick walls and handmade slabs of Catalan vault that mitigate the Mexican heat. To that end, the design is driven by the availability of local materials and labour, bolstering the economy of the small farming community which has been impacted by widespread migration to the United States.
The community centre is financially sustained by two cavernous commercial spaces on its ground floor, currently occupied by a grain and fertilizer business and restaurant. They both literally and metaphorically support the public space above — a flexible multi-purpose room defined by its terracotta-toned steel construction, which can be subdivided by foldable walls made of recycled wood panels to accommodate multiple activities simultaneously. The adjacent balcony and rooftop garden offer additional gathering spaces that connect to the street. In all, the vibrant hub serves as a reminder that community-centred projects are most successful when the public is given agency in their design.
You can’t miss it. When dusk descends and the lights turn on, the 49-storey tower sparkles in the skyline. Designed by WilkinsonEyre with Adamson Associates, Toronto’s elegant CIBC Square is easily among the best Canadian high-rises of the 21st century. Cloaked in a diamond-grid glass envelope, the tower is soon to be joined by a slightly taller twin, with an elevated public plaza (though, controversially, one that’s privately owned) bridging across the rail tracks between the two buildings. At the base of the tower, meanwhile, a new inter-city bus terminal introduces another public purpose to the commercial hub — one that will eventually be occupied by close to 20,000 people. Inside, the Gensler-appointed interiors are uncommonly generous corporate spaces, with broad, accessible hallways, ample soft seating and plenty of natural light.
But the jewel of the complex is the CIBC Legacy Room, a sinuous, wood-framed space carved out of the tower’s corporate shell. Designed by Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek architect Ryan Gorrie — who leads the Indigenous Design Studio at Brook McIlroy — in collaboration with local First Nations leaders and Indigenous team members, the space transforms what might have been a corporate boardroom into a much more inclusive, welcoming and contemplative space.
Inspired by Anishinaabek teaching lodges and the longhouses of Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat communities — with a trio of ceilings lights that alludes to Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi Council of Three Fires — the space also features Indigenous-sourced furnishings and finishes. Supported by the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, the space is a manifestation of the push for Reconciliation. And it’s a room that conveys the feeling of an embrace — for anyone that visits. “It’s an Indigenous space, and it’s a space for everyone,” says Gorrie.
With its handsome red-brick facade, gabled pitched roofs, large oak-framed windows and elegant chimney stacks, the New Library on the campus of 700-year-old University of Cambridge’s Magdalene College makes an appropriately dignified statement – one informed by the past but looking to the future. Designed by Níall McLaughlin Architects, the 1,525-square-metre building was recently awarded RIBA’s 2022 Sterling Prize, and there’s little wonder why.
Passing through the grand wooden front doors into the triple-height entrance hall, students encounter a soothing cathedral-like space that successfully balances privacy with openness. Structured on a tartan grid, the interior is smartly organized around a central double-height reading room that is framed on all sides and levels by smaller rooms, intimate niches and balconies for individuals and groups, as well as narrow circulation paths. Delineating these various spaces are those repeating brick chimneys and other load-bearing brick vertical expanses, that also support the timber floors and book stacks. The intersecting horizontal and vertical planes of brick and wood create an “underlying pattern of warp and weft” that intuitively guides visitors through the space.
Natural light pours in from the lantern skylights under the gable roofs and, coupled with the passive ventilation the chimneys provide, minimizes overall energy use; the engineered timber that instills warmth and tactility was also a conscious material selection to reduce the building’s carbon embodied its construction. Timeless, modern and paying homage to its context through materiality and form, the New Library – which is intended to last 400 years – is nothing short of remarkable.
“Today, we have lost our ancestors’ way of life — how they have lived for hundreds of years,” says Rohingya community leader Master Master Mohamed. “What objects they used. Their food, language, wedding traditions…” Facing a genocide in Myanmar, over 740,000 of the displaced, stateless Rohingya people have fled to nearby Bangladesh, with the world’s largest refugee camp created in the border district of Cox’s Bazar. Conditions remain dire, with a lack of adequate support, infrastructure and supplies. But the new Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre is a bright spot in this crowded hilly landscape.
Over the course of three years, a UN-supported team of Rohingya artisans and researches gathered a collection of objects reflecting Rohingya experiences, ranging from household furniture and artwork to musical instruments, books of poetry and models of traditional architecture. It’s a heritage now gathered — and celebrated — under the roof of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre, a living museum where classes and community events renew a centuries-old culture for new generations.
Designed by Bangladeshi architect Rizvi Hassan in close collaboration with the Rohingya community at Cox’s Bazar, the complex is an architectural embodiment of its mandate. Constructed by the community it serves, the cultural centre draws on vernacular traditions to create an uplifting — and singularly beautiful — cultural space.
Even when he is working with concrete, David Adjaye brings bold, uplifting colour to his architecture. He did it with Ruby City, a red-hued art museum in San Antonio, Texas, and he’s done it again with the Winter Park Library & Events Center in Winter Park, Florida. This 5,184-square-metre complex in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park comprises a trio of pavilions with subtly cantilevered angular facades in rose-hued precast concrete. “The structures tilt forward,” Adjaye told Azure, “making external canopies unnecessary, and cool and shaded walkways stretch between them.” Their blush of colour enhances the sense that these aren’t just buildings – these are sculptural works of art.
With this “micro-village,” the architect sought to “create a campus of knowledge, in which the contextual site contained a collection of organic relations.” He was inspired by both central Florida’s vernacular architecture and its wildlife in conceiving the expressive forms, which house an event centre capped with an elegant rooftop terrace, a two-storey public library and a smaller portico structure that acts as a sheltered outdoor meeting place. As our coverage in the March/April issue notes, the spaces between the structures interpret the intimacy of Florida’s traditional porches and front gardens on a public scale.
Adjaye’s work continues to astound, and the Winter Park Library & Events Center is no exception — even its programs meant for all ages were conceived as a gift to this humble city north of Orlando.
From creating affordable housing to preserving cultural memory, the year’s best architecture harnesses the power of design to make a better — and more beautiful — world.