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Best of the Decade
The 2010s in architecture, design and more
The 10 Most Influential Architecture Projects of the Decade
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The 10 Chairs We Loved This Decade
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The 10 Interior Designs that Defined the Decade
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The 10 Most Memorable Houses of the Past Decade
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The 10 Most Influential Technologies of the Decade
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Best Canadian Architecture of the Decade, Casey House
The 10 Projects that Defined a Decade of Canadian Architecture
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Best of the Decade

Grain silos turned cutting-edge art venue. A moving monument to the Afro-American experience. The most eye-popping skyscraper in Asia (which is saying a lot). The past decade’s top architecture in terms of innovation and effect was as wide-ranging (and far-flung) as it was boundary-busting. Some of it was produced by Pritzker laureates (Koolhaas, Nouvel, Siza, SANAA) doing what they do, while others brought much-deserved recognition to equally talented future stars (take a bow, Ole Schereen). Following are Azure’s picks for the best and most influential buildings of the last 10 years, in order of completion.

1
Rolex Learning Center by SANAA, 2010
The fall lecture circuit 07

Comparisons to Swiss cheese aside, the Rolex Learning Center by Japanese duo SANAA isn’t easily defined. Programmatically, it’s a 20,000-square-metre student hub (for the Swiss university Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) that coalesces libraries, gathering and social spaces, study environments, cafés, outdoor patios and more on a single floor. Conceptually, it’s a gracefully undulating structure (anchored in four corners and pierced by ovoid pores) that rises and dips as if forming a secondary landscape. And structurally, it’s an entirely separate feat involving a poured-in-place concrete shell with a lightweight steel and timber roof.

It should come as no surprise, then, that principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa cinched the Pritzker Prize only a few months later, propelled largely by the momentum of this project. The Rolex Learning Centre epitomizes what the pair, both separately and in their collaborative practice, do best: non-hierarchical programming paired with a muted architecture of striking transparency and blankness. At the decade’s opening, it was a paradigm-shifting structure, its design a calculated respite from the parametricism that dominated prior years.

2
CCTV Headquarters by OMA, 2012
CCTV headquarters in Beijing, China by OMA Rem Koolhaas

“The CCTV headquarters may be the greatest work of architecture built in this century.” So wrote the New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff when Rem Koolhaas’s flagship for the Chinese media giant was completed at the beginning of the 2010s. Composed of two 49-storey towers connected by a 75-metre cantilever, “Big Pants,” as Beijing residents ended up christening the building, effectively thumbed its nose at the skyscraper typology. The mega-complex, encompassing 473,000 square metres in total, was structurally engineered by Cecil Balmond of Arup to be supported by a cage-like steel frame visible on the exterior as diagonal slashes across grey glass.

From the outset, the CCTV project generated controversy because the client was widely regarded as a purveyor of government propaganda. Yet Koolhaas had a rose-tinted view of the future back in 2011, writing that China “can be the first nation to create truly open standards for its technological infrastructure spreading connectivity and opportunity.” Hmm…

3
Bosco Verticale by Boeri Studio, 2014

It was the project that launched a forest’s worth of air-scrubbing plant-covered towers. And it’s still, more than half a decade after its erection, just as startling in person as it is in images. Milanese architect Stefano Boeri’s hometown “vertical forest,” a pair of residential high-rises designed in conjunction with agronomists Emanuela Borio and Laura Gatti, is without a doubt one of the most influential architectural projects not just of the decade but perhaps of the coming century. Beyond its arresting look, it has reinstated the importance of nature in even the most urban of contexts, almost single-handedly advanced the horticultural technology available for vegetated structures and, most significant of all, demonstrated that a large building complex can enhance instead of degrade a densely packed city’s environment, raising the bar in metropolises worldwide.


Of course, the complexity and expense of installing and maintaining a sky-high wood – Bosco Verticale’s plant inventory includes 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 15,000 other species, all of which require an advanced irrigation system and the sophisticated wiring of their roots the buildings’ fabric in order to survive – make such projects the purview (at least for now) of only the wealthiest occupants and settings. And the beneficial effect of all those air-borne plants is mitigated, as the British landscape architect Tim Waterman wrote in Azure in 2018, if a complex sits (as Bosco Verticale does) above an underground parking garage full of polluting Maseratis.

Nonetheless, Boeri’s groundbreaking construct, as Waterman also acknowledged, has had a positive net effect on the global greening of buildings. “Technologies that make good connections between landscape processes and building systems,” he wrote, “are being developed and perfected [as a result of the project]. A sophisticated interdependence is evolving.”

4
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture by Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group, 2016

This is the most important American building of the 21st century so far. When the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016, the striking institution “changed the center of gravity” on the National Mall, according to Washington Post architecture critic Philip Kennicott. But it did more than that. In form and function, the museum transforms both the city of Washington and the American mythologies that its older monuments and museums so forcefully espouse.

Throughout the museum, the chronologies of African American history are charted out in devastating clarity. The architecture tells a story, too: The building’s circuit conveys visitors from a subterranean darkness evocative of slave ships to the light-filled optimism of the early Obama era. As the history inside unfolds, framed views of D.C. landmarks emerge through strategic cutouts in the bronze scrim facade. After witnessing Emmett Till’s simple coffin, can the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument ever look the same? The design stakes its position on the Mall to create powerful new vantage points, indelibly weaving the museum’s curatorial narrative into the wider world. It’s a breathtaking achievement – and a hell of a building.

5
Louvre Abu Dhabi by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, 2017

Even before it was built, the Abu Dhabi outpost of France’s venerable Louvre museum had already captured the imaginations of design students and practitioners the world over. In 2007, when the first renderings of the dappled “rain of light” falling into the open-air galleries from the monumental lattice-work dome above were released, the unprecedented complex was equal parts engineering-feat-in-waiting and a herald of the architectural ambitions of the oil-rich Gulf states, where a host of starchitect-level designers were also helming offshoots for other leading cultural institutions nearby.

Drawing inspiration from souks and Islamic geometry, the more-than-24,000-square-metre archipelago of 55 assembled white cubes (encompassing 23 galleries, an auditorium and a children’s museum) on the waters of man-made Saadiyat Island finally opened its doors a decade later. Topped by a dramatic 5,200-ton, 180-metre steel dome that casts a new light (figuratively and literally) on the threads connecting East and West, Nouvel’s museum is the architectural companion to the exhibitions within: a sensitive glimpse into the past through the lens of the present.

Like Zaha Hadid’s al-Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, however, the building also inspired important discussions around the treatment of migrant workers on construction sites throughout the Persian Gulf. As the region’s rapid architectural expansion continues, then, the Louvre Abu Dhabi isn’t just another Nouvel triumph, but also a looming reminder of the unseen labour – and human labourers – behind such landmarks.

6
Zeitz MOCAA by Heatherwick Studio, 2017

When Thomas Heatherwick was hired to transform a derelict complex of Cape Town grain silos into a new museum devoted to contemporary art from Africa, he and his client, V&A Waterfront, envisioned a cathedral-like space that would draw cultural pilgrims from across the continent and beyond. The defining feature of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – named after philanthropist and ex-Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, whose extensive art collection is on loan to the institution for 20 years – is certainly worthy of reverence: A vast, 10-storey atrium that was hewn, honeycomb-style, from the 42 soaring tubes that made up the original apartheid-era structure, it has been likened to Gaudí’s Sagrada Família. 

But there is also so much more to the project, which is perhaps the past decade’s most creative example of large-scale adaptive reuse. The uppermost level of the museum, which includes more than 100 gallery spaces across seven public floors, is distinguished by a massive grid of “pillow” windows that offer commanding views. This grid is repeated on the adjoining building, where the grain elevator once operated. It now houses the Silo, a 28-room luxury hotel that soars six floors above the museum and also serves as a perfect roost for all of those anticipated pilgrims, of which there have been many.

7
Capela do Monte by Álvaro Siza Viera, 2018

It might seem odd to include a chapel among the amenities of a holiday retreat, but Capela do Monte, part of the off-grid Monte da Charneca Center in Portugal’s Algarve region, is beautiful enough to compel even the most committed hedonists onto their knees. Designed on a hillside by Pritzker Prize winner Álvaro Siza Viera, the small but monolithic structure, which is accessed by a single footpath, is distinguished by its boxy U-shaped facade. Beyond it is an entrance lobby open to the sky, from which abundant natural light descends to illuminate a series of tile murals depicting the life of Jesus. Based on sketches made by Siza, the bespoke tiles were crafted by Viúva Lamego, a century-and-a-half-old manufacturer headquartered in Lisbon. Inside the chapel, more tiles (these unembellished) line the walls, which contain simple pale-wood furnishings, including an altar, bench and chairs, crafted by a Porto-based studio.

As the Monte da Charneca Center is self-sufficient, Capelo do Monte was designed to function without running water, electricity or heat. (Its thick walls, for instance, are constructed of perforated bricks coated inside and externally with a limestone render, allowing it to heat and cool itself passively.) As a result, Siza has described the chapel as “a pure architectural project,” focused solely on form and effect. In these speed-driven, hyper-efficient times, such unalloyed exercises are getting rarer and rarer, which is more than a pity. Because as Capelo do Monte – an exemplar in this or any other decade – shows, there is tremendous value in simplicity. And beauty in purity.

8
King Power MahaNahkon by Büro Ole Scheeren, 2018

In the Thai language, MahaNakhon translates as “great metropolis,” a reflection of the wide range of functions that take place within and around this utterly distinctive Bangkok high-rise, designed by Ole Scheeren when he was with OMA. In addition to the 200 Ritz-Carlton residences in the upper section of the tower, which rises to a total of 78 storeys, the Bangkok Edition Hotel occupies the lower part. In 2018, the building was capped off with a walkable glass platform, dubbed the Skytray, which cantilevers over the city from the rooftop observation deck.

For all its thrills and comforts, though, the tower is best appreciated from a distance. Featuring a dynamic facade formed by ribbons of cutaway balconies at various intervals, it takes full advantage of its tropical setting and expansive views, incorporating oversized terraces and skyboxes that protrude from the building. Indeed, King Power MahaNakhon is more modern sculpture than high-rise, redefining entirely how a skyscraper can look and operate. If Bjarke Ingels is the king of the twisting form, Schereen is a master of the pixelated structure. From its unique skin to its towering functional ambitions, his Bangkok masterwork is simply one of the most original tall buildings to appear in a long time.

9
Beijing Daixing International Airport by Zaha Hadid Architects and ADPI, 2019

Economists call it the “aerotropolis” theory. Popularized by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay’s 2011 book of the same name, it posits that the global connections provided by airports drive the 21st-century economy much as the seaport, railroad and automobile respectively shaped the world in the centuries before. But aerotropolis or not, it was a decade of unprecedented ambition in airport design, ushering in sparkling showpieces like Moshe Safdie’s Jewel Changi in Singapore and Grimshaw’s New Istanbul Airport. But it’s the striking Beijing Daixing International Airport, completed in the last year of the decade, that most emphatically embodies the new reality of global movement.

As the late Zaha Hadid’s final project, the airport is an appropriately monumental legacy for the architect. A sinuously graceful building on a colossal scale, it fans out from a showpiece central atrium in a flowing, floral array, making it an airport like no other.

But how will history judge aviation’s new wonders? Given the carbon costs of aviation and the stark inequalities of global mobility, are spectacular airports still a thing to celebrate? Hadid has left behind a marvel, but the challenge to decarbonize – and democratize – travel in the 21st century has become more urgent than ever.

10
Copenhill by Bjarke Ingels Group, 2019

BIG’s Copenhill/Amager Bakker power station project is one that we’ve been watching – along with the rest of the world – for years. A waste-to-energy plant envisioned as a model of urban infrastructure, the 41,000-square-metre building welcomes skiers (to slalom down its artificial turf spine), rock climbers (to scale its sides) and visitors of all ages and inclinations to enjoy its sinuous form.

Wrapped in a glass and aluminum facade, its metal bricks measuring 1.2 metres tall by 3.3 metres wide, the twisty building replaces the adjacent existing waste-to-energy plant. The new, higher-tech facility incinerates 440,000 tons of waste annually, converting it into enough clean energy to power and heat 150,000 homes. From ventilation shafts to air intakes, the equipment required for this feat necessitated a novel architectural design that would also provide 10 floors of administrative space and a 600-square-metre education centre for tours, workshops and conferences. And BIG delivered, well, big time: Copenhill is the Danish firm’s ethos of “hedonistic sustainability” writ large.

There’s just something about a well-designed chair. Beyond the fun of creating a product that everyone needs and uses, designers often see chairs as an opportunity to test the limits of materials, production technologies and familiar aesthetics, creating instant icons along the way. Looking back on a decade of design, these are the 10 chairs we feel will stand the test of time and be embraced for years to come.

1
Spun by Thomas Heatherwick for Magis, 2010

Since its debut at the Milan furniture fair in 2010, London designer Thomas Heatherwick’s Spun Seat for Italian manufacturer Magis has, in the iconic words of Dead or Alive, kept users spinning “’right round, baby, right ’round.” While Heatherwick is known for such extravagant architectural works as the Vessel in New York and the Bund Finance Centre in Shanghai, his rotation-moulded polypropylene throne is a decidedly more minimal (and smaller-scaled) approach to one of the fundamental challenges of design: gravity. It’s a playful balancing act akin to a spinning top, forcing its users to constantly find equilibrium while making a 360-degree turn. If sitting down here doesn’t bring a smile to your face, nothing will.

2
Hemp by Werner Aisslinger, 2011

While it only became legal to farm hemp in the U.S. last year, German designer Werner Aisslinger was exploring the design potential of the material as early as 2011, when he presented his Hemp Chair (in collaboration with BASF) during Salone del Mobile in Milan. With a shape reminiscent of Verner Panton’s iconic plastic stacking chair, Hemp took the typology in a new sustainable direction: Aisslinger utilized compression moulding technology typical in the automotive industry to combine hemp and kenaf fibres with a toxin-free, water-based resin to create a composite alternative. At the time, he described the first non-plastic monobloc chair’s development as a reaction to the desire of many consumers for a “well-balanced and healthy lifestyle that is in harmony with the environment” – a sentiment that’s even more relevant today as demands for plastic alternatives grow louder across all industries.

3
Tip Ton by Barber Osgerby for Vitra, 2011

Though the rocking chair has been around since the early 18th century, in 2011, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby of Barber & Osgerby transformed this distinctly American typology into something else entirely for Swiss manufacturer Vitra. Building on a study the year prior that discovered the positive effects of sitting forward (namely improved back and abdominal muscle activity that increases oxygen supply), the pair devised a recycled polypropylene seat with a slightly inclined bottom rail that allows users to both sit upright as well as lean in. “It was obvious that this chair must live as comfortably in a kitchen at home, as in a classroom or at a desk,” they say of the final product, which provides all the functionality of an ergonomic task chair without the endless components and moving parts. It’s simple, refined and even stackable – a modern classic.

4
U Turn by Bensen, 2013

Born and bred in Denmark, Niels Bendtsen is a Canadian treasure who has long been recognized on the global stage. At the same time as collaborating with top international brands like Linteloo, Very Wood, Montis and Moroso, he oversees the high-quality output of Bensen – his Vancouver furniture brand – for which he created U Turn. The vibrant tub chair won the 2014 AZ Awards Winner for Best Furniture Design. At the time, we marvelled, “Mechanically, U Turn borrows from the auto industry for its smooth 360‑degree rotation; the steel frame and elastic suspension are held within a custom mould injected with liquid foam to create a supportive yet flexible seat. As with all Bensen products, attention to detail is no small matter, and precision tailoring can be seen in the flat-fell seams of the slipcovers, which come in a range of hues and fabrics, including leather and wool.” The design is destined to remain relevant for both home and contract spaces for years to come.

5
Membrane by Layer for ClassiCon, 2013

Weighing in at a mere three kilograms, Membrane’s pleasingly bulbous form was the result of research into high-performance athletic gear and tent construction. Known for material-driven exploration and process-led designs, Benjamin Hubert and his London-based multidisciplinary studio Layer devised the lounge chair for ClassiCon to be less bulky and cumbersome and to leave a more diminished carbon footprint than its conventional counterparts. Lightweight but supportive, the CNC-shaped stainless steel and aluminum skeleton is wrapped in a 3D-woven skin of stretchy textile (held in place via zippers and fasteners) with integrated seat pads; this material and technical combination required only a small amount of polyurethane foam padding, which reduced the environmental impact without sacrificing comfort.

6
Alfi by Jasper Morrison for Emeco, 2015

Sometimes, what you don’t see is as important as what you do see. That was the principle behind Jasper Morrison’s mid-decade Alfi collection for Emeco, the American brand long known for its commitment to sustainability and handcraftsmanship. In the case of the Alfi line – a highlight of which is the elegant round-back chair that serves as the foundation for the rest of the collection’s stools and benches – seats are made of reclaimed post-industrial waste (92.5 per cent polypropylene combined with 7.5 per cent wood fibre), while the responsibly harvested, locally sourced ash bases are fashioned by Amish craftsmen. The seats also come in a palette of handsome earth tones, including brown, green, sand, red and dark grey. Overall, Alfi reflects Emeco and Morrison’s “common appreciation for the invisible qualities behind simplicity.” But what is visible is also pretty impressive, making the still-urgent point that beauty and sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive.

7
570 Gender by Patricia Urquiola for Cassina, 2016

This is an unmistakable design. Sinous and playful, Patricia Urquiola’s bold 570 Gender by Cassina reveals itself is an encounter of two halves, which are expressed as mirrored opposites. Both seat and backrest – which can recline by about 12 degrees – are defined by a contrast of material and colour, with a soft, padded interior complemented by a pair of luxuriously rigid and slightly dramatic saddle leather wings. On the base, however, the seat stretches across the sides to the floor, with the leather finish discretely placed on the underside. What’s interior below becomes exterior above, and vice versa. (A pouf of the same material interplay is also available). As a design concept that gently hints at the fluid and fraught social construction of what’s masculine and feminine, it’s very much a product of the 2010s. As a piece of furniture, it’s timeless. 

8
LessThanFive by Michael Young for Coalesse, 2016

Light. Strong. Sleek. Living up to its promise, this stackable chair weighs “less than five” pounds. It’s an impressive technical feat made possible by its innovative carbon-fibre unibody construction: the chairs are moulded in woven layers of carbon fibre sheets which are then heated into a unified single piece. Designed by Michael Young in collaboration with the Coalesse Design Group, LessThanFive launched commercially two years after the 2014 Salone Del Mobile debut of its prototype. No surprise, considering the novel engineering and assembly – inspired by high-end bicycles – required to make the chair a reality. Free of joints and fixings, LessThanFive is also surprisingly comfortable and ergonomic. Over three years after its launch, it still feels ahead of its time, with an updated collection of matte finishes released in late 2019.

9
Cosm by Studio 7.5 for Herman Miller, 2018

More than a decade in the making, Cosm was well worth the wait, setting a new standard for what a task chair could and should be. Intuitive, responsive and supremely supportive, the design is a powerhouse of precision detailing all wrapped up in a sleek, good-looking frame. When conceiving Cosm for Herman Miller, Studio 7.5 developed an “auto-harmonic tilt” mechanism that instantly responds to the sitter’s unique body and posture to provide a personalized and balanced seat. What’s more, its sculptural form – comprised of metals, plastic and elastomeric suspension netting – is dipped fully in colour for a completely monotone look. Boasting both aesthetics and ergonomics, Cosm is leaps and bounds above others of its kind. 

10
Woody by Philippe Starck for Kartell, 2018

It was a big deal in 2018 when Kartell, famous for its groundbreaking plastic furnishings, began championing an alternate material: wood. At that year’s Milan Furniture Fair, the brand unveiled its unambiguously titled Woody collection of seating designed by Philippe Starck, who took advantage of a patented moulding process to fashion uncommonly curvy chair backs, from low to wingback-style high. For Kartell, Woody represented a chance to trumpet the “continuous technological research” that went into perfecting a system that extends the curvature of wooden furniture panels. Starck, though, had a more poetic view. “Woody,” he said, “answers a desire and also a need for wood,” its lines and textures satisfying “the basic human need to be surrounded with signs [of] nature.” 

The second decade of the 21st Century saw significant cultural shifts that informed interior design across the world. In tandem with the rise of Instagram, a generation of influencers embraced “millennial pink” and brands big and small strove to create increasingly experiential and photogenic retail environments. Terrazzo took over on walls and floors – but dramatically veined marble gave the finish a run for its money. Co-working caused a major pivot in offices and adaptive re-use was at the heart of some of the most inspired interior spaces. These 10 projects of the past 10 years set, defined and elevated the trends we now see everywhere – from Atsugi to São Paulo.

1
Cloud Garden Daycare by Junya Ishigami, 2015

Can a space designed for children also be sophisticated? Any doubters should be directed to Junya Ishigami’s massive yet whimsical concrete partitions for a seventh-storey daycare centre in Atsugi, Japan. Formerly an office cafeteria, the 2,200-square-metre space was studded with a series of bulky columns, which the Tokyo-based architect connected and camouflaged with cloud-like elements referencing the high-rise setting. Their sculptural form and imposing scale suggest a labyrinth as envisioned by Henry Moore, but Cloud Garden, as the design is known, was created entirely with small fry in mind, its arches and cutouts tailor-made for scrambling under, climbing over and gamboling through. During a decade in which many interiors were crafted to appeal to an adult’s inner child, it was refreshing to see a space intended specifically for kids that, conversely, didn’t talk down to them.

2
Valentino Flagship Store by David Chipperfield, 2014

At Valentino’s New York flagship, David Chipperfield created a palazzo of a store that set an early high-water mark for the era of experiential – and Instagram-driven – retail. On the other side of the sleek, eight-storey facade on Fifth Avenue, grey terrazzo defines a space that’s both elegantly austere and deliciously indulgent. A combination of fine-grained and larger-format Palladiana terrazzo lines every surface, creating a monotone backdrop that takes on a surprising sense of opulence through the weight of repetition and the rigour of consistency. The relentless material unity (and careful lighting) also lends the angular space a dramatic chiaroscuro mood in the shadows. Accents of timber, leather and brass create a distinct visual identity on each floor, while never betraying the purity and wholeness of Chipperfield’s design. It’s nothing less than a temple of fashion.

3
Starbucks Dazaifu Tenmangu by Kengo Kuma and Associates, 2012
Kengo Kuma does Starbucks 01

This ain’t your neighbourhood Starbucks – unless you’re a resident of the Japanese island city of Dazaifu, that is. Situated on the path to a 10th-century Shinto shrine, Kengo Kuma’s first Starbucks outpost is defined by a striking lattice composed of 2,000 wooden batons that embrace the wall and ceiling and extend onto the street, past the café’s glass facade. Despite this defiantly individual presence, the space is also harmoniously integrated into its surroundings. Evoking the angularity and materiality of Japanese vernacular, the project lends the global coffee behemoth a rare sense of genius loci. Amidst the third-wave coffee revolution that spawned independent, locally owned shops around the world, the café is a riposte of sorts from Starbucks. It may be the world’s most common cup of coffee, but this a unique spatial experience. As the decade unfolded, we saw many more one-off Starbucks – several of which were also designed by Kuma.

4
Jaffa Hotel and Residences by John Pawson and Ramy Gill, 2018

The decision to hire consummate minimalist John Pawson to restore and modernize a former convent school and hospital in the ancient port of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, Israel, may have been counterintuitive. But it was also inspired: The resulting Jaffa Hotel, which he wove from the bones of the two existing buildings as well as a new, six-storey wing housing 32 private residences, is a design palimpsest nonpareil. It encompasses artfully balanced interiors that both celebrate their period origins and come alive with Pawson’s hits of the new (think orange Cappellini chairs accenting the remnants of a 13th-century stone wall or a sumptuous assemblage of gold, blue and soft pink seating under the vaulted ceiling of the onetime school’s chapel). Typically, design updates retain historic exteriors but obliterate interiors. The Jaffa breaks that mould, adopting an ultra-contemporary visual language without stifling context and serving, in the process, as a model for adaptive-reuse projects over the coming 10 years and beyond.

5
Sulwhasoo Flagship Store by Neri & Hu, 2016

With stunning brass latticework that stretches five storeys, Neri&Hu set a standard for high-end retail interior design in 2016. Conceived as part of the transformation of a 13-year-old building in Seoul’s Gangnam district into Korean skincare brand Sulwhasoo’s first flagship, the intricate structure was informed by traditional paper lanterns – how they light the way and mark the beginning and end to a journey – and guides visitors throughout the entire store.

First encountered when approaching the building, the installation unfolds inside where large openings, mirrored volumes and strategically placed custom light fixtures heighten a sense of exploration and exemplify the Shanghai-based firm’s aspiration to always create a “dynamic interaction of experience, detail, material, form and light rather than conforming to a formulaic style.” While the golden hued framework is vast, moving from delicate to industrial, bright to shadowed, enclosed to open, Neri&Hu expertly instilled a curious intimacy that invites discovery around every corner.

6
Pump Room by Yabu Pushelberg, 2011
PHOTO: Dimorestudio

By the time Yabu Pushelberg‘s George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg arrived at the Pump Room in the Ambassador Hotel, the legendary hotspot had lost its lustre. Ian Shrager (of Studio 54 fame) had envisioned the property in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighbourhood as the inaugural outpost for what would become the Edition chain, and he tapped the Canadian duo to helm the project. While they also re-designed the rooms above and surrounding public spaces, the revamped Pump Room is the undisputed star. Suspended from the 18-foot ceiling – and occasionally even dropping to meet the edge of the tables below – is a composition of illuminated resin orbs connected to a black-metal framework that fills the recessed dining room with an intimate constellation. The Pump Room would provide the template for Edition’s public spaces to come (they’re now in London, New York and more), all while shaping a distinctly tailored approach to hospitality.

7
Second Home London by SelgasCano, 2014

Over the past decade, the co-working office has grown in popularity as an interior design exercise (even as it’s lately been challenged as an economic reality, with the precipitous decline of WeWork). But SelgasCano, the Spanish firm whose claim to fame was its multi-hued, plastic-fantastic Serpentine Pavilion in 2015, injected a unique energy into the typology when it created Second Home London’s location in the city’s east end in 2014.

The firm’s expertise with colour – the interior’s juicy yellows and oranges practically make the mouth water – and its virtuosity with form took this co-working space out of the realm of mismatched couches and chairs. It introduced areas of quiet contemplation inside of organically shaped glass enclosures, and crisp white communal tables that sinuously snake along the interiors. But most impressive: the firm extended the facade of the existing building, a former carpet factory. Called “the greenhouse,” this orange plastic tube bulges out to the street, making the interior assert itself with an imposing architectural statement.

7
Ròmola by Andres Jaque/Office for Political Innovation, 2018

Since establishing Office for Political Innovation, Andrés Jaque has amassed a significant portfolio of hybrid environments that provide a critical look at the often unseen forces embedded in the built world. Take 2017’s Ròmola, for instance: a combined bakery, café and restaurant constructed in a renovated 1946 garage at the heart of Madrid and described as a “marble-made tent in the galaxy.”

Jaque collaborated with local artisans – from marble manufacturers to leather upholsterers – to reclaim the vernacular of the city’s cafeterias, which had slowly ceded way to encroaching corporate franchises and their uninspired colour and material palettes. The result is a materially rich landscape of lime upholstery, chrome plating and a suspended canopy of triangular engineered super-marble slabs (with glass fibre and resin reinforcements) that resemble guillotines (and that, in our imagination, are about to come down on the heads of the surrounding mass-produced austerity). It’s a playful yet graphic reminder of the socio-political exchanges imbedded in such foundational materials as metal, glass and stone.

9
Gallery at Sketch by India Mahdavi, 2014

India Mahdavi’s interior for Sketch boasts two voguish honours (apart from also appearing in Vogue): It’s the most Instagrammed restaurant in the world and it ushered in the era of millennial pink. Both feats are thanks to its flawless design – that unmistakable rosy tone, which Mahdavi described in The New Yorker as “pink that is like the essence of pink,” is so effective because it’s applied to forms of the utmost elegance. The plush, rounded seating in Sketch is evocative of many delightful shapes at once, from Italian Ladyfingers to cartoonish tulips. And with its zigzagging stone floors, ornate ceiling and undeniably feminine look and feel, the entire restaurant recalls all the warm, traditional, even hygge-inspired spaces that never go out of fashion.

10
Aesop São Paulo by Fernando and Humberto Campana, 2016
AESOP Sao Paulo

With its feature wall in traditional cobogó brick – which allows light and breezes to permeate the interiors – this São Paulo outpost of Aesop, by the city’s own Campana Brothers, authentically speaks to both the luxury skincare brand’s ethos and the bohemian location. The feature wall runs the length of the store and extends to a front courtyard (which doubles as a public square). It’s composed of hundreds of small, square terracotta blocks perforated by a quarter circle and radiating lines that, when puzzled together, create a graphic sunburst motif. This pattern is reversed on the floor; here, the filigreed terracotta modules, filled with concrete, form a smooth counterpoint to the light-filtering wall.

AESOP Sao Paulo
AESOP Sao Paulo

The earthy palette was continued throughout the space, with sisal wallcoverings that provide a textural backdrop to the brick; smooth concrete counters that top the display units and sink; and low-slung timber benches that invite visitors to linger. It’s a masterful illustration of the impact humble materials can have when combined with considered embellishments and attention to detail.

The single-family house remains a realm of experimentation for architects, and the decade has seen many feats in formal expression and social responsibility. We’ve witnessed experiments in structure and siting, like Sou Fujimoto’s super-minimal and ultra-voyeuristic House NA in the middle of Tokyo and Brian MacKay Lyons’ cliff-hanger in Nova Scotia as well as the incremental housing of Alejandro Aravena and MAD Architects’ work to bring attention to China’s disappearing hutongs. There was also the emergence of Chilean studios and Mexico’s bold female architects. In short, the 2010s introduced us to many marvellous houses. Here are 10 that we still dream about.

1
Cliff House by MacKay Lyons Sweetapple, 2010

“I’m interested in making buildings that are silent yet say more – a lot more,” explains Brian MacKay-Lyons. The Halifax-based principal of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects could be discussing any number of his studio’s award-winning public and private projects, but here he’s referring to the 2010 exercise in restraint, Cliff House. Wrapped in greying cedar, the spartan two-storey summer cabin – only 89 square metres and located just over an hour’s drive from Halifax – is dramatically cantilevered off a cliff as two thirds of the structure appear to be propelled toward the water beyond. On approach, the house presents itself as a monolithic cube with a single cutout for the entrance. Inside, the exposed cedar walls, punctuated with black steel supports five metres tall, add a colossal air to the humble structure. It’s a sensitive work that not only reimagines local traditions (think the nomadic tilting houses of the region) but also succinctly summarizes a decade of Canadian residential design. For MacKay-Lyons, it’s “monumentally modest.”

2
Villa Verde Incremental Housing by Elemental, 2010

Over the past decade, Alejandro Aravena, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2016, has emerged as the world’s foremost social-good architect. This standing is in large part to the work he’s accomplished in the arena of incremental housing, a concept that dates back to the 1970s but that he and his firm, Elemental, made concrete through their various “half-a-house” projects. Villa Verde, completed in post-earthquake Constitución, Chile, was their second major urban development of this type. It was funded by the forest company Arauco, which employs thousands of workers in the city. With this project, the firm again embraced the half-a-house typology – providing a finished half and a non-finished shell that home-owners can build up over time with standardized materials – but with “higher standards both for the initial and final scenario.” The idea of providing low-income families with “half a house” has met with criticism, but in Chile, where subsidized homes are often only 40 square metres, the Elemental models – especially those created for Arauco, measuring either 55 sqm (fully subsidized) or 92 sqm (with a bank loan) – are a significant improvement.

3
House NA by Sou Fujimoto, 2011

It’s the ideal dwelling for the Look-at-Me Age: Sou Fujmoto’s three-storey House NA in Tokyo is almost entirely devoid of (opaque) walls, making the act of living in it a kind of performance. But it’s also no mere gimmick. Despite its industrial look – the white-steel-frame structure, composed of staggered platforms, rather evokes scaffolding – House NA was inspired by nature and is meant to simulate a tree, its various levels akin to branches, across which discussions, platform-hopping and other “moments of richness” are encouraged. This same conviviality is projected to the street: Although it’s tempting to think of House NA as an exhibitionist’s dream, Fujimoto intended its transparency as an antidote to isolation, a growing problem in urban Japan. And in case you were wondering, he did include pockets of privacy in the home, including “for when two individuals choose to be close to one another.”

4
Lone Range Mountain House by Rick Joy, 2012

While Rick Joy has also completed public and commercial projects, he is best known as a master at creating single-family homes, from the Tucson Mountain House to the Desert Nomad House, that stand as odes to their amazing locations in the Southwest desert. Lone Mountain Range house, designed for a Wagyu beef–ranching couple in the high desert of New Mexico, features a slightly askew corrugated metal roof that caps a six-bedroom family retreat. A wooden deck divides the house’s spaces into two wings — one for private spaces and the other for guests’ rooms — and sets the scene: Joy’s homes are designed as much to provide views out as they are to comfortably house those within. And much like his previous projects, this residence is also light on the Earth: it includes a 6,400-gallon rainwater harvesting system, with two water-harvesting tanks at two corners of the building.

5
Vault House by Johnston Marklee, 2013

This isn’t your average beach house. “The owners’ only complaint is that it draws a lot of visitors,” Mark Lee says of Chicago studio Johnston Marklee‘s 2013 Vault House. The house is nestled on a long, narrow lot with minimal beach frontage in Oxnard, California – so Lee, with co-principal Sharon Johnston, conceived the interior as a series of interconnected vaulted spaces that prioritize views out to the North Pacific. On the outside, these gestural voids appear almost sculpted from a monolithic white structure, which includes the low pillars on which the house rests and the side entrance into the central courtyard. Inside, the organic forms frame a double-height living space while acting as a unique backdrop for the owner’s extensive collection of contemporary art. Like the many passersby compelled to pause and peer inside, we’re still looking at this home in awe.

6
Haffenden House by Para Project, 2014

This unusual extension to an ordinary house in Syracuse, New York, is strange and wonderful. Designed by Para Project for two poets who needed more space for a writing studio and library, the three-storey block is wrapped in a gauzy membrane of translucent silicon-impregnated fabric that augments the hand-drawn feel of its rows of tiny windows. As we wrote when the project won the 2015 AZ Award for Best Residential Architecture, the 105-square-metre addition “embodies a profound sense of freedom and luxury.” The interiors are just as unexpected as the facade: The second storey features both the brief-required library – and a dreamy one at that – as well as a concrete tub sunken into the floor.

7
FaHouse by Jean Verville, 2016

If you were to happen on Fahouse in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, you would be forgiven for thinking you had somehow entered a fairytale setting. Clad in black corrugated metal, the strikingly angular home is nearly indiscernible from its hemlock forest surroundings, but up close it makes an unforgettably curious impression. What’s not surprising is who was behind the design: Montreal’s Jean Verville, whose signature style perfectly balances the minimal with the whimsical. For Fahouse (which won an AZ Award for Best Single Family Residential Architecture in 2016), Verville tapped into a familiar typology but made it completely his own.

Fahouse riffs on the A-frame with two exaggerated gables, one of which is perched on a glass box and cantilevered over a concrete terrace, while the other extends nearly all the way to the forest floor. Windows in different sizes and shapes punctuate the exterior to let light inside, where Verville employed a restrained material palette of steel framing, concrete and, most notably, Baltic plywood for the walls and floors. Throughout, sloped half walls, understated linear lighting strips and the odd splash of red are indicative of Verville’s fondness for the unexpected.

8
Rode House by Pezo von Ellrichshausen, 2017

Sofia von Ellrichshausen and Mauricio Pezo have been reinventing the art of living through their residential architecture for over a decade. Rode House, which unlike the firm’s more rectilinear and concrete-faced projects (like Poli, Solo, Loba and Cien), features a more curvaceous form and wood as its warm cladding material, but it’s also an experiment in geometry that elevates the firm’s core ideas. “Its form results from a fairly schematic formal articulation: the intersection of half a cone with half a cylinder,” von Ellrichshausen explains in Azure’s Jan/Feb issue. She goes on to say that this sublime shape was also informed by the geographical site in Chiloé Province, Chile: “This creates a massive wall toward the prevailing winds and a shallow courtyard, with deep shaded terraces, toward the inner bay, protected from the wind.”

9
Ventura House by Tatiana Bilbao, 2017

The global ascent of women architects was, happily, one of the biggest industry phenomena of the 2010s. And a major source of the talent was Mexico. Among that nation’s breakout luminaries is Tatiana Bilbao, who built an international reputation over the decade for her socially minded architecture, especially housing. Bilbao’s Ventura House, a five-sided concrete stunner that clings to a hillside overlooking Monterrey, isn’t exactly in the low-cost category, as her contribution to an experimental Hidalgo community with fellow countrywomen Frida Escobedo and Fernanda Canales is intended to be. But the single-family home exhibits Bilbao’s trademark sensitivity to context and user experience: The elegant modular structure seems to rise organically from its cliffside setting, like a geologic formation, with killer views as a bonus. It also reflects Bilbao’s range and only hints at what the 47-year-old might produce in the future – affordable, opulent and everything in between.

10
Parasite House by MAD, 2019

Hutongs, the narrow alleys and traditional neighbourhoods formed by historic courtyard houses in Chinese urban centres like Beijing, are becoming increasingly scarce as the city makes way for newer, more expansive infrastructure. To combat this erasure, MAD Architects has developed a series of interventions that, alongside renovations to the dilapidated homes, look to re-articulate the importance of these heritage spaces. In their most recent effort (building on their first iteration in 2009), two bulbous metallic forms penetrate an existing structure that once served as the city’s first international hospital to blend contemporary development with this unique Chinese typology. “I hope that these bubbles will serve as vital newborn cells,” says principal Ma Yansong of the mirrored appendages that appear to have grown from within the structure over time, “giving the traditional hutong new life, and revitalizing the community.” (Read the full story.)

If there’s one story that defines the decade in technology, it is Facebook’s journey from innocuous mass bulletin board to the bane of modern democracy. From Cambridge Analytica and Russian trolls to Facebook’s own psychological experiments on its users, the tech giant’s tragic flaws were coming to light just as our collective infatuation with Big Tech and Silicon Valley was giving way to skepticism.

While tech was evolving faster than our brains could keep up, entire industries and cities were being disrupted by game-changers like Amazon, Airbnb and Uber as well as emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. Here, we look at the good and the bad, but especially the most influential trends in technology as they relate to the worlds of architecture, design and urbanism.

1
Wearable Tech Became a Life Saver
Ripple

By the early half of this decade, fitness trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone had become as ubiquitous as reusable water bottles and yoga mats, leading 2014 to be declared “the year of wearable technology.” But more recently, wearables have moved beyond fitness and into healthcare and personal safety. Responsive garments like Pauline van Dongen’s self-initiated Vigour (a cardigan embedded with “stretch sensors” that can better calibrate exercise or physio movements) and the Seismic Powered Suit by Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject (made from lightweight, flexible fabric equipped with “electric muscles” that add power to sitting, standing and walking) aspire to enhance the day-to-day lives of seniors and other people with physical limitations. On a smaller scale, digital hearing aids, clips that alert loved ones of a fall and smart belts with fall-detection 3D motion sensors (which inflate hip-protecting airbags) are contributing to an increased sense of independence and higher quality of life for many.

Worker safety within industries like manufacturing has also seen a marked uptick in gadgets that monitor fatigue, stress levels and even proximity to dangerous equipment. On the more everyday level, accessories like Talsam pendants, Nimb rings and the Ripple are integrated with panic buttons that alert first responders and personal emergency contacts and GPS trackers that covertly keep personal safety at the literal fingertips of the wearer.

Of course, it would be remiss to talk wearables without mentioning Apple Watch. First launched in 2015, it’s now in its fifth generation and can do just about anything: answering calls and sending texts as well as monitoring heart rates and controlling an entire home. And with Canada’s Bell recently announcing its development of a wearable device it claims will outpace both Apple Watch and Fitbit, it’s fair to say we’re only at the starting line of where wearables are headed. – Kendra Jackson

2
The Shared Economy Disrupted Cities
Wework became Manhattan’s biggest office tenant in 2018. Photo by Ajay Suresh via Flickr Commons.

In the beginning, there was eBay. Launched in 1995, the e-commerce website went live without a single product to sell, except for the ability to seamlessly unite sellers and buyers online. But while the roots of the so-called “sharing economy” actually date back decades further than the ’90s, the concept radically altered the nature of commerce – and cities – in the 2010s. In the decade of Airbnb and WeWork, a wave of shared, fluid spaces has transformed the urban sphere.

Marketed with the cosy image of community-building and global friendship, the home-sharing service Airbnb has facilitated the transformation of homes into hotels – thereby removing vital housing supply in the process – even though it was ostensibly created to transform travel. The scale of disruption prompted cities around the world to regulate aggressively, ranging from limitations of how Airbnb and similar services can be used, typically by prohibiting entire homes from being rented and imposing yearly rental-day quotas.

As Airbnb blurred the contours of home, the stratospheric rise (and meteoric fall) of shared workspace provider WeWork did much the same for the office. By 2018, WeWork became the largest commercial tenant in both London and New York, eclipsing the world’s leading companies in its urban real estate footprint. Prior to a drastic devaluation in November, the company set its sights even further, targeting education and co-living as the next frontiers of the sharing revolution. And then there’s the runaway success of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, whose popularity has transformed private cars into public services – all while increasing congestion and reducing transit use in their wake (more on this trend below). In the 2010s, the home, the office and the automobile have been re-imagined – and redesigned – as part of a shared eco-system. – Stefan Novakovic

3
Your Smart Home Started Spying On You

What if the appliances in your home could talk? Better yet, what if your dishwasher, clock, stereo, stove and door lock could all communicate – with you and each other  – by sending information and taking commands? A decade ago, the so-called “smart home” with wifi-connected heating, lighting, media and surveillance systems would have seemed like a techno-fantasy ripped from Blade Runner. Following the release of Amazon Alexa in November 2014 and Google Nest (formerly Google Home) two years later, the automated domestic sphere has become increasingly commonplace, and encompasses security cameras, light switches, thermostats and more.

Google Home. Photo by Jonas Leupe via Unsplash.

While these technologies have tangible applications in providing more effective elder care and equipping homes to support safe aging in place, critics have expressed serious concern over the ultimate ownership of the data they harvest. And, who exactly listens once you’ve uttered “Hey, Google,” particularly as the technologies extend from the domestic interior to the scale of the city. Still, the Smart Home has profoundly shaped how networks of both objects and citizens communicate. And, it will continue to inform how we consider information in the future; it’s estimated that over 9.1 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by the end of 2019. Now, if you think that your home or your phone or your light switch is listening to you, it probably is. – Evan Pavka

4
Gig Work Got Serious

Are you under 40? If so, welcome to the global precariat. In the years following the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the global economy was re-shaped with a lot more gigs – but fewer jobs. Today, the geographic and temporal freedom offered by app-based labour (the likes of Uber, Lyft, Fiverr, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and more) bypasses the mundane 9 to 5 rhythms that defined much of 20th century professional labour. But for all their freedom, gig workers typically aren’t classified as employees, and lack most of the benefits and workplace protections afforded by full-time work.

Uber is a potent case in point. Since 2011, the ride-sharing app has upended the taxicab industry. In lieu of a regulated system of employed drivers and a controlled supply of taxi medallions, the app allowed almost anyone with a driver’s license and a (presentable) car to start offering rides. But controversies regarding labour rights, lack of regulation and a culture of sexual harassment swiftly followed Uber’s explosive success. Drivers are classified not as employees, but as independent contractors. This allows Uber to bypass employment regulations – including minimum wage requirements – in most jurisdictions. At a time of rising global inequality, it spells trouble for workers.

An Uber Eats bicycle courier. Photo by Robert Anasch via Unsplash.

But signs of change are on the horizon already. Drawing inspiration from the 20th century’s industrial labour unions, pushes for expanded labour rights are gaining traction. In Toronto, for example, an ongoing effort to unionize workers of global delivery service Foodora could prove a watershed moment, making the couriers Canada’s first unionized app-based workforce. In the 2010s, ever-growing possibilities allowed workers to do more – from more places – than ever before. In the 2020s, the challenge is more likely to be political than technological. The apps have done their part already; the future of labour will now be decided in the union hall – and the courtroom. – Stefan Novakovic

5
Drones Came of Age
Markel Redondo’s drone images of Spain’s 3.4 million deserted houses

While Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, were first pioneered for military applications, these readily available remote-operated devices are currently used in almost every industry – from agriculture to art and architecture and for such disparate tasks as surveying crops, gathering climate data and monitoring infrastructure. A 2016 study by Goldman Sachs estimated that by 2020 the construction industry would make up the largest consumer group for the technology.

PHOTO: Miguel Ángel Hernández

Almost four year later, drones are routinely used to capture aerial perspectives of construction and building progress. They also grant the ability to scan entire sites, natural and artificial, providing real-time information that can inform a more data-driven design process. Not only shifting how we make architecture or respond to a project’s development, the impact of this technology is also far-reaching in its transforming of architectural representation – how we record and relay the nuances of the built world in light of the saturation of images across social media and the ubiquity of satellite imaging. – Evan Pavka

6
Instagram Shaped Our Environments

One short decade ago, photographs were still largely stored in albums and selfies weren’t yet glints in global influencers’ eyes. Fast forward 10 years and the social media that proliferate today not only support and even demand the documentation of every human moment, but also largely determine how the backdrops for those moments – i.e., the rooms, buildings and environments we all occupy – look, feel and function (or, in many cases, not function).

Take the Vessel, that much-debated piece of epic-scaled sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick for New York City’s Hudson Yards. It was installed in the new riverside neighbourhood with no other apparent purpose than to serve as fodder for Instagram, the most visual of the sharing networks and the most efficient at disseminating those visuals. We can consequently thank the service for the ubiquity of, in no particular order, infinity rooms, millennial-pink palettes, ironic slogans on hotel-room walls and even architectural subterfuge of the kind seen at MVRDV’s Tianjin Library, where officials simulated books to fully stock the towering, undulating stacks. As the decade drew to a close, the pervasiveness of Instagram’s seemingly pernicious effect on design was such that last year The Guardian asked: “Is quality being compromised in pursuit of a striking selfie?”

For the many critics who object to buildings such as the Vessel, the answer is obviously yes. For others, not so much. According to British architect Sam Jacob, the phenomenon is “merely an extension of the ‘Kodak moment,’ or those seaside cut-out boards where you put your head through a hole. Architects have always designed their buildings to be photogenic.” Maybe so, but what isn’t in question is the fact that many architects and designers also admit to using Instagram not only to promote their work but to evaluate the work of their peers and even find inspiration. Are they being adequately informed? Unduly influenced? Think about that for an instant. – Danny Sinopoli

7
Virtual Reality Became an Architect’s Tool

Forget the relative commercial failure of products such as Oculus Rift, which were supposed to turn the general public on to the wonders of virtual reality. For a host of disparate industries, from gaming and entertainment to architecture and design, the undisputed power of VR has become a real and significant disruptor. In the architecture field, VR has made selling an ambitious design idea to clients easier and likelier to succeed. It is facilitating the conceptualization and execution of those ideas, allowing architects to test the feasibility of everything from structural options to wayfinding methods. And it provides both creators and clients with a level of design detail, such as the texture of a particular material or the way light falls in a space, previously unavailable.

The Barclay Center facade consists of 12,000 weathered steel panels that were electronically tagged and assembled using an iPhone app.

And today’s applications are just the beginning. When SHoP Architects used augmented-reality software to design thousands of unique facade panels for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the same technology didn’t extend to the construction site, where workers used traditional drawings to visualize and deploy those panels. Now, though, VR and AR are poised to pervade the entire building process, from design to construction to the way that end users – both on-site and not – experience a space. “Virtual reality allows us to educate the public about landscape design in a more compelling way,” Jared Green of the American Society of Landscape Architects told Azure in 2016 about building public spaces. “It more closely mimics the experience of exploring a place in person and, in part, it recreates that sense of discovery one gets in real life.” – Danny Sinopoli

8
Generative Design Brought AI to the A&D Professions

Generative design is a tool under the umbrella of AI. Its basic premise is that the designer enters a set of parameters and the generative design software uses cloud computing to generate a number of design solutions to choose from. The designer can then feed more parameters into the software to fine-tune the results, but is otherwise shifting the creative problem-solving, and shape-forming, duties to the software. (Among the proponents of the technology is Autodesk, which develops many types of A&D software.) A recent example of generative design is Philippe Starck’s A.I. chair for Kartell. The parameters in that case were how to design for a chair that could be as light as possible while still supporting a human body. After spitting out some forms, the software then was given more parameters that included Starck’s aesthetic style – hence the chair has the sleek feel of something the French designer would have sketched on paper, rather than, say, an amorphous cloud.

While the technology has positive ramifications for design – a parameter might be the minimal use of material, for instance – it holds even more potential in architecture and urban design. One of the interesting aspects of the Sidewalk Toronto proposal is its inclusion of a generative design tool that allows architects and planners to control for building shape and height, density, tree canopy and other aspects of a whole neighbourhood. Working with the Montreal outfit Daily Tous Les Jours, Sidewalk Labs created an interactive prototype of the tool that allows members of the public to appreciate the power that generative design could have in our collective future. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo

9
3D Printing Adapted to (Almost) Any Material
Yves Béhar’s 3D-printed house

When Azure first covered 3D printing in May 2005, we gave it the cover treatment and a title that would prove prescient: “The Shape of Things to Come”. In the time since that article reckoned with the potential ramifications of moving product design into this then-nascent digital realm, the technology has advanced manifold. This past decade, in particular, we saw additive manufacturing go mainstream for better and for worse – we can print organic tissue and medical devices as well as AK-47s – and become adaptable for a whole roster of materials beyond polyester.

Over the last 10 years, designers have been 3D-printing everything from wood jewellery to metal furniture – adapting desktop devices and hacking robotic arms into giant extruders to give form to their ever-more ambitious computer models. Perhaps the most impressive structures that have been realized as a result of this combination of cutting-edge software and newfangled hardware are concrete homes and steel bridges. Joris Laarman has long been at work on a 3D-printed steel pedestrian bridge for Amsterdam (in collaboration with Autodesk’s generative design team). In 2014, Chinese firm Yingchuang New Materials printed 10 buildings in 24 hours; this past year, Yves Béhar brought a more design-oriented aesthetic to this type of endeavour. Might this be part of a solution for building much-needed affordable housing more quickly or just a marketing gimmick? If history is any indicator, the technology will continue to advance in leaps and bounds. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo

10
Facial Recognition is the New Public Space Threat

Facial recognition, or biometrics, encapsulates everything that’s scary about AI. And it’s becoming a pervasive threat to privacy, as it is implemented in everything from our private gadgets to our public spaces. Here’s just a sampling of current uses: China requires facial recognition in all cellphones (the government insists it will prevent identity fraud) and many Chinese cities also insist that public housing developments screen for illegal subletting; it has been introduced to Canadian airports (Vancouver International Airport uses it for Nexus cardholders) and is under consideration for airports and border checkpoints in the U.S.; retail shops and stadiums use the technology to catch shoplifters and reward VIPers, respectively.

Image courtesy Liberty, a UK human rights NGO

Why is it so scary? For many reasons to do with non-consensual surveillance of all stripes, but specifically for two reasons inherent to facial recognition: The technology has been shown to deliver false positives – with a troubling bias: it routinely misidentifies women and people of colour. This faulty information can then be used by government and security forces to apprehend citizens suspected of committing crimes. That’s bad enough in a peaceful, democratic society. In times of civic unrest, a government with the tools to track individuals’ movements is a fundamental threat to personal autonomy and communal safety – it turns the commons into a police state. Many cities are taking the initiative to protest this threat to public and private life. For instance, Portland, Oregon, is working to ban both city bodies and private companies from using facial recognition. It goes without saying that for planners and urbanists, the spectre of facial recognition should be taken into account in how we create and preserve our public spaces. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo

Best Canadian Architecture of the Decade, Casey House

What a decade. Over the last 10 years, Canada’s largest urban centres have dramatically transformed. Relentless high-rise building booms in Toronto and Vancouver are poised to continue into the 2020s, while cities like Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Halifax, have also been re-shaped by development. Noteworthy buildings emerged from a landscape of blue-glass condominiums – think Saucier + Perrotte’s River City – but the country’s most prolific architecture was seldom also its best. The standouts of the past 10 years vary widely in sensibility, function, scale and location. From a pavilion and swimming pool that renegotiates our relationship with nature to a humble HIV/AIDS hospital that reaches out to both body and spirit, here are the decade’s most memorable Canadian architecture projects.

1
60 Richmond Street East by Teeple Architects, 2010

Want to solve the housing crisis? Build 1,000 of these. When 60 Richmond Street welcomed its first residents in 2011, the striking building – defined by a play of colourful, interlocking volumes – represented the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s first new co-operative in 20 years. Teeple Architects’ design exemplifies urban infill. Its resident-run restaurant and training kitchen animate the street (while providing an income source for residents), and its central courtyard creates a sociable green space, with waste from the kitchen and restaurant used as compost for the communal gardens.

According to principal Stephen Teeple, the design was driven by the firm’s interest in “intriguing banalities, where everyday things can be inspirational.” At 60 Richmond, everyday life is a canvas for an expressive design. As the decade unfolded, Teeple’s social housing portfolio expanded with buildings at Alexandra Park. The results, once again, were admirable. It’s affordable housing with a sense of community – and architectural flair. In the 2020s, we’ll need much more of it.

2
Borden Park by GH3, 2013-2018

Over the past decade, Edmonton has made a significant investment in modern architecture by holding design competitions to re-energize its public spaces. Borden Park, in particular, has benefitted from this increased attention – and Toronto’s GH3 has had a major role to play. The Borden Park Pavilion was the first of several interventions by the architecture and urbanism firm, which also designed the magnificent natural swimming pool that recently opened there (one of our favourite projects of 2018).

Reminiscent of a carousel that once stood on its footprint, the pavilion is a circular folly framed by 92 V-shaped trusses and clad in mirrors. The wooden stools along its inner perimeter offer a spot of repose, adding a second layer of functionality to this building, which is primarily a public bathroom. That’s right, a public bathroom – and a beautifully considered one that was honoured with the 2018 Governor General’s Award for Outstanding Architecture.

3
Sisters of St. Joseph Residence by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, 2013
Best Canadian Architecture of the Decade

Perched above a ravine and overlooking Toronto’s Don Valley, this healthcare facility and assisted living residence carves out a unique architectural identity for an uncommon client: the Sisters of St. Joseph, one of the city’s oldest congregations. The project was designed by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects – internationally known for its renowned Integral House and more recently for Toronto’s under-construction Ace Hotel – and represents the firm’s first foray into healthcare design.

The curved structure blends into its surrounding landscape with a circular chapel and an exterior reflecting pool at the heart of the building. The four-storey, 8,900-square-metre facility houses 58 residential suites for elderly nuns. Inside, expansive windows and panoramic views into the valley allow for an abundance of natural light, while the striking exterior is clad in weathering steel, rusted to deep red and emerald green.

Sustainability was a focus, too. The use of solar panel collectors, green roofs and geothermal heating and cooling make for an efficient building – one defined by simplicity and beauty.

4
Audain Art Museum by Patkau Architects, 2016

Over the past 10 years, a number of praiseworthy art museums have been built from the ground up in Canada – the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, the Remai Modern in Saskatoon – but the one that perhaps comes closest to perfection, synthesizing function, context and aesthetics sublimely, is nestled amid a stand of towering trees in a reclaimed meadow in Whistler, B.C.: the Audain Art Museum by Patkau Architects of Vancouver.

Housing 10 galleries and nearly 200 works of art, the 5,200-square-metre pitched-roof structure is both a presence in and deferent to its pristine forest setting. At a key entry point, a wide wood-plank staircase leads to an elevated glass walkway through which the woods behind are visible. Observed from those woods, the building’s angular form, clad in black metal panels, appears “to recede into the shadows of the surrounding forest,” as the architects put it. This subservience to site, however, is more than merely cosmetic: Located on a floodplain, the museum is raised a full storey above ground to protect it from inundation, allowing passage from one side of the meadow to the other in the process.

According to the architects, whose firm also realized another notable B.C. museum – the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver – this past decade, the “deliberately restrained” Audain was designed first and foremost as a backdrop to art and to nature. And while that is certainly the case, it’s also just as likely that the museum itself will become as time-honoured as many of the pieces within it, once again proving, as the Patkaus so often do, the power of understatement.

5
Casey House by Hariri Pontarini Architects, 2017

When Casey House opened in 1988, it was the world’s only dedicated HIV/AIDS hospital. When the first patient was brought into the makeshift Toronto hospice, a medical team in gowns, masks and gloves transported the man inside, never daring to touch him. But the staff at Casey House met him with an open embrace, establishing an ethos of openness and courage that endures today.

Thirty years later, the treatment of HIV/AIDS is different, and so is Casey House. Opened in 2017, the hospital’s new home, designed by Siamak Hariri of Hariri Pontarini Architects, elegantly combines a restored Victorian mansion with a volume of glass, stone and brick, and introduces a spirit-lifting ambiance to the healthcare setting. Framed in rough-cut stone, the fireplace in the lobby lounge establishes a sense of comfort that permeates through the building. A slender central courtyard brings greenery and light to the innermost reaches of the building, while shared spaces underscore a sense of intimacy. Seldom does the romance of home take on such resonance.

To embody the spirit of kindness – even love – in a building is a remarkable feat. Architects are rarely granted the opportunity to work with such a powerful history and program, but having the grace to pull it off with such aplomb is rarer still. It is a masterpiece.

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Brock Commons Tallwood House by Acton Ostry Architects, 2017

At the start of the decade, concrete and steel still reigned supreme as the building materials of choice in Canada. But a lot can change in 10 years and soon a new (well, old) alternative began gaining traction as a go-to for Canadian architects and builders – wood. At the vanguard of the movement is Vancouver architect Michael Green, a long-time advocate for “building with advanced wood products and technologies” who, in his 2013 TED Talk, campaigned for a worldwide adoption of wood-framed skyscrapers. Innovations such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), glulam and other engineered woods add literal strength to his argument, offering sustainable options to steel and reinforced concrete.

An impressive realization of the potential of the readily available and renewable resource, Brock Commons Tallwood House by Acton Ostry Architects was awarded the title of world’s tallest mass-wood tower when it was completed in 2017. Standing 53 metres tall, the structure combines wood, steel and concrete to a degree that stores 1,753 metric tons of carbon dioxide and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 679 metric tons: set on a concrete foundation (with two concrete stair cores), the 17 upper floor plates are made from CLT panels and glulam columns. What’s more, the LEED Gold certified building with its vertically striated prefabricated facade took only 66 days to erect. While it recently lost its tallest building title, it helped set the stage for a wave of mass-timber hybrid structures across the country.

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Illusuak Cultural Centre by Saunders Studio, 2018

Cultural spaces in the North are scarce, particularly so in Nunatsiavut. While the last decade saw much-needed infrastructure added to many of Canada’s northernmost communities, this self-governing territory in Labrador (one of the four regions of Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland) only recently opened the doors of the Illusuak Cultural Centre in its capital of Nain, courtesy of Saunders Studio.

The winding Kebony wood–clad structure functions as a new community nexus. Containing an auditorium, café, craft shop, studio space, theatre and five permanent exhibitions, the 1,200-square-metre centre not only frames the celebration of Nunatsiavumiut traditions, language, stories and art, but is also a material beacon of the cultural revival echoing throughout the North. Though perhaps best known for the multi-site architectural, artistic and economic model of Fogo Island, Newfoundland expat and principal Todd Saunders looked to another coastal vernacular for inspiration when it came to Illusuak: traditional Inuit sod huts as well as contemporary residences.

“What I realized in Nain was that people met privately in one another’s homes,” Saunders recently told Azure. “So I conceived Illusuak as a living room.” While school gymnasiums and homes are all too often the only option for gatherings in rural communities, Illusuak reveals the successes of a community-based approach to community-centred architecture. And one that finds the profound beauty in the constraints of building in remote locales.

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Calgary Central Library by Snøhetta and Dialog, 2018

The architectural potential of libraries as statement-making community hubs came to the fore this decade – at least in Canada – with the 2014 unveiling of Halifax Central Library, an ecstatically received five-storey flagship designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen of Denmark with local firm Fowler Bauld & Mitchell. In terms of refining the typology into a seamless fusion of artistry, architecture and infrastructure, however, the epitome arrived some four years later in the form of Calgary’s main facility, an equally lauded, $245-million joint venture between Snøhetta and the Canadian firm Dialog.

Perched above an LRT station, the triangular building on a curved half-moon plot rises around a series of wooden arches – inspired by the chinooks that sweep through the prairie city in winter – before blending into the already iconic hexagonal glazing above. The chinook motif is repeated in wooden walkways that swirl around a 25-metre-high atrium connecting, both physically and symbolically, the library’s East Village setting to downtown Calgary. Inside, the idea of the modern library as more than just a repository for books is reinforced by the multitude of seamlessly integrated functional spaces, including digital commons, performance halls and a showcase for Native art.

Almost miraculously, Calgary’s newest showpiece building is both intensely local in look and feel and universal in scope. In this sense, it serves as a model not just for libraries, but for any type of gathering space.

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62M by 5468796 Architecture, 2018

Here’s something different: 62M, by the inventive firm 5468796 Architecture, led by partners Johanna Hurme, Sasa Radulovic and Colin Neufeld. A circular, two-storey building on 20 sculptural columns, the Winnipeg project features two layers of 40 prefab wedge-shaped units. It has become a novel new landmark on the city’s skyline, its weathering steel, glass and chain-link palette proving that not all multi-unit buildings need be steel-and-blue-glass pillars. And yet 62M’s form was secondary to the overall intention. 

“We weren’t chasing iconography,” Radulovic told Azure when the project opened. “The distinct shape came from trying to resolve the challenges of both the site and budget.” Hurme reinforced his point: “We hated the idea at first. Who is going to propose a round thing on stilts? The more we studied it, though, the more sense it made.”

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Idea Exchange Old Post Office by RDHA, 2018
AZ Awards, Idea Exchange Old Post Office

What does a library without books look like? In taking over a former post office in Cambridge (originally built in 1885 overlooking the Grand River in Southwestern Ontario), Toronto studio RDHA‘s answer was two-fold: First, renovating the once derelict masonry building and, second, adding a series of crisp glass additions that shape the heritage structure into a 21st-century institution.

In lieu of traditional stacks, creative studios occupy the lower level, with the main floor housing the café and core reading room (and almost appearing to slide off the embankment). Above sit the discovery centre and a suspended glass reading room that dramatically cantilevers toward the water’s edge. A makers space fills the pre-existing attic, below angular wood bracing trimmed in brilliant white. As the inaugural recipient of the AZ Award for Adaptive Re-Use, Idea Exchange expertly celebrates and elevates its heritage foundation – firmly anchored in the present while looking on toward the future.