As 2022 marks the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways of conducting and operating building businesses have already changed drastically. However, even though the global health crisis kept disrupting on-ground operations, it by no means stopped creativity. 2021 brought the launch or development of some of the most ambitious architectural projects of our times, many of which united under the themes of sustainability, inclusion, and robust public spaces.
In 2021, the Venice Architectural Biennale, one of the most critical events in the world of architecture, posed the question: “How will we live together?” This question has never been more relevant in times of a global health crisis and a climate emergency. The following six top architecture projects of 2021 are different attempts to answer this question.
The projects are set in a diverse range of places, from a tiny island nation to a bustling peri-urban area. They vary in size, budgets, and the needs they’re catering for, hinting at possibilities about our future.
1. Wormhole Library in China by MAD Architects
For bookworms that forget the world while immersed in reading or research, Chinese architecture studio MAD built the perfect library, with the intention of “[being] a wormhole that transcends time and space.”
Sitting in the city of Haikou, the capital of the island-province of Hainan, this curved white building resembles a block of Emmental cheese. The oval windows and hollowed spaces are designed to appear organic as if they were holes created by a worm.
Its creators, MAD Architects, famous for their human-centric futurism, describe the library: “Within the library, people interact directly with both the sky and sea. Humans are no longer the dominant beings, and architecture is no longer the dominant vessel. The visitor experience is instead a ‘glimpse into the universe’ – abstract but infinite.”
2. ‘Valley’ in the Netherlands by MVRDV
Amsterdam, which established itself as one of the epicenters of architecture and sustainability innovations, is now home to Valley, a mixed-use project containing apartments, shops, offices, cultural institutes, and a creative center.
Valley sits in the Zuidas district and has already changed the face of Amsterdam’s financial heart, which was typically full of concrete and glass skyscrapers. The most striking feature of this sustainable architecture masterpiece is a “facade-landscape”: In this emerald green valley of buildings, different levels of the courtyard garden are linked by staircases.
Its creator, MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas, explains the vision behind the Valley: “You go from a corporate CBD, like the ones you know all over the planet, into a human and green environment, forming a literal and visual transition towards the city of tomorrow: a city that is green and accessible, dense and human.”
3. Floating Music Hub in Cape Verde by NLÉ Works
Since its opening in August 2021, a floating music venue gently bobs to African rhythms in Cape Verde, on the northern coast of the island of São Vicente. The hub’s three A-shaped vessels with colorful glazing are anchored around a triangular floating plaza. The visitors can enjoy the rich musical heritage of the tiny West African island nation standing on it, breathing the breeze of the Atlantic Ocean.
This unique cultural hub was a brainchild of the Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi of NLÉ Works, in partnership with ADS Group – Africa Development Solutions. With a state-of-the-art performance hall and a recording studio, Floating Music Hub is now promoting music, dance, art, and other creative industries in Africa and the diaspora.
“Cape Verde was historically one of the last points of departure from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade, leading to the births of great new genres of music. It tells a story about that journey and a history of African people and their diaspora,” says Adeyemi, about the inspiration behind his project.
“It’s a way to expand Cape Verde’s cultural impact, create a platform for local musicians, and bring international artists to record and co-create.”
4. Hermès Atelier in France by Lina Ghotmeh
Hermès, which initially specialized in the production of equestrian harnesses and bridles in the 19th century, has long taken its spot as one of the world’s most sought-after luxury brands.
Even though the brand has significantly diversified its product range by now, Hermès bosses wanted a new leather workshop with a nod to its passion for horses and excellent craftsmanship. The result was the Hermès Atelier, which now sits in Normandy, designed by the Lebanese-born and Paris-based architect Lina Ghotmeh. The single-line brick building incarnates movement and evokes the galops of a horse through the spanning arches that form its frame.
The building is carbon positive through its energy production. This means Hermès is the first high-end manufacturer in France that will positively impact its environment.
5. House of Hungarian Music by Sou Fujimoto
Nestled within Budapest’s City Park trees, the House of Hungarian Music resembles a mushroom nibbled by some wild animals on an autumn day in this park.
Designed by Sou Fujimoto, it features an extensive, horizontally uninterrupted glass volume topped by a roof. Its organic-looking holes and asymmetries allow all levels of the building to soak in natural light.
However, this doesn’t mean the building has irregularities: The technological solutions applied make it possible for visitors to perceive and experience the foundations of musical harmony in the most optimized and joyful way possible.
Even though it’s only launched in 2021, House of Hungarian Music has already won the World’s Best Use of Music in Property Development Award at the American Music Cities Awards.
6. Las Americas Social Housing in Mexico by SO – IL
As the world is grappling with a housing crisis due to rising urbanization and population, the Las Americas Social Housing project in the city of León in Mexico proves that solutions can be sustainable and stunning.
The eight-shaped housing development is a prototype for vertical developments in Central Mexico, sitting in an industrial zone that has experienced a lot of urban sprawl. SO – IL, the New York-based architecture firm headed by Dutch Florian Idenburg, designed the building highly cost-efficient, using prefabricated components.
Despite housing 60 units in a dense area, those who live in Las Americas Social Housing will have complete privacy thanks to its design features using innovative forms of curves and facades.
“How will we live together?”: Social, Sustainable, Sensual
As reflected by our selection of the top six architecture projects of 2021, people’s demands from their built environment are changing. In answering the most vehement concerns of our times, societies will want to live and work in places that are social yet private; sustainable without compromising from comfort; and technological while still human-centric.
Especially in pandemic years when people spend more time than ever within their built environments, they’ll also expect architectural experiences to be sensual ones, engaging more than just the eyes.
However, with the help of advancing building technologies and material science, there’s no doubt that designers and architects are increasingly more well-poised to answer these needs in 2022 and beyond.