December 24, 2015

Year in Review: 15 Design Moments that Defined 2015

With the continuing recovery of the U.S. economy, 2015 saw audacious moves from architects and clients alike. New York City, in particular, witnessed the completion of a number of major projects, even as the tides turn for projects and organizations elsewhere. Meanwhile, technology continues to yield new opportunities for design, both in terms of innovation and simply budgets. As 2015 draws to a close, here are the year’s top 15 gamechanging moments for architecture and design.

15. BIG x Heatherwick Google Campus

With the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Facebook headquarters and regular progress reports on Apple’s Norman-Foster-designed “Spaceship,” Google has enlisted not one but two rising stars of architecture for its new Mountain View home base. London-based polymath Thomas Heatherwick and Danish provocateur Bjarke Ingels have teamed up to design a sprawling series of soaring glass canopies that would enclose a utopian indoor/outdoor campus.

14. End in sight for Calatrava’s WTC station

Derided by some as “the world’s most expensive transit hub,” the blockbuster WTC PATH terminal is an infamous case of infrastructural construction woes by now, coming in at $3.7 billion—nearly double its original budget—after years of delays. Even so, with the opening of the iconic Oculus this fall, visitors and commuters alike can enjoy Santiago Calatrava’s design as it comes to fruition, nearly 12 years since it was first announced.

13. 3D printing for building applications

Yingchuang, a Shanghai-based construction company, unveiled its first 3D-printed houses—modest, one-story, 2,000-square-foot boxes with pitched roofs—last year, but this year has seen their subsidiary WinSun take strides in the construction technology. As of 2015, they’ve scaled up to a five-story apartment building, as well as unveiling a villa of nearly 12,000 square feet. mixture of recycled construction and industrial waste.

12. Frei Otto posthumously awarded Pritzker Prize

In a case of unfortunate timing, the Pritzker Prize went to a deceased architect for the first time in its 36-year history this year. Nevertheless, Frei Otto, best known for the 1972 Munich Olympic Arena, was reportedly pleased to receive one of architecture’s most prestigious honors shortly before his passing (and the public announcement of this year’s winner).

11. Opening of the Downtown Whitney

Designed from scratch by museum maestro Renzo Piano, this April saw the grand opening of the Whitney Museum’s new purpose-built museum at the foot of the High Line. Although the building itself was met with mixed reviews—the boxy, industrial exterior conceals nicely scaled galleries within—it is by all accounts a milestone for both the institution and the Meatpacking District, mutually affirming their imprimatur.

10. R.I.P. Michael Graves (1934-2015)

Both the architecture community and the world at large will sorely miss Michael Graves following his death in March of this year. As a member of the New York Five and a canonical Memphis architect, the pioneering postmodernist made his name with distinctive buildings throughout the States, as well as branching out into industrial design for Alessi, Target, and more recently Stryker Medical Group.

9. EXPO 2015

Although the notion of the World’s Fair has waxed and waned since the first one in 1851 London, the event typology has recently seen a resurgence as Milan follows Shanghai’s 2010 event with this year’s expo. From May 1 to October 31, a 270-acre site in the northwestern outskirts of the city hosted some 22 million visitors, who came to experience the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

8. Chicago Architecture Biennial

The Chicago Architectural Biennial marks the first major event of its kind in the U.S. in the modern era. Directors Joseph Grima and Sarah Herda invited over 100 firms from around to world to join them in exploring “The State of the Art of Architecture”—an open-ended theme that invited a variety of creative responses.

7. NYC Microapartments nearly complete

As of last month, dedicated downsizers can lease a unit in Carmel Place, New York City’s first micro-apartment building, The modular, prefabricated building—nArchitects’ competition-winning design—is nearing completion with an occupancy date of February 2016. With the option of built-in, convertible and/or extendable furnishings, the 55 studio apartments come in at 260 to 360 square feet, an exception to the 400-square-foot minimum regulation in NYC.

6. DS+R’s Broad Museum in L.A.

A noteworthy addition to the West Coast art scene, the long-anticipated Broad contemporary art museum finally opened its doors in September. Sited next to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, the Diller Scofido + Renfro-designed museum serves as a public exhibition space for selections from philanthropist Eli Broad’s extensive art collection—most of the galleries are free.

5. Newson’s Lockheed Lounge sells for a record $3.7 million

Marc Newson is perhaps among the few industrial designers who might be a household name, not least for making headlines this April, when a Lockheed Lounge sold for a whopping $3.7 million at a Philips design auction. The London-based Australian designer made only ten of the parametric aluminum-and-fiberglass chaises; a prototype set the previous record for a design object when a prototype Lockheed Lounge sold for $2.1 million in 2010.

4. Japan Cancels Zaha Hadid’s Tokyo Stadium Design

A perennial newsmaker in the architecture and design world, the ever-outspoken Zaha Hadid stood her ground when the Japanese government announced that it would not be moving forward with the Olympic stadium design by the British-Iranian architect, citing the high cost and mixed public reaction. After an unsuccessful campaign to reinstate her design, two new options have recently been unveiled for alternate options.


3. Frank Lloyd Wright UNESCO World Heritage Site Nomination

Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy has long been recognized for his enduring influence; now the FLW Building Conservancy and State Department are looking to make it official and international. For a nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, ten iconic Wright buildings, located in seven states, were selected as a representative sample of his work (which comprises some 400 existing buildings in all).


2. Architecture for Humanity files for bankruptcy

In surprising (and sad) news to kick off the new year, Architecture For Humanity announced that they’d be shuttering after a 16-year run as a global nonprofit organization. Founded by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr in 1999, the San-Francisco-based organization set out to bring quality design to those in need and is survived by over 50 local chapters around the world.


1. Venturi & Scott Brown receive AIA Gold Medal

Having changed its bylaws to allow joint winners for the AIA Gold Medal in 2013, the American Institute of Architects is pleased to announce that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown are the 2016 winners of the coveted award.

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