Year in Architecture 2012

For our last Insight feature of 2012, World-Architects is taking a look back at the events, significant projects, and passings of the last 12 months, while also taking a look ahead at projects expected to be completed next year. Our month-by-month recapitulation of the year in architecture is not meant to be comprehensive, but hopefully it will remind readers of some of the things worth remembering as time continues its march forward.
OMA: CCTV Building, Beijing. Photo: Jim Gourley 


A new year often begins with simultaneous glances backward and forward, typically taking the form of "best of" lists from the previous year and resolutions for moving forward. An optimistic tendency pervades both temporal views, but at the beginning of 2012—in the United States, at least—the picture was not so rosy. A few days after the auld lang synes subsided, a Georgetown University report on unemployment rates of recent graduates was released. CNN Money started their report of the story with a bit of a wake-up call: "If you want the best odds of getting a job after graduation, don't major in architecture." The findings revealed an unemployment rate just shy of 14% for recent architecture graduates—twice that of the numbers for engineering, business, and psychology and social work. Only arts degrees were in the double digits, yet still 3% lower than architecture.

More sour news came with Barclays Capital's January 10 report on the "Skyscraper Index," subtitled "Bubble building." The Skyscraper Index reveals the correlation between construction of the world's tallest building and financial crises, such as with the Empire State Building in 1930, the Sears Tower in 1974, the Petronas Towers in 1997, and Burj Khalifa in 2010. Barclays' report cautions investors focused on China's building boom, of which the CCTV Headquarters by OMA (pictured above, upon its official completion in May) is just one small part. The report also warns about India, which may be lagging behind China in the number of tall buildings, but it is currently building the Tower of India, what will be the second tallest building in the world when complete in 2016. If the Tower of India is the next marker of a financial crisis, one thing is certain: the time frame between crises continues to speed up.
Amateur Architecture Studio: Ningbo History Museum Ningbo, China, 2008. Photo: Lv Hengzhong 


Some good news came at the end of this leap-year month when Chinese architect Wang Shu was awarded the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the field's highest honor. At the age of 48 Wang Shu became the first Chinese citizen to win the prestigious award. Critics pointed out the synergy of the award with the Pritzker-owned Hyatt Hotel's increasing presence in China, yet the Hyatt Foundation administers the prize separately from the hotel business. Another critical oversight is the fact Lu Wenyu, Wang Shu's wife and partner at Amateur Architecture Studio, did not share the award, but this is not surprising, given that the award to Robert Venturi did not acknowledge Denise Scott Brown, and only two women have received the prize among 37 recipients. Regardless of these criticisms, Wang Shu's architecture is highly admirable for many of its qualities, especially in terms of material and construction; the Ningbo History Museum (pictured) is a great case in point. The Pritzker jury was particularly fond of his ability to "evoke the past, without making direct references to history...Wang Shu's work is able to transcend that debate, producing an architecture that is timeless, deeply rooted in its context and yet universal."
Navy Pier Redesign Competition. Image: James Corner Field Operations 


After four design teams were shortlisted for "Pierscape"—a new vision for the public spaces of Navy Pier in Chicago—the team led by James Corner Field Operations was named victorious. Navy Pier is the city's most popular attraction, but the winning team summed up what can often be a frustrating place: "much of the present experience is inwardly focused, awkwardly jumbled and disconnected from the drama of being out on the water." Their design (pictured above) envisions a sequence of distinct spaces—"the front porch," "the magic room," "the fun room," "the lake room," etc.—along the southern edge of the 1,000-meter (3,300-foot) pier. Construction of the winning proposal is scheduled for completion by 2016, when Navy Pier celebrates its centennial.

This month also saw the completion of John McAslan + Partners' redevelopment of the historic King's Cross Station in London and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, designed by Santiago Calatrava. At the end of the month the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction announced the winners of its prestigious international competition. 
The Gold Award was given to the "secondary school with passive ventilation system" in Gando, Burkina Faso, designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré; the Silver Award went to the "urban remediation and civic infrastructure hub" in São Paulo, Brazil, designed by Urban Think Tank; and the Bronze Award went to the "urban renewal and swimming-pool precinct" in Berlin, Germany, designed by realities:united.
Light+Building: Roof of light. Photo: Projektbuero Luminale  


One of our favorite yearly events is the Light+Building fair that happens each spring in Frankfurt. World-Architects organized eight guided tours with prominent lighting designers for the 2012 fair. With so much to see at the exhibition center, the guided tours were a popular means of taking in the best of the fair's products and displays. Frankfurt itself became a backdrop for the fair, as the above photo of Norman Foster's Commerzbank bathed in yellow light attests.
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects: The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: © Tom Crane 2012 


On May 26 the Barnes Foundation opened its new building in Philadelphia designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. The foundation controversially moved the art collection of the late Albert Barnes from his estate in nearby Lower Merion to a prominent location downtown. While the move allows more people to experience Barnes's collection and his idiosyncratic displays of paintings and sculptures, detractors pointed to his stipulation that the art remain "as is" after his death. Still other critics questioned the faithful recreation of early 20th-century rooms inside a contemporary wrapper, but the sensitive design by Williams and Tsien has silenced most detractors. Even the duo has spoken about their hesitancy in taking on the project, but they managed to balance the stipulations for historical exactitude with a contemporary expression for the foundation, the latter in the form of a cantilevered lightbox that caps the central space flanking the galleries.
Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei: Serpentine Gallery. Photo: Luke Hayes, courtesy Serpentine Gallery 


One thing becoming increasingly common around the world is to celebrate the warm months of summer with a temporary architecture installation. The Serpentine Gallery has been doing it since the year 2000, when they installed a tent designed by Zaha Hadid. The usual list of big name architects has followed, most recently with Herzog & de Meuron working with their long-distance companion Ai Weiwei. Opening on the first of June, the pavilion dug underground to reveal the foundations of the previous pavilions (not really, but such was the intention), with cork lining the excavated space below a slightly pitched roof topped with water. Yet as temporary architecture is erected in the spring and taken down in the fall, questions of waste arise. Thankfully the Serpentine Gallery has considered this in their pavilions, many of which have been given a second life on other sites.

June also saw the passing of Austrian architect Günther Domenig at the age of 77, and Zaha Hadid being named a Dame as part of the Queen's birthday honors.
magma architecture: London Olympics shooting venue. Photo: Hufton + Crow 


In the world of architecture, the summer of 2012 will be remembered as the Summer of London, mainly because of its high-profile hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but also for the completion of the 95-story Shard designed by Renzo Piano. The Olympics are part of a long-term plan to transform East London from one of the city's poorest sections, marked by industrial decline to a site of housing, parks, and sports facilities adapted for reuse. While the city improved infrastructure leading up to the games, the architecture of the Olympics was marked by stadia and other structures by familiar names (Zaha Hadid, Michael Hopkins, Populous). Some buildings, like the shooting facilities designed by magma architecture (pictured above) were temporary structures whose parts were reused or recycled.

Three weeks before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the Shard was inaugurated, even though it will not open to the public until early 2013. Easily the tallest building in London, and for the time being the tallest in the EU, the appropriately named pyramidal tower has been controversial for its extreme presence in South London's low-scale urban scape. Furthermore, at the time of inauguration a large number of the 72 office floors were yet to be rented, and combined with the propping up of the buildng with money from the royal family of Qatar, the building has been seen as another example of the Skyscraper Index (see January, above).
Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Photo: John Hill/ 


Common Ground was the name of the 13th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, which opened to the public on August 29 and wrapped up its run 3 months later. Director David Chipperfield explained the Biennale's theme as a means to give the public a better means of understanding architects' concerns, interests, and commitments. was in attendance for the exhibition's preview, filing three reports: the first on the Common Ground installations in the Arsenale; the second focused on the national pavilions in the Giardini; and the third toured the Common Ground installations in the Central Pavilion. Thankfully, the Biennale only happens every two years (appropriately); it's a tiring experience that leaves one overwhelmed with the amount of international architectural output today.
Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti: Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art. Photo: © 2012 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Ruault 


The first of two major projects completed in 2012 for the Musée du Louvre opened in September: the New Department of Islamic Art designed by Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini (SANAA's museum in Lens followed in December). The French and Italian architect filled the Visconti Courtyard at the Louvre's home in Paris, capping the galleries with an undulating "veil" of glass and metallic, golden mesh (pictured above).

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, designed by SHoP Architects with Ellerbe Becket, also opened in September. The rusty steel-clad arena is the first part of the controversial Atlantic Yards project for developer Forest City Ratner. The arena is the home for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team (previously the New Jersey Nets), but it is also a venue for concerts and other events; the center opened to the public with eight concerts by Jay-Z, who happens to have a teeny bit of ownership in the Nets.
Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Grant Associates: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo: Robert Such, courtesy of Grant Associates 


If any month was crammed with events of architectural significance in 2012 it was October, which started with awards but ended with natural disaster. The World Architecture Festival traveled to Singapore for the first time, awarding the Building of the Year to the Cooled Conservatories in the host city, designed by London’s Wilkinson Eyre Architects. The Royal Institute of British Architects named Peter Zumthor its 2013 Royal Gold Medal winner, and then awarded the 2012 Stirling Prize to the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, designed by Stanton Williams.

A couple of notable projects were completed this month: the FDR Four Freedoms Park designed by Louis I. Kahn at the time of his death four decades ago; and the Galaxy Soho office and retail complex in Beijing designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Yet the deaths of four architects also occurred in October: Ulrich Franzen (January 15, 1921 - October 6, 2012), John Johansen (June 29, 1916 – October 26, 2012), Lebbeus Woods (May 31, 1940 – October 30, 2012), and Gae Aulenti (December 4, 1927 – October 31, 2012). This blanket of sadness that seemed to coalesce near the end of the month was exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall on the New Jersey coast on October 29, pushing tidal surges into coastal areas that included New York City, where blackouts and fires accompanied the flooding. The impact of Sandy is still being dealt with months later, but at least the disaster is forcing politicians to finally take steps toward addressing global warming.
Zaha Hadid Architects: Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Photo: Paul Warchol 


Two projects in the United States designed by European "starchitects" opened their doors in November. Herzog & de Meuron's Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, Long Island, opened to some critical acclaim on November 10. The 615-foot-long (187-meter) building was the second pass for the Swiss architects, who initially created a cluster of individual units for the generous site. Further west, in East Lansing, Michigan, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (pictured above) designed by Zaha Hadid Architects was completed. The angled building features a ridged stainless steel facade that accentuates the dynamic form.
Congresso Nacional do Brasil at Brasilia. Photo: Eurico Zimbres/wikimedia commons 


More starchitecture was realized in the last month of 2012: the Louvre Lens in France designed by SANAA; the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, designed by Morphosis; and OMA's design for the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in China. This cluster of high-profile architecture—wrapping up in December like late-year films squeezing in under the wire for Oscar nominations—could not overshadow the death of Oscar Niemeyer on December 5, just shy of his 105th birthday. It's hard to imagine the architectural icons of 2012 without the influential, curving architecture of the Brazilian architect.


A Look Ahead to 2013

Here we note a few projects that are expected to be completed next year. Of course, things have a way of changing in architecture and construction, so please don't be upset with us next year if these buildings aren't done!
Coop Himmelb(l)au: House of Music II in Aalborg, Denmark. (Rendering and construction progress) 
CRAB Studio: Departments of Law and Central Administration,Vienna University. (Rendering and construction progress) 
CRAB Studio: Soheil Abedian School of Architecture in Queensland, Australia. (Rendering and construction progress) 
Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Broad Art Foundation in Los Angeles. (Rendering © Diller Scofidio + Renfro, construction progress as of December 2012) 
Herzog & de Meuron: Messe Basel, Switzerland. (Rendering: Herzog & de Meuron, construction photo: MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) Ltd.) 
Perkins + Will, et. al.: United States Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Rendering and construction progress as of November 2012) 
Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Kimbell Art Museum Expansion in Fort Worth, Texas. (Site Plan © 2010 Renzo Piano Building Workshop; aerial from Google Maps) 
Rudy Ricciotti Architecte: Musée des Civilisations d’Europe et de Méditerranée in Marseilles, France. (Rendering and construction progress) 
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: One World Trade Center in New York City. (Rendering courtesy of Durst Organization, photo by John Hill/ 
Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects: Taichung Metropolitan Opera House in Taichung, Taiwan. (Model view and construction progress as of November 2012) 
John Hill
Published on
Dec 7, 2012