A cemetery in Sweden. A floating school in Nigeria. A cast-iron facade in the UK. The wildly divergent list of nominees for the Design Museum’s annual awards make you wonder: How the hell do you pick a single building to represent such a broad profession?
A little background: Every year, the Design Museum picks a group of nominees for its Best Design of the Year award — they hail from genres like product design and UX design, as well as architecture. In April, it will announce a single winner — last year, it was a government website — but it would be nice to see a building win this year.
You could be cynical about why so many awards exist — after all, this is mainly a way to drum up publicity for the museum. But on the other hand, it also gives us a chance to ogle a bunch of really interesting pieces of design that might not normally come across the radar. Check out the shortlist below.
Paul Smith Store Facade designed by 6a Architects
Cast iron ornamentation isn’t something you often see on buildings from this century — but this amazing decorative facade revives a lost art, creating “a sharp contrast to the neighbouring Georgian townhouses”, reports the jury. “A sinuous pattern of interlocking circles puts an abstract spin on a classic Regency shape, while curved windows nod to the glass in nearby arcades.”
Makoko Floating School, Nigeria by NLÉ and the Makoko Community Building Team
Floating structures have been built in prototype form all over the world, as flood levels rise in low-lying countries. In Makoko, a water community in Nigeria, inexpensive materials and local know-how created this model for a building that, in theory, could be repeated in coastal areas across the globe.
The New Crematorium at the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm by Johan Celsing
“Built on an undulating terrain in a wild wood section of the Woodland Cemetery, the New Crematorium features exposed white concrete and white glazed bricks in a building which is at once robust and sensitive,” say the jury of this understated, dignified crematorium outside of Stockholm.
Wa Shan Guesthouse in Hangzhou, China by Wang Shu
Wang Shu, the winner of last year’s Pritzker Prize, built this guesthouse at the China Academy of Art. Amazing plays on materiality and craft — check out the woodwork under the eves — make it a fascinating but understated building.
St Moritz Church in Augsburg, Germany, by John Pawson
An old Baroque church in Augsburg might seem like an unlikely addition to the shortlist — but architect John Pawson’s overhaul of its interior is beautiful and sparse, “drawing the eye to the apse ‘the threshold to transcendence’ which is designed as a room of light.”
Mont de Marsan Mediatheque designed by archi5
“Standing in an austere military quadrangle drill yard, the Media Library is an uplifting cultural symbol,” say the curators of Arch5’s contribution to the list. “Designed as a covered cultural square, its transparent planes generously open to the view of the public.”
Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan designed by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher
Zaha Hadid’s elaborate Heydar Aliyev Center — a controversial building in a Baku, a city with its fair share of white elephant architecture — made the list nonetheless. “Elaborate undulations, bifurcations, folds and inflections modify this plaza surface into an architectural landscape that performs a multitude of functions,” say jury members.
Frac Nord-Pas De Calais in Dunkerque, designed by Anne Lacaton & Jean Philippe Vassal
An old dry dock was the site of this amazing gut renovation: Lacaton & Vassal turned the ageing warehouses into a contemporary art centre filled with galleries and event spaces. The transparent roofline — which hosts one such space — looks incredible:
Frac Centre in Orleans, France, designed by Jakob + MacFarlane
Somehow, another Frac venue also clinched a nomination — this one in Orleans. Its faceted facade looks like it was pulled straight out of Maya (which some will see as a negative), and each panel is embedded with tiny LEDs that shift to broadcast data:
Museo Jumex in Mexico City by David Chipperfield
Sited directly adjacent to one of the most flamboyant buildings in recent memory — Fernando Romero’s Museo Soumaya, built for Carlos Slim — David Chipperfield’s Museo Jumex is an austere counterpoint. The industrial sawtooth roofline is a nice touch too.
Newhall Be in Harlow, Essex by Alison Brooks Architects
One of the only housing complexes on the list, an 84-unit prefab complex by Alison Brooks was nominated for its “highly efficient masterplan to maximise living space and flexibility for individual homes,” explains the jury. “The scheme challenges the presupposition by housebuilders that we want very traditional looking houses.”
Praca das Artes Performing Arts Centre by Brasil Arquitetura
Weaving through a complex space in a run-down area of São Paulo, this complex connects older performance buildings to a brand-new structure — a tall order, given the historical significance of the remaining buildings.