With today’s technology, architecture has become a bland art. Being implemented worldwide, the design of various structures can’t always be innovative. While humanity and cities must advance, architecture doesn’t always have to be bland. Once in a while, a building is completed, which grabs everyone’s attention and simultaneously takes architecture in a new direction. Over the past five years, several examples of such pieces of art have emerged.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (2017) 

Location: Hamburg, Germany
Architects: Herzog & de Meuron

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Elbphilharmonie Hamburg_©Iwan Baan

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, proves that adaptive reuse is possible and can be made attractive. With glass covering the structure’s upper half, the building appears incredibly avant-garde. The hall’s base has a vivid history, the foundation being a brick building, initially used as a former warehouse constructed in 1963. When various 19th-century buildings went neglected, including this warehouse, it was planned to transform these spaces into popular waterfront developments. However, no one could have predicted that Elbphilharmonie Hamburg would gain this level of popularity. The venue’s interior is designed so that all 2100 seats are located around the main stage, ensuring equal experience quality for all. 

Apple Park (2017) 

Location: Cupertino, California
Architects: Foster + Partners

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Apple Park_©Arne Museler

To some, Apple Park is the final vision of the late founder, Steve Jobs. For many others, however, the headquarters is considered an architectural achievement of how a forward-thinking company should be built. Designed by Foster + Partners, the campus was possible due to Jobs’ dream in 2004 while exploring Hyde Park, London, where the founder decided that he wanted to remove the barrier between building and nature for his company. Jobs turned to Norman Foster to achieve his ambition, who introduced a central, ring-shaped structure running on sustainable energy. Solar energy seemed like an archaic option for an advanced company like Apple, pushing the architects further. Between each floor, a canopy is equipped to protect employees from the harsh sun. These canopies are set up with a ventilation system that funnels air in and out of the building. The main reason was that Steve Jobs wanted the employees to feel a passing breeze, almost as if they were sitting outside, instead of using air conditioning. 

CopenHill (2017) 

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Architects: Bjarke Ingels Group

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CopenHill_©Justin Hummerstone

While Bjarke Ingels is known for his work in radical architecture, the design of CopenHill shows his genius. CopenHill’s high design proves eco-friendly architecture can be accomplished in high design, as the structure can burn waste worth 400,000 tons annually into clean energy to fuel 60,000 homes in the region. But the goal was not just waste management and sustainability— it was to have fun. While Denmark receives enough snow, the country’s terrain is flat, disadvantageous to ski lovers. BIG took this as an opportunity in its planning. Accessible through an elevator, the CopenHill roof is an approximately 1500 feet long ski slope. “What I love about this project is that it also shows you the world-changing power of ‘Formgiving,’ which is giving form to that which does not yet exist—to give form to the future,” says Ingels. “I have a nine-month-old son who will grow up in a world not knowing that there was ever a time when you couldn’t ski on the roof of a power plant.”

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (2018) 

Location: Montgomery, Alabama
Architects: MASS Design Group in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative

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National Memorial for Peace and Justice_©Sonia Kapadia

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is an open-air memorial designed by Boston-based firm MASS Design Group to commemorate victims of lynching in the United States. As visitors enter the monument, they walk by dark red columns, which include the victims’ names and the counties where they occurred. As visitors slowly read the columns, the ground gradually slopes downwards, with the columns remaining at the same level. Eventually hanging above the visitors, the columns manage to evoke the lynchings around the country. After this, the visitors arrive at a central space where they can stand and look at the hanging columns. 

Fass School and Teachers’ Residence (2019) 

Location: Fass, Senegal
Architects: Toshiko Mori

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Fass School and Teachers’ Residence_©Iwan Baan

Architecture conceptualises having a big vision which can be localised at the community level, Fass School and Teachers’ Residence being a perfect example. An elementary school located on Senegal’s coast, the circular structure designed by Toshiko Mori was shaped by the land’s history. “The design is based on a vernacular paradigm of the Senegalese’s ancient collective housing structures,” says Mori. “The standard schools in that area are made up of rectangular concrete-block walls and corrugated metal roofs—unfriendly and alienating structures which become very hot under the sun and incredibly noisy during rainfall.” For his project, Mori constructed mud-brick walls supported by steel and bamboo, which were later painted white to deflect the sun’s rays. The roof consists of bamboo and grass; another design strategy implemented to lower temperatures. The walls were then painted white, an important step that deflects the sun’s rays. The school’s rooftop combines bamboo and grass, another element that keeps temperatures down in the classroom.

National Museum of Qatar (2019) 

Location: Doha, Qatar
Architects: Jean Nouvel

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National Museum of Qatar_©Iwan Baan

While the opening of the National Museum of Qatar had many citizens hoping for Picasso, Rothko, or Pollock pieces, what they got in the form of Jean Nouvel’s building might have been better. The 360000 square foot structure consists of many artefacts and stories— from the discovery of oil to the Persian Gulf. While many national museums worldwide talk about history, its revolutionary architecture sets the National Museum of Qatar apart. The exterior consists of 76000 patterned cladding elements while the interiors twist and turn, with the ceiling rising and dipping. Nouvel’s real challenge while designing the museum was to create a structure that embodies the Qatari identity. He found the answer for this task in the desert rose, a naturally occurring phenomenon in the region.

The Shed (2019) 

Location: New York, United States of America
Architects: Diller Scofidio + Renfro and David Rockwell

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The Shed_©Iwan Baan

Initially, the $475 million cultural centre seemed an impossible goal to some— what could entertain New Yorkers who believe they have seen it all? When the building opened to the public in spring 2019, they received their answer— a building on wheels. The Shed starts as a 200000 square foot cultural space. The structure’s facade consists of an outer shell of luminescent ETFE panels. Once activated by an engine, the shell moves away from the structure’s frame, creating a new building which is a part of the original one. 

Vancouver House (2020) 

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Architects: Bjarke Ingels Group

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Vancouver House_©Ema Peters

Starting with a triangular base which twists to a rectangular top, Vancouver House seems to defy engineering laws when viewed from afar. However, this is the sort of eccentricity that can be expected from Bjarke Ingels. However, it is also a marvelous response to the building regulations imposed. The pixelated facade also creates balconies for the residents in the 493-foot tall tower.

Powerhouse Telemark (2020) 

Location: Porsgrunn, Norway
Architects: Snøhetta

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Powerhouse Telemark_©Ivar Kvaal

Snøhetta gained a reputation for innovative carbon-negative buildings, and the Powerhouse Telemark is no exception. Set on the banks of the Porsgrunn River, the ‘energy-positive’ project has been designed to set a new standard for future constructions. The sleek structure is coated almost entirely in photovoltaic cells, with the structure’s carbon footprint in mind. This helps maximise the solar energy captured using recycled materials from local demolition projects. 

1000 Trees (2021) 

Location: Shanghai, China
Architects: Heatherwick Studio

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1000 Trees_©Qingyan Zhu

Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, this 3.2 million square foot project occupies a vast stretch of Shanghai’s riverside. Emerging from the structure’s mass, columns hold some of the plants and greenery which has earned the project its name. In Heatherwick Studio’s words, the design is more a piece of topography than architecture.

Little Island (2021) 

Location: New York, United States of America
Architects: Heatherwick Studio + MNLA

Little Island Park_©Timothy Schenck

Little Island is a park harbouring performance venues on the Hudson River, designed as a haven for people and wildlife. It’s a green oasis held by sculptural planters above water. The starting point for the architects was not the structure but the experience created for visitors. Inspired by Central Park, it’s possible to forget that you are in New York. Envisaging the pier as a complete experience, Heatherwick Studio aimed to create a cohesive object rather than unrelated elements put together. Pile foundations were utilised as the deck by extending into planters that join to form the park’s surface. The height of the piles varies, creating the park’s contours. 

  1. Online sources

Citations for websites:

Nick Mafi (2019). These 13 Buildings Redefined Architecture in the Past 5 Years. [online]. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/buildings-redefined-architecture-past-5-years [Accessed date: 22 September 2022].

Oscar Holland (2020). The most anticipated buildings set to shape the world in 2020. [online]. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/anticipated-buildings-2020/index.html [Accessed date: 22 September 2022].

Lizzie Crook (2021). Twelve buildings to look forward to in 2021. [online]. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/01/02/top-buildings-complete-2021-dezeen-review-2020/ [Accessed date: 22 September 2022].

ArchDaily (2021). Little Island Park / Heatherwick Studio + MNLA. [online]. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/962374/little-island-park-heatherwick-studio [Accessed date: 22 September 2022].

  1. Images/visual mediums

Citations for images/photographs – Print or Online:

Baan, I. (2017). Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. [Photograph].

Museler, A. (2019). Apple Park aerial view. [Photograph].

Hummerstone, J. (2019). CopenHill. [Photograph].

Kapadia, S. (2018). National Memorial for Peace and Justice. [Photograph].

Baan, I. (2018). Fass School and Teachers’ Residence. [Photograph].

Baan, I. (2019). National Museum of Qatar. [Photograph].

Baan, I. (2020). The Shed. [Photograph].

Peters, E. (2022). Vancouver House, Vancouver, Canada. [Photograph].

Kvaal, I. (2020). Powerhouse Telemark. [Photograph].

Zhu, Q. (2021). 1000 Trees. [Photograph].

Schenck, T. (2021). Little Island Park. [Photograph].


Kaavya Azad is an architecture student passionate about creating sensory harmony and connecting with nature in her designs. Her keen interest in reading, writing and researching led her to venture into Architectural Journalism. You can find her reading books surrounded by her favourite snacks when she isn't working.