Throughout the year, we've chased down the most interesting, innovative and sustainable buildings around the globe. Whether a Lego-shaped visitor's center, a beautiful bamboo sports hall, or a pair of "dancing" skyscrapers that can withstand extreme weather, each one represents architectural excellence. Read on for our selection of the best buildings of 2017.
Check out the gallery to see more photos and information on each of our picks or read on below for the best buildings of 2017, in no particular order.
Lego House – BIG
The Lego House, also known as Home of the Brick, is the product of a masterful matchup between Danish toymaker Lego and fellow countrymen, the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
Lego's new flagship building is located in its hometown of Billund and comprises 21 massive overlapping concrete blocks covered in brightly colored clay tiles to make them look like oversized Lego bricks. Its whimsical appearance belies the serious graft that went into the Lego House, however, and the 23 m (75 ft)-tall building required huge amounts of steel to enable the construction of an expansive central square without any visible columns.
Inside, the Lego House is packed with Lego exhibitions, memorabilia and history, with highlights including a tree made from over six million Lego bricks. Multiple play zones are installed to teach kids different styles of play. It's an ambitious, assured and playful project and has to rate amongst BIG's very best.
Zeitz MOCAA – Heatherwick Studio
Heatherwick Studio has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately following the failure of the ill-conceived Garden Bridge, but the high-profile firm has come back with one of its most successful projects to date with Zeitz MOCAA: a museum built from a 1920s-era Cape Town, South Africa grain silo.
The concrete building originally included a grain grading tower and 42 individual concrete tubes inside. Heatherwick Studio set to work carving a large atrium out of these tubes by cutting away sections to create a grand cathedral-like space, as well as smaller areas to serve as galleries. It really is quite unique and impressive inside.
The exterior sports glazing inspired by the bulging glazed texture of a Venetian lamp and, according to the firm, glows like an oversized lantern at night.
KAPSARC – Zaha Hadid Architects
Zaha Hadid passed away suddenly over a year ago but her firm hasn't missed a beat and continues to produce striking, unusual buildings. The latest of these is KAPSARC (King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre), a non-profit institution tasked with researching more efficient uses of energy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
KAPSARC's sunlight-reflecting bright white facade and hexagonal prismatic honeycomb structure lends it a striking appearance, like an oversized insect in the desert landscape. The project is laid-out so as to shelter the interior from the sun's harshest rays, while remaining open to northern and westerly cooling winds. A large central courtyard is shaded with canopies, though underground passages are still available for the hottest weather.
The prevailing breeze is channeled by "wind catchers" integrated into KAPSARC's roof, while potable water is recycled and reused on-site. A solar power array is installed atop the roof, too.
CTF Finance Centre – KPF
Fittingly, the country that hosts the Terracotta Army is also home to the world's tallest terracotta-clad tower. Rising to a height of 530 m (1,739 ft) the Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates-designed Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre is a stunning skyscraper that's rated the fifth tallest building in the world.
So why use terracotta? KPF acknowledges its historical use, and also says it's more environmentally-friendly than using aluminum, glass, or steel, as it can be more easily produced at multiple local sites rather than shipped-in from afar. It's also more resistant to corrosion and provides better thermal properties than glass. Its unique appearance doesn't hurt, either.
Around 30,000 people navigate the massive 508,000 sq m (5.4 million sq ft) of floorspace within the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre each day using 95 Hitachi elevators, which are among the world's fastest and travel at 72 km/h (44.7 mph).
La Seine Musicale – Shigeru Ban
Shigeru Ban is best known for using cheap materials like cardboard to build refugee shelters, but his La Seine Musicale in Paris reminds us that the starchitect is perfectly capable of producing grand, expensive works when the job requires it.
Designed with local architect Jean de Gastines, La Seine Musicale took three years to build and cost €170 m (about US$189 million). It includes a large multipurpose concert hall with exquisite wooden detailing, rehearsal and recording studios, as well as a covered street with retail and restaurant spaces, and more.
While you certainly could argue that the ship shape of the concert hall is a bit overly literal, the glazed egg-shaped auditorium is a really nice piece of design. It's part-covered by a "solar sail" that helps shade the interior from direct sunlight and is clad in solar panels and mounted on rails. Motors move the sail to track the course of the sun each day from east to west and catch the maximum possible rays, reducing the electricity required from the grid.
Bamboo Sports Hall – Chiangmai Life Architects
Bamboo is a surprisingly tough building material and can be produced sustainably and inexpensively. In the right hands, it can also be used to make beautiful buildings, such as this Bamboo Sports Hall, at Panyaden International School, in Thailand.
The ornate bamboo structure is inspired by the lotus flower and aims to combat the hot and wet climate with open, natural ventilation. The hall measures 15 m (50 ft) wide and tall, and the choice of building material resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the project's carbon footprint, compared to traditional building techniques.
The space is used for basketball, volleyball and badminton, and incorporates three smaller volleyball and badminton courts for practice. It also boasts a stage that can be lifted automatically for school assemblies, while balconies line the court so that parents and spectators can watch.
American Copper Buildings – SHoP Architects
SHoP's American Copper Buildings stand out even in skyscraper-packed Manhattan, NYC. Clad in 4.25 million lb (1.9 m kg) of copper that has already begun to patina and will continue to age over time, the twin luxury residential buildings are connected together with a skybridge and lean in a way likened to dancing by the firm.
The American Copper Buildings were completed following Hurricane Sandy. A space originally intended for a penthouse suite was given over to five gas-powered emergency generators that will give residents enough juice to run their fridges and charge mobile devices, etc – and use the elevators – for at least a week following a power outage.
Heating and ventilation systems are also installed far above street-level to lessen the risk of flood water rendering them inoperable.
Apple Park – Foster+Partners
Though currently in use, Foster+Partners' Apple Park still has an air of mystery about it as there are some finishing touches to be put in place before it's deemed officially complete and unveiled to the world's press. That said, what we do know already speaks to an impressive engineering achievement.
First unveiled back when Steve Jobs was still at Apple's helm, the new campus cost an estimated $5 billion and comprises 75 acres (71 hectares) of land, serving as workplace to over 12,000 employees. The circular office building is clad in the world's largest panels of curved glass and hailed as the world's largest naturally ventilated building by Apple. It's also solar-powered and gets its electricity from a huge 17-megawatt solar panel array. At its center is a large courtyard area.
A significant landscaping effort involved the planting of indigenous (and drought-resistant) plants and trees on the site and the main office building is also joined by a large Visitor Center and the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus. An existing barn dating back to the early 20th century on the site was preserved, too.
Copenhagen International School – C.F. Møller Architects
Solar panels are often considered unattractive additions to a building and hidden away out of sight, but the Copenhagen International School, by C.F. Møller Architects, makes a feature out of them.
The building has an exterior that's almost totally covered in solar panels, producing over half of its required electricity, which is quite an achievement in a Scandinavian country such as Denmark. A total of 12,000 solar panels are affixed to the school's exterior, measuring 6,048 sq m (65,100 sq ft). They're angled individually, and C.F. Møller says they are intended to resemble sequins. They definitely lend the school an attractive and distinctive appearance.
Other sustainable design in the school includes excellent insulation, rainwater harvesting, low-energy windows, and LED lighting.
Louvre Abu Dhabi – Jean Nouvel
One of the high points of Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel's distinguished career, the Louvre Abu Dhabi took over a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to build. The complex is made up of 55 detached buildings and is conceived as a man-made archipelago, accessible both by land and the surrounding waters that lap against its white surfaces.
The Louvre's architectural centerpiece is a silver dome that weighs the same as the Eiffel Tower (around 7,500 tonnes) and has a diameter of 180 m (590 ft). The structure rests on just four pillars hidden away inside the museum buildings, lending the effect that it is floating.
The dome is made up of eight layers of stainless steel and aluminum mesh, which combine to form a tapestry of 7,850 geometric holes for the sun to filter through, bringing to mind the light-scattering palm trees of the area.
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