For some, architecture is considered "the will of an epoch translated into space" (Mies van der Rohe), for others, it's "frozen music" (Goethe), but for most of us, the topic remains quite subjective. Now, online architecture review site ArchDaily has finally sifted through over 65,000 votes to come up with the winners of their 2011 Building of the Year awards - a fascinating selection of innovation and creativity that will wow some and challenge others. Numerous images for each structure are available in the gallery.


Bilbao Arena, Bilbao, Spain

Architects: ACXT Budget: ~ EUR42 million (US$54.9 million)

This striking sports complex in Bilbao's Miribilla section sits atop land formerly occupied by ancient iron mines. Normally, an exposed hilltop location like this would make climate-control for such a large structure an expensive proposition, but the designers thought ahead and made the leaf-like green steel plates of its facade removable as weather (and desire for views) dictates. To make the building even greener, two cisterns were built in - one to harvest rainwater for landscaping needs and another which captures swimming pool run-off for use in cleaning the streets of Bilbao. Green, indeed.


Milstein Hall at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Architects: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) Budget: ~ US$37.6 million

It's been more than 100 years since Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) has added a new building to its portfolio. Milstein Hall, which now bridges the former gap between the AAP's existing Sibley and Rand Halls, features two extensive cantilevers made possible by a hybrid truss system that incorporates approximately 1,200 tons of steel in its dramatic design and gives AAP 25,000 sq ft (2,322 sqm) of additional meeting and classroom space.


Moses Bridge, Halsteren, The Netherlands

Architects: RO & AD Architecten Budget: ~ EUR250,000 (US$326,700)

When dilapidated 17th-century Dutch Fort de Roovere was restored in mid-2010, it was decided to bridge the fort's moat so visitors could access the area. To keep it as unobtrusive as possible, the unique solution was hit upon to sink it just above the moat surface. This division of the water led to the bridge being named after that most famous water-parter of all, Moses. Made entirely of Accoya wood (sustainably-grown planks and timbers treated with a non-toxic acetylation process) it's waterproofed with EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) foil. No mention was made of how rain and snowmelt is pumped out, but presumably the hand of God is not involved.


Museum of Ocean and Surf, Biarritz, France

Architect: Steven Holl Architects w/ Solange Fabiao Budget: ~ EUR20.9 million (US$30.1 million)

With its exposed shell-like concrete made with materials from the south of France and striking white Okalux glass, the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf helps visitors explore the varied roles the nearby sea plays in recreation and the environment. Its gracefully curved walls, covered with Portuguese cobblestones, are designed to evoke the sloping faces of breakers approaching shore and invite viewers to meditate on the many ways the oceans impact their lives. The museum, which also includes a restaurant and surfer's center, opened last June and has been a big hit with both locals and visitors to the Biarritz area.


Füleky Winery, Tokaj, Hungary

Fine wines have been made in the northern Hungarian village of Tokaj for hundreds of years, so it was only fitting that a new winery there echo some of those roots. Rather than start completely from scratch, the developers located a two-storey Baroque style house near the center of town, removed layers of ancient plaster and revealed the beautiful stone walls that underpin their classic design. The new facades and roof tiles, laid in a pattern that reflects the heritage of the region, are composed of a yellowish-gray stone brought in from the nearby hamlet of Màd.


Tori-Tori Restaurant, Polanco, Mexico City, Mexico

To capitalize on the success of their venture, the owners of Tori-Tori, one of Mexico City's finest Japanese restaurants, commissioned a larger venue nearby that's quite possibly as pleasing to the eyes as their food is to the palate. The brightly-lit, handcrafted façade is composed of two layers of self-supporting, CNC machine-cut steel plates that, as a whole, appears almost organic in nature. Inside, each room has its own particular theme, none of which is specifically beholden to a strict interpretation of traditional Japanese design, which allows patrons to choose from a range of pleasant atmospheres while dining.


Apartment building in Luxembour City, Luxembourg

With its unusual combination of dark, angular extruded metal and whimsical "post-graffiti" artwork from local artist, Sumo, the exterior of this three-floor, four-unit apartment building offers viewers and residents alike a strange duality - it's simultaneously imposing and light-hearted, and belies each unit's light, glassy interior. Garage space consumes the ground floor. Above that sits a (840 sq ft (78 sqm) two-bedroom, 1.5 bath unit. Two studios, one 506 sq ft (47sqm), the other 516 sq ft (48sqm), occupy the middle floor, which overhangs the first floor by a meter on three sides. Finally, the top floor holds a 1,195 sq ft (111sqm) split-level apartment which includes a hefty glass ceiling over the kitchen and dining room to allow in plenty of sunlight.


Mima House, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

Architects: Mima Architects

Patterned after traditional Japanese homes with plenty of glass on all sides, the square, 387.5 sq ft (36sqm), low-cost, post-and-beam MIMA house is particularly light and airy. The tiny homes come with movable 4.9 ft x 9.8 ft (1.5 m x 3 m) wooden frames reminiscent of shoji screens that fit into any of the regular 4.9 ft (1.5 m) grid of gaps on floor and ceiling, allowing an infinite number of easily-customized room configurations. Pre-fab construction makes these homes quick to produce and affordable - about the same as a mid-range car. 3D Software developed by the architects interfaces with Google Earth to generate a site-specific model so prospective buyers can get an idea of how a MIMA will look on their property. They can even "walk" through the virtual model to experiment with various architectural touches such as wall layouts, paint colors and surface materials.


Town Hall Hotel, London, England

Architects: rare ( Budget: ~£20million (US$32million)

The builders of London's Bethnal Green Town Hall likely didn't envision its ending up as a 98-room luxury hotel, restaurant and bar when it was erected back in 1910, but they probably wouldn't be disappointed by Dublin-born Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur, Peng Loh's efforts, either. Abandoned and decaying since 1993, the classic East End structure's costly renovation includes a new top floor, adjacent wing, and unique floor plans for each room. The newly constructed areas are entirely covered with an intricately-patterned, powder-coated, laser-cut aluminum skin that both hides the doors and windows and provides an interesting contrast to the original building's Edwardian-style.


Tverrrfjellhytta Norwegian Wild Reindeer Center Pavilion, Hjerkinn, Norway

Architects: Snøhetta Oslo AS Budget: ~ NOK4 million (US$710,000)

Overlooking the Dovrefjell Mountains, this beautiful pavilion serves as an observation area for the wildlife that inhabits the adjacent unspoiled alpine ecosystem, including some of Europe's last indigenous reindeer herds. Located just outside Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park, the 968 sq ft (90 sqm) structure features a rigid steel shell with a core of sculpted 10-inch square (25.4 cm) pine beams. Shipbuilders from Norway's coastal Hardangerfjord region milled the wood into graceful organic curves using 3D models to drive their machines. Pine tar was applied to protect the exposed wood on the pavilion's north face while a light oil coating in the glass-enclosed southern exposure makes the wood more user-friendly to visitors.


Chapel Tree of Life, Conciliar Seminary of St. James, Braga, Portugal

Essentially a chapel nestled within a chapel, the Capela Árvore da Vida was erected within the larger St. James Seminary to provide a peaceful space for meditation and worship for its student friars. Using 20 tons of stacked timber planks held together without nails or metal connectors, at first glance it resembles a pile of curing lumber more than a place for spiritual devotion, but looks can be deceiving.

Light penetrates from adjacent corridor windows and through an open-ceiling skylight during the day, while at night, lit from within, it appears to emanate a lantern-like glow. The spaces between its boards provide handy storage for bibles and other implements of worship and to accommodate groups, stacked-plank benches line the walls, while a small alter at one end provides priests with a place from which to lead prayers. The architects collaborated with sculptor Asbjörn Andresen on the project.


iGuzzini Illuminazione Spain Headquarters, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Spain

Architects: MiAS Arquitectes Budget: ~ EUR12 million (US$15.7million)

Located a few miles northwest of Barcelona, this futuristic headquarters for the Spanish branch of Italian lighting design firm iGuzzini Illuminazione sports a giant, impossible-to-miss glass sphere filled with offices and research labs. Considerable time was spent designing both its solar fabric cloak (to keep the ball-shaped office complex from turning into a greenhouse) and its trestle-like central support column.

Recent visitors to Disney World might find iGuzzini's globe shares subtle similarities to Epcot's Spaceship Earth, another futuristic building symbolic of, among other things, technological innovation. During the day, natural light supplies illumination, while at night, low-power LED lighting splashes the sphere with colorful displays. Other parts of the expansive complex house an auditorium, a showroom, technical service areas, parking and storage. In all, the facility provides a striking visage that definitely livens up the area.


The Crystal, offices for Danish company Nykredit, Copenhagen, Denmark

It doesn't take much imagination to guess what inspired the asymmetrical shape of Danish financial services giant Nykredit's Copenhagen headquarters extension - natural rock formations have long inspired architects with their beauty and inherent mystery. The Crystal's pillar-free visible steel infrastructure and Z-shaped floor plan organized around two atria successfully reflect the owners' stipulation that all work stations in the building offer abundant lighting and a decent view.

Often, such requirements can lead to trade-offs in other areas, particularly sustainability, but such is not the case with Nykredit's beautiful new offices. Normally, energy costs for a 73,732 sq ft (6,850 sqm) building in Copenhagen's often chilly climate would be substantial, but thermal insulation provided by an inner glass façade of triple-layered glass coupled with high-efficiency solar panel arrays on the roof (capable of generating up to 80,000 kWh per year) combine to provide substantial savings - a perfect example of form and function in harmony.

Source: ArchDaily

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