The Most Influential Buildings of 2017
Designed by heavyweights such as Jean Nouvel and Sir Norman Foster as well as rising stars, these spectacular structures will stand out from the crowd for decades to come
It's not easy to narrow down the most influential buildings of any given year to just eleven—and 2017 was no exception. Throughout the world, some of the biggest names in architecture, along with a few rising stars, completed structures that seem destined to withstand the test of time. And though we often appreciate the result, it's the role of architecture that we may overlook. Sometimes, a building is erected to add vibrancy to a town or city without displacing those structures that came before it. What makes this type of design difficult is the fact that few original things come from mimicking surroundings. Other times, architecture is meant to be monumental, yet simply building grand will not do the trick: The architect must incorporate a humane, almost egalitarian element so people feel comfortable next to and within it.
Which brings us back to this year's selections (a year in which a total of nearly 150 buildings measuring 656 feet or taller were completed). From Lascaux IV, a Snøhetta-designed museum whose jagged scheme exaggerates an exposed landscape, to Apple's revolutionary new campus in Cupertino, California, a product of the inimitable mind of Sir Norman Foster, some truly awe-inspiring buildings were completed in 2017.
While the inspirations for these buildings have been as diverse as their locations, one theme is consistent: The impact on their communities has been both civic and aesthetic. And for those who question the influence of a building on its community, consider the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill: "We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us." Below, AD surveys the eleven most influential buildings of the year.
Chaoyang Park Plaza by MAD Architects (Beijing)
Born from the brilliant mind of Ma Yansong, the founder of MAD architects, Beijing's Chaoyang Park Plaza is a harmonic blend of form and function. Positioned near the edge of the city's Chaoyang Park, the landscape-inspired structure's steep ascent is symbolic of the traditional Eastern approach to urban architecture—one in which the building and nature are not independent, but rather always complementing each other.
Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel (U.A.E.)
Nearly everything Jean Nouvel designs instantly becomes the darling of the architecture world. And for good reason. The Pritzker Prize–winning architect has, for the past half-century, absorbed much inspiration from seemingly every corner of the world. And his latest design is no exception. Located on Saadiyat Island, the museum brings together the relationship between the sun, sea, art, and architecture, all in one unified design. The dome of the structure, which houses some of the most prized paintings in the world (including da Vinci's $450 million Salvator Mundi), draws much of the attention. Indeed, the dome has an ethereal, almost weightless quality to it. Yet, appearances deceive, as Nouvel was able to create this effect despite the crown of his design weighing 7,500 tons. During the day, sunlight pours through geometric shapes that have been cut into the structure, producing streams of light that are similar to those that come through a palm tree during a breeze. The ceiling is adorned with some 7,850 stars that, at night, light up in a stunningly dramatic fashion.
Lascaux IV by Snøhetta (Montignac, France)
Located in south-central France, the Snøhetta-designed Lascaux IV is the ultimate juxtaposition. The sleekly designed yet jagged museum invites guests to explore some of the oldest cave drawings in the world in a state-of-the-art series of exhibitions. Positioned within the beautiful Vézère Valley, Lascaux IV seems to cut into the landscape, providing museum goers with the feeling that they are stepping into the earth itself.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa by Thomas Heatherwick (Cape Town, South Africa)
Created by Thomas Heatherwick, the British-born founder of the London-based design practice Heatherwick Studio, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (or Zeitz MOCAA) houses its galleries within a converted 1920s grain silo. Heatherwick's biggest challenge was designing a museum that would inspire the citizens of South Africa (who are not broadly known for their love of museums) to visit the space. Instead of demolishing the derelict building, the architect decided to build on and around it, allowing for its history to become part of the final design. From the top of Zeitz MOCAA, visitors can see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent by Studio KO (Marrakech, Morocco)
Located in Marrakech, Morocco, Musée Yves Saint Laurent pays homage to the famous Algerian-born designer. Designed by Studio KO, the building is close to Jardin Majorelle—the home acquired by Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Much like Yves Saint Laurent's designs, the structure features a combination of delicate and bold lines throughout, an aesthetic that is both minimalist and sumptuous. The façade (pictured) was built using terra-cotta bricks made locally in ovens powered by olive waste. The earth-torched exterior seamlessly blends in with the surrounding desert landscape. The museum houses an impressive selection of over 5,000 articles of clothing and 15,000 haute couture accessories courtesy of one of the most famous designers to ever live.
V&A Museum by AL_A (London)
Since the summer, visitors of London's Victoria and Albert Museum have been welcomed by a magnificently designed new courtyard by Amanda Levete of the London-based firm AL_A. Levete's task was complex: adding a bold new design to a traditional redbrick museum while making visible an invisible part of the structure. The architect did this by designing a sharp, angled courtyard that consists of more than 10,000 patterned porcelain tiles. From there, visitors will be not just lead, but drawn to explore the vast new gallery below ground.
Apple Park by Foster + Partners (Cupertino, California)
"We've come up with a design that puts 12,000 people in one building," said Steve Jobs in 2011 about his plans for Apple's new headquarters, during an address which would be his final public appearance. "We've seen these office parks with lots of buildings, and they get pretty boring pretty fast. . . . So we're going to do something different from that." To fulfill his bold vision, Apple chose Norman Foster, a Pritzker Prize–winning architect who has been responsible for some of the most innovative buildings on the planet. Foster took heed of Job's insistence on a campus where the barrier between building and nature seamlessly disappears. To that end, Apple's newest building is designed to breathe, quite literally. Tucked within each canopy is a ventilation system that funnels air in and out of the building. Appeasing Jobs's wishes (as he was not a fan of air conditioning), Foster designed a structure that allows Apple employees to feel any passing breeze as if they were sitting outside. Through a variety of sensors, the building can maintain a temperature of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, all by using an intake and release of natural air.
Tianjin Binhai Library by MVRDV (Tianjin, China)
It's safe to say that no library in the world compares to the Tianjin Binhai Library.Designed by MVRDV, the stunningly beautiful structure is yet another testament to the power possessed by this exciting Dutch architecture firm. The all-white space, which has a cathedral-like quality, features undulating rows of books that allow visitors to walk among various shelves. The energy of the library, however, does not come from the books, or the wavelike shelves, but rather the spherical eye situated in the middle of the building.
LEGO House by Bjarke Ingels Group (Billund, Denmark)
Located in the same city where the famous colorful blocks were first invented, BIG's LEGO House is the dream of every person who loved the plastic toys as a child: to build a life-size model using their Legos. Fortunately for the Danes (and tourists from around the world), this Lego-inspired structure was produced by one of the most exciting architects of our time, the incomparable Bjarke Ingels. If nothing else, LEGO House is proof that the building blocks of architecture can be found among anything in this world—including children's toys. The building, which is free to enter for the public, is filled with 25 million Lego bricks throughout several exhibition areas that are meant to enhance creative, cognitive, social, and emotional skills for children (and patrons of all ages).
Maggie’s Centre by Steven Holl Architects (London)
In many ways, Steven Holl is an atypical architect. One can see this by simply looking at his spectacular designs, which seem to be sprouting up around the world on a more frequent basis. Holl—who appears to find inspiration in anything ranging from Matisse cutouts to lanterns—primarily uses watercolors when designing a structure (unlike most architects who use pen or pencil). And that vibrant emotion from watercolors can be vividly seen in his recently completed building, Maggie’s Centre, a center for cancer patients in London. The multicolored glass panels seemingly dance along the façade, creating a musical aesthetic.
Beirut Terraces by Herzog & de Meuron (Lebanon)
Herzog & de Meuron's stunning Beirut Terraces are proof that skyscrapers not need be the hulking masses of metal they sometimes become. The firm's elegant design stands as an island of calm within a sea of crowded masses, as Beirut is one of the busiest and exciting cities in the Middle East. Located on the coast, the delicately stacked terraces seem to be gently washed bone white by the adjacent Mediterranean Sea. On each floor, the open terrace layout allows owners to walk outdoors with uninterrupted views of a city that was once considered the Paris of the Middle East. As with many of their magnificent designs, Herzog & de Meuron has pushed the boundaries of vertical building—and the results leave us speechless.
Courtesy of Architectural Digest / Nick Mafi