“Architecture is my first love, if you want to talk about what moves me — It’s the ordering of space, the visual pleasure, architecture’s power to construct our days and nights …”
Why do we love and appreciate well designed architecture? The above words belong to American artist Barbara Kruger, who put forward three reasons that will likely resonate with anyone with a connection to the built environment. As we invite submissions for the 10th Annual A+Awards — the world’s largest awards program for architecture and firms — we want to take a moment to explore what makes us so thankful for great buildings and the architects that make them a reality.
There are myriad reasons that architecture can make us feel good, and much of it stems from the love between an architect and their craft. Certain architects display a special affinity for a singular material that makes them synonymous with the buildings they create. Louis Kahn’s relationship with brick, Mies van der Rohe’s reverence for steel, Tadao Ando’s love affair with concrete — each couplet has brought with it moments of architectural theater that live long in the memory.
This remains true today: Many firms have won A+Awards in recent years thanks to their intimate understanding of architecture’s raw elements. Think of MVRDV’s meticulous application of glass blocks in the firm’s incredible Crystal Houses retail project in Amsterdam, or Snøhetta’s masterful use of wood for the Wild Reindeer Pavilion in the mountains of Norway. While they will come in all sorts of forms and typologies, this year’s winning projects will have at least one universal trait: a close bond between material and maker.
Beyond materials, we are thankful for beautifully crafted details. The tiniest moment in the largest of buildings can make hearts skip a beat. The A+Awards draws countless entries with stunning details: take the in-built timber furniture of Lang Architecture’s Hudson Woods housing project in the scenic forests of upstate New York, or the elegant tapestry of bricks enclosing Terra Cotta Studio by Tropical Space in Vietnam.
These carefully considered elements build upon architects’ aforementioned love of the materials they work with, celebrating their raw qualities in an honest, expressive manner. In turn, the architects’ love of good design is broadcast to the outside world.
For some, though, their appreciation for architecture lies in its potential on the macro scale, with urban planning projects capable of redefining the identity of entire cities. “Look at the redesign of Paris, or Washington D.C,” wrote architect and blogger Jeremiah. “Look at the patterns of development in cities like Atlanta, London, Chicago or Savannah. There is beauty, symmetry, chaos and confusion, and architecture has the power to bring it about or change it all at the same time.”
This immense impact — and the weighty responsibility that comes with it — means that architects must display a deft combination of courage and humility when designing buildings. It is not enough to be a creative exhibitionist; an architect’s job hinges upon their ability to live up to their client’s hopes and expectations, all the while appreciating the influence their structure may have on the lives of whole populations.
That’s why, when an architect achieve the seemingly impossible – leaving all parties happy — we can’t help but feel thankful for it. For a perfect example, look no further than Frank Gehry’s audacious Guggenheim Bilbao, a built manifestation of architecture’s potential to bring people together, united by their love for a building and its effects on their city. “I love the relationship with the clients,” Gehry told NPR in 2015. “I love going to Bilbao and people come out and hug me. We all need love. And it’s nice to get it for doing things like that.”
The epic challenge of producing such an effect is why many love the practice of architecture in and of itself. Humanitarian architecture pioneer Cameron Sinclair wrote about what first made him fall in love with the profession: “I became enamored with the process and the huge hurdles it took to turn a dream to reality.” These huge hurdles were navigated by the dozens of architects who designed and delivered A+Award-winning projects of the past five years. This year, hundreds more will follow in their footsteps.
The best architecture may be crafted from concrete, glass, wood and stone, but when it all comes together, it amounts to so much more: It is a social condenser, an atmospheric cauldron, a visual delight. It is a spirit lifter, an educator, a calming influence, a home.
This is why we’re thankful for great architecture — and why this year’s A+Awards will undoubtedly capture the world’s imagination once again.
Top image: Little Shelter Hotel by Department of ARCHITECTURE, winner of a 2019 A+Award in the Architecture +Facades category.