This winter marked the inaugural A+ Architizer Awards, a design contest meant to subtly remind the world—and not just the born-and-bred architecture buffs—that everyone is a fan of good building design. Judged by a 200-person panel (which included Curbed founder Lockhart Steele), the contest aimed to celebrate the most beautiful and innovative buildings on Earth, from thoughtful, low-profile memorials resting flush against the ground to iceberg-inspired residential complexes jutting from the landscape. "A lot of people up to me and say, 'Oh my God, I always wanted to be an architect but I'm bad at math,'" says Mark Kushner, partner in HWKN and CEO/co-founder of Architizer. "But that's only part of what architects do. The architects of the A+ Awards are smart enough to keep that in their back pocket [though] they want to touch the public's heart, not the math part of their brain." So what does one have to do, exactly, to be anointed one of the most inventive, interesting structures in the world? A step-by-step guide crafted from the awards' finalists, below.
1. Incorporate a vertical yard. — Architects Luís Rebelo de Andrade, Tiago Rebelo de Andrade, and Manuel Cachão Tojal gave their House In Travessa Do Patrocínio in Lisbon, Portugal, a climbing garden, making the building a "mini lung and an example of sustainability for the city," per the project description. Here, the walls are covered with vegetation from 25 different Iberian and Mediterranean plants, and the vertical yard measuress about 100 square meters (1,076 square feet). What's more, the fragrances are divided among the four floors, so "in the swimming pool you will have the flavor of saffron, in the bedroom, lavender, [and] in the living-room, rosemary."
2. Fuse the old and the new. — Madrid's DOMUSae, Spaces for Culture, an art gallery by Aparicio + Donaire, which won both the jury and popular vote for the Art Gallery category, was carved from an old army museum. The structure, "a representative collection of cultural buildings from recent Spanish history," has slick white floors and inky, lacey detailing on the walls and ceiling. "Like so many of the other winners, it wasn't designed for a panel of architecture critics," says Kushner. "It's big and robust, but really clear. Anyone can get it. It's very accessible, though incredibly complex in its detailing."
3. Make it a landscape. — For Denmark's Iceberg Dwellings, its creators, which include architect Julien de Smedt, CEBRA, SeARCH, and Louis Paillard, "managed to take housing forms, towers, and with a deceptively simple move has reworked it into a landscape," Kushner says. "[Julien] has turned something contrite into something delightful and entirely unexpected. It almost makes you smile when you look at it."
4. Be 'a vicious flower.' — "Pop-ups are amazing because they're laboratories," Kushner says of Yayoi Kusama's store for Louis Vuitton in London. "So much thought is in there, and the overall effect is this sort of wonderland of architecture. It looks like this vicious flower that's going to attack you." (More ultra design-y boutiques, this way.)
5. Don't ignore context. — In Oudeschild, Netherlands, Mecanoo Architecten designed Kaap Skil, Maritime and Beachcombers Museum "with four playfully linked gabled roofs" that mimic the jagged skyline of the surrounding old shipping town.
6. Remember: location, location location — This mountaintop overlook in Norwegian fjords cantilevers off a crag and almost melts into the clouds. Kushner said the Trollstigen National Tourist Route, by Oslo-based firm Reiulf Ramstad Architects, was eager to please. "It's the idea trying to connect to people; not just the clients, but a much broader constituent," Kushner says. "There was a level of entertainment to it."
7. Make it, well, disappear. — To help the University of Oregon's John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes fade away into the surrounding birch forest, ZGF Architects placed the structure, made of stainless steel screens and glazed glass, on a reflective "table of water."
8. Use weird materials. — Bonnard Woeffray's design for a primary school in Bovernier, Switzerland, boasts a metallic skin stretched over concrete. The materials may be unusual for an elementary school, but it (1) looks pretty sweet and (2) has the bonus of providing an "armor" against avalanches, an important feature considering the school sits at the base of a mountainous incline.
9. Go for the curves. — "Holy [bleep], it's [bleep] gorgeous," says Kushner of the Soumaya Museum in Granada, Mexico. To him, the architects at FR-EE (Fernando Romero EnterprisE) "kind of broke all the rules and reinvented the way buildings touched the ground. [...] The building comes down in such a way that the ground almost appears to be reaching for it, creating a sexy sort of shape."
10. Go crazy with solar panels. — The RMIT design hub in Melbourne, Australia, features a skin of glass "sunshading cells" with solar power infrastructure and evaporative cooling capabilities. The design, by Sean Godsell Architects, won jury approval in the research facility category.
11. Create whatever these are. — They are "donguri," and PNK Architects designed them for its Dae-Eun Elementary School, a place where kids could take a nap or do homework after school.
12. Strike gold. — OK, technically Cometti Truffer Architekten's Pavillon Alpenquai is plated in "burnished and brushed brass" (say that five times fast) but the effect is a giant gold nugget winking in the sunlight of Zug, Switzerland.
13. Put it on a 22-wheeler. — No more of this dinky tricycle stuff: an award-winning mobile home has more than seven times as many wheels, plus massive solar panels, "eclectic light fixtures, fireplaces, furniture, and carpeting." Architect Esri Krouska designed @kinito as a response to the roiling economic and political upheaval in Athens, Greece. "As things were getting worse, I started imagining Athens full of abandoned and dark buildings," he told Architizer.
14. Use abandoned spaces. — |CON|Temporary Library in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, by Studio 8 1/2 was once an old, abandoned Turkish bathhouse from the 16th century. The structure-within-a-structure is made entirely of hardwood and cost less than €1,500, or $1,961.
15. "Have a ball." — This striking design by J. Mayer H. Architecture is actually a truck stop in Gori, Georgia. "They're having a ball with a rest stop, a totally banal building that could have been a totally banal program," Kushner says, adding, "Architecture can show a new progressive future. It can rebrand the future [and] show the potential of the built environment, which is what this does."
· Architizer A+ Award Winners [Architizer]