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Year in review 2016: making architecture great again

The best and worst of a weighty year for design

In keeping with our times, we bring you America’s greatest architectural awards, which of course means the world’s greatest architectural awards. For the seventh consecutive year, Curbed’s own Alexandra Lange and the critic Mark Lamster of the Dallas Morning News cover the ups and downs, triumphs, and tragedies of the year in design. In deference to new regulations governing the architectural press, we submit these awards for your consideration.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten the big winner out of the way, we can move on to the lesser awards.

The Jackie Treehorn Connoisseurship Award: LACMA, for acquiring John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein Residence. We raise a White Russian in salute.

Jacques Cousteau Award for Civic Design: Miami, soon to be America’s first casualty of sea-level rise.

Worst Use of $4 Billion in Public Money: Santiago Calatrava's Oculus is a very pretty, very expensive shopping mall for well-heeled tourists.

Clockwise from top left: A rendering projecting the 2030 Miami skyline with a dramatic rise in sea level; A rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which will not be built in Chicago; The Sheats-Goldstein House; Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus.
Erik Botsford; Elizabeth Daniels; Max Touhey

Shut Our Mouths Award: Los Angeles, for opening the Expo line and voting in a tax increase toward further transit expansion. We’ll never make traffic jokes again.

Yeah Right, Award: The mesmerizing video of the 405 backed up to eternity in both directions over the Thanksgiving holiday. What, you thought we were serious? Get real, Los Angeles.

Use (the) Force Award: George Lucas didn’t like the Chicago treatment, so he took his Death Star and moved it to Cali.

Linked-In Resume Builder Award: Ben Carson, who has zero experience in housing, real estate, or government, is the new HUD secretary.

I Was President for Eight Years and All I Got Was this Library Award: But at least it will be tasteful? Tod and Billie are surprise winners of the Obama Library Sweepstakes.

Best Reason to Go to the Mall: David Adjaye & Co.’s bronze-colored Blacksonian, right next to the Washington Monument, is the right statement for a troubled nation.

Neville Chamberlain Epistolary Appeasement Award: Robert Ivy and the AIA, for their ill-conceived, if well-meaning, attempt at architectural complicity.

Grinch Gift: The Secret Service, who turned Fifth Avenue into security theater, just in time for maximum Christmas window-peeping.

Inside Job Award: The Pritzker Prize, for tapping Alejandro Aravena, a Pritzker juror for the previous seven (!) years.

Honorary Pisan Medal: San Francisco’s Millennium Tower, sixteen inches shorter than it was in 2009, and sinking.

Don’t Call It Postmodernism Award: Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture turned 50, and while everyone agrees on its importance, only the author really knows what it means.

Thanks for the Memories Award: Rio showed the world a good time at the Olympics, got stuck with the bill.

Clockwise from left: A detail of the National Museum of African American History and Cultire; Snohetta’s new staircase at Sf MOMA; Universidad Católica de Chile Santiago by Alejandro Aravena.
Andre Chung; Patricia Change; Felipe Diaz

Induced Demand Award: SFMOMA expanded with Snohetta’s looming iceberg (nice), but now it’s more crowded, not less. Oops?

Kiss Your Sister Award: SHOP’s Turtle Bay twin towers, bringing a little glam to New York’s hospital district. Too bad Herbert isn’t around to kvell.

Lighten Up Prize: SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s Manetti Shrem Museum at UCDavis, which lets its lattice-like roof do the talking.

Habitrail Metaphor Award: Thomas Heatherwick’s centerpiece for Hudson Yards is a basketweave stair-tower to nowhere.

Best New Place to Pray (and Boy Do We Need It) Award: The expanded and restored Temple Emanu-el in Dallas, by the woefully under-appreciated modern master Gary “Corky” Cunningham.

Caveman Award: Studio Gang’s canyon-like design for the latest addition to the American Museum of Natural History.

Best New Reason to Love the Heartland: Tippet Rise Arts Center in Montana, your new land art pilgrimage site.

Bonfire of the Vanities Award for Conspicuous Consumption: To the anonymous bidder who paid the $7,500 hammer price for the Four Seasons cotton-candy machine.

Blade Runner Award for Dystopian Fantasy Porn: HBO’s Westworld. Next up: Logan’s Run 2.0?

Friend of Brutalism Award: Bill Rawn (America’s greatest architect nobody knows) brings humanity and a riot of color to Philip Johnson’s Boston Public Library addition.

Clockwise from top left: SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s Manetti Shrem Museum at UCDavis; A rendering of the Thomas Heatherwick designed Vessel for Hudson Yards. SHoP’s American Copper Buildings; A rendering of the latest addition to the American Museum of Natural History designed by Studio Gang; The Vessell; Temple Emanu-El in Dallas.
Iwan Baan; VisualHouse; Will Femia; Courtesy of Studio Gang; James F. Wilson/Cunningham Architects.

You’d Never Know They Had Work Done Award: To Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum, Gordon Bunshaft’s Bienecke library, I.M. Pei’s East Wing and Louis Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art, refreshed without contemporary dross.

Glitter Can Be Good Award: Preservation gods willing, New York will soon have one more shiny 1970s landmark, The Ambassador Grill, in addition to the newly minted landmark Citicorp Building.

Frederick Law Olmsted Award: West 8 and Mathews Nielsen, for making nature out of landfill on Governors Island.

Believe the Hype Award: Bjarke Ingels, whose Via W 57 pyramid really did remake both the skyline and the way we stack apartments now.

X-Ray Award: To Manual of Section, from Lewis-Tsurumaki-Lewis, a celebration of architectural depth in our superficial age.

Prettiest Design Book Award: Yale’s Roberto Burle Marx monograph, designed by Miko McGinty and Rita Jules, who fit all the Brazilian’s lushness between color-drenched covers.

Prince Charles Lost Cause Prize for Boring Historicist Design: To Notre Dame, and its plans for a snooze-worthy architecture building with more parking than ideas.

Through the Looking Glass Award: Never Built New York, a compendium of what might have been—Midtown airport! Corncob towers! A Frank Lloyd Wright island!—that makes the present look dowdy, but functional.

Not Exactly What I Was Hoping for Award: Jane Jacobs turned 100 (posthumously), and for her birthday America realized her worst fears about consumerism trumping the common good. No wonder she left for Canada.

Citizen Design Critic Award: Basketball columnist Zach Lowe, as good on NBA court design as he is on the complexities of pick-and-roll defense. If only Mark Cuban would listen.

Clockwise from top left: The Hills at Govenors Island; Bjarke Ingels, Via W 57; Jane Jacobs; The Ambassador Grill.
Timothy Schenck/Coutesy West8; Max Touhey; World Telegram & Sun photo by Phil Stanziola/Courtesy of the Library of Congress; Courtesy Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates

Future to the Back Award: Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s use of virtual reality at the Jewish Museum’s Pierre Chareau retrospective lets us indulge our modernist nostalgia while feeling entirely up to date.

Woman Behind the Men Award: To Marion Mahony Griffin, finally getting her solo moment at the Elmhurst Museum outside Chicago, after a career spent “assisting” Frank Lloyd Wright and husband Walter Burleigh Griffin.

The Jack Torrance Shining Award: Museum Tower in Dallas, still reflecting light onto its neighbors, and potentially sending the entire city of Dallas into bankruptcy.

Green Thumb Award: To the retrospective for Lawrence Halprin, the landscape architect who made waterfalls flow in city centers, and protected the Sea Ranch from too much architecture.

Concrete Block Prize: The new film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian High Rise, which put the brutalism back in Brutalism.

Everyone Is Replaceable Award: Patrik Schumacher adds politics to his parametrics, patrons and employees revolt.

Fashion Icon Award: To Hillary Clinton, for making first the pantsuit, and then sensible dog-walking attire, the latest in street style.

Too Much Is Never Enough Awards: Farewells to Jane Thompson and Elaine Lustig Cohen, multi-hyphenates who demonstrated that one secret to a long career is knowing how many forms design can take, and taking them all on.

Golden Palm Memorial: For Diana Balmori, who began the campaign for ecology at the heart of the city long before infrastructure became landscape architects’ best friend.

Crimson Maple Memorial: Canadian architect Bing Thom, RIP, who built sensitive modern architecture from coast to coast, in his country and ours.

Heaven Was Needing More Swoops Award: RIP Zaha Hadid, one of the late 20th century’s foremost form-givers. Let’s leave the “woman” out of it, for once.

The We-Told-You-So Prize: To the nation’s architecture critics, who’ve been warning you about Trump for decades. Maybe listen next time?

Here’s hoping we may all be free to do this again in 2017.

Alexandra Lange’s architectural criticism column, Critical Eye, appears bimonthly on Curbed. At present, she is working on a book of collected essays about design for children. You can follow her on Twitter at @LangeAlexandra; ditto Instagram. Mark Lamster is the critic in residence at Dallas Morning News and a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He is currently at work on a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow Mark on Twitter at @marklamster. Missed Lange and Lamster’s 2015 architecture picks? Read up on ‘em here.

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