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2018 in architecture: The good, the bad, and the urbanism

Two architecture critics weigh in on a year in design

The world may be careening toward environmental calamity and our democracy may be in jeopardy, but fear not, your brave correspondents Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange are here again, bringing you their annual architecture and design awards for the—yes!—ninth year in a row.

It has been a memorable year for them both, as they are each authors of new and critically acclaimed books, his a biography of that irascible wit (and sometime fascist) Philip Johnson, hers an exploration of how the design of toys, schools, and playgrounds shapes our kids and ourselves. The best holiday gift you could give them is a visit to your local indie bookseller to purchase one or both of these fine titles. And now on to who’s been naughty and nice…

2 Lazy 2 Start from Scratch Award

BIG’s Oakland stadium proposal features the apartments and waterfront park from their Manhattan projects, snow-dusted pines from the Rockies, and a gondola worthy of a Disney theme park. There’s got 2B a baseball diamond in there somewhere.

Thank God It’s Over Award

Our long national nightmare of media speculation and mayoral grovelling ends with HQ2 split between New York and Washington.

No Award Because He’d Consider It Clutter Award

Dieter Rams, whose message of “Less, but better” has never seemed more timely.

The Nancy Sinatra Boots Were Made for Walkin’ Award

Karrie Jacobs traveled to LaGuardia airport on foot, and wrote about the experience. Spoiler alert: Not ideal.

The Philip Johnson Award for Shamelessness Award

Sir Norman Foster, for blowing up his own legacy slideshow with the absurd Tulip and unnecessary 270 Park Avenue.

Bad for Women in Architecture Award

To JP Morgan Chase, demolishing Natalie De Blois’s Union Carbide tower, a landmark in everyone’s eyes but theirs.

Good for Women in Architecture Award

[suspended until the profession cleans house of more than one harasser and learns how to retain women]

Repeat Offender Award

We do this every year, and every year Museum Tower in Dallas is still shining its death ray into the Nasher Sculpture Center. Seven years in a row! Come on, man!

We Knew Him When Award

Christopher Hawthorne makes an award-winning film on FLW and then ditches criticism to become Chief Design Officer of Los Angeles. But who should replace him at the LA Times? Hmmmm….

Kick-Ass Arts Writer at a Major Los Angeles Newspaper Who Would Make a Genius Architecture Critic Award

Carolina Miranda

Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works.
The Chunky Book Award

Design firm Over/Under’s fabulous maximalist miniature monograph of Pei partner Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works.

Second City Award

Chicago added another architectural bauble to its crown, Wrightwood 659, a converted exhibition space designed by Tadao Ando.

And on the Other Side of Town Award

Chicago’s Sweetwater Foundation had community members hand-build a fabulous translucent barn on its communal garden space.

Shop ‘Til You Drop Award

The shopping mall, long considered dead, rises from the online shopping ashes as the “city center,” with food halls, fountains, and architectural pedigree courtesy Renzo Piano and SHoP.

Emerald City Award

Out of the barren prairie, Jerry Jones built a mini-city for the Dallas Cowboys. It has all the character you would expect from an (the) NFL Franchise.

Underrated MCM Master Elevated from the Archives of the Year

Legendary architect and designer Victor Lundy finally gets the monograph he deserves.

National Memorial for Peace & Justice.
Getty Images
It Will Make You Cry Award

To the National Memorial for Peace & Justice (aka the Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery: the most powerful work of memorial design since Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

It’s the Zoning, Stupid Award

2018 was the year everyone learned what YIMBY means, thanks to forward-thinking cities like Minneapolis, where single-family zoning is now an artifact of the past.

Greenest Thumb Topiary Prize

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates opened Gathering Place Tulsa, a $465 million, 66-acre waterfront park, with five acres of accessible playgrounds; renovated and upgraded the grounds around the St. Louis Arch, and finally have a winning, highway-free plan for the Trinity River in Dallas. What’s landscape architecture doing for your city?

Gathering Place Tulsa.
Courtesy of Gathering Place
Christo and Jean-Claude Award

Photographer Peter Steinhauer’s book Cocoons beautifully captures rising towers wrapped in monochromatic construction scrims.

The Future Will Be Pedestrianized Prize

The war on cars (also the name of an excellent new podcast) comes home as fires burn, sea levels rise, and the planet warms. Count us firmly in the #everythingbutcars transportation camp.

Chef’s Kiss Award

In Houston, Johnston Marklee, MVVA, and Guy Nordenson Associates get the Menil Drawing Institute just right.

I Love the ‘80s Award

Homecoming on Amazon uses the mirror glass and mirrored plans of Florida’s Late Modern office parks to heart-pounding effect. No longer must evil lurk only in modern houses!

Crockett and Tubbs Design Award

The Miami Heat’s new Miami Vice uniforms and court design. Crank the Jan Hammer theme song and bring back the pastels.

Damn Right We’re Interested Award

99 Percent Invisible’s Avery Trufelman launched her capsule podcast Articles of Interest—and the series on the social history of clothing was the best thing to stream through our earbuds all year.

Folly of the Year

Ellsworth Kelly got a posthumous chapel in Austin of his own design that cost $23 million. Nice, if your taste runs to igloos.

Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015
©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Think Pink Prize

To every product advertised on the New York City subway, from mattresses to handbags to Hims, on a pink background with blue sans-serif type and hints of cactus green. All we remember is your normcore graphic design.

Winners of the Yard Sign Wars

Tandem NYC and Tony Casas, designers of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke’s campaign graphics, respectively, shook up a field mired in American flags and red, white and blue.

No Pomo, No Prize

The AIA declines to award its 25-Year Award because it doesn’t like the 1980s—but Camden Yards, the 1984 Olympic Games, and a High-Tech salvo by this year’s AIA Gold Medal winner beg to differ.

And a Pomo No-Go

After protests, Snohetta backs off and will leave Philip Johnson’s AT&T tower pretty much as is (at least on the outside).

The Heat Is On Award

Critics of Sidewalk Labs’ new waterfront neighborhood in Toronto ask the tough questions about data, privacy and due process. Sensor-laden sidewalks aren’t worth giving up our lives to the Alphabet.

I’ll Build the Award in Minecraft Prize

Ole Scheeren’s MahaNakon Tower in Bangkok wrests the Jenga nickname from Herzog & de Meuron’s 56 Leonard. Do you want your pixelated tower precarious or deconstructing?

The Miami Heat’s new Miami Vice uniforms.
Getty Images
Pits of the World Award

Awful Patrik Schumacher and Zaha’s heirs in a fight over her….oh we just can’t.

Double-A Doorstops of the Year

Monographs on Archigram and Arquitectonica will do well under your favorite architecture geek’s holiday tree.

Rocket Man Medal for Cultural Diplomacy

Itinerant critic Olly Wainwright for looking not just at buildings, but for his colorful examination of the North Korean design gestalt.

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Urban Design Award

In a year that brought bad news and more bad news, Bodys Isek Kingelez’s brik-brak fantasy models at MoMA were shots of pure joy.

Urbanist of the Year

Who built our dream city with shiny, swooping public transportation, a walkable core, and skyscrapers made of brick, concrete and vibranium? Production designer Hannah Beachler, whose Wakandan capital combined Afrofuturism with Zahaphilia.

Golden TV Antenna Prize

RIP Robert Venturi, who taught us in Complexity and Contradiction that history was part of the modern age, in Learning from Las Vegas that architecture without decoration is brutal, and in lockstep with partner Denise Scott Brown that collaboration makes the best work.

Reach for the Stars Award

RIP Constance Adams, designer of space stations, who took architecture and inflatables into orbit.

Say It With Gas Tanks Award

RIP landscape architect Richard Haag, whose Gas Works Park in Seattle, initiated in 1971, set the table for current proliferation of urban landscapes which build on, over and through the urban industrial past.

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic at Dallas Morning News. Follow Mark on Twitter at @marklamster. Alexandra Lange’s architectural criticism column, Critical Eye, appears bimonthly on Curbed. Her book of collected essays The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids, was published this summer by Bloomsbury Press. Follow her on Instagram at @LangeAlexandra; ditto on Twitter. Missed Lange’s and Lamster’s 2015, 2016, and 2017 architecture picks? Read up on ’em here, here, and here.