Form plus function is Architecture 101. But a building that not only is a bright spark on the landscape but also has a surface as idiosyncratic as its structure, well, that’s Architecture 2010. The year that film embraced a third dimension, architecture found a fourth: texture. From the screen-printed filigree of Calais’s Fashion and Lace Museum to the latticework of Guangzhou’s TV Tower to Johannesburg’s serpentine Soccer City Stadium, glittering in earthy hues that reflect the country’s terrain, texture adds majesty and grace to complexes that are already anatomically arresting. The other big news? This was the year of the museum. These pages are filled with cultural edifices high and low, and it’s heartening to know that such institutions still have the cash to build (or complete, for these wonders were years in the making) splashy structures that celebrate civilization—and are as interesting inside as out.
Guangzhou TV Tower
Dubbed both the supermodel and the twisted lady, Guangzhou’s 2,000-foot-tall TV tower is a woman above all: “Most skyscrapers bear male features—they’re introverted, rectangular, and repetitive,” Information Based Architects’ Mark Hemel has said. “We wanted a female tower that is complex, transparent, curvy, and gracious.” His team created a slender hourglass of steel columns that twist into a tightly woven “waist” 560 feet above the ground. This middle area doesn’t have floors or walls; instead, there’s an open-air staircase where visitors can see the latticework construction up close. Gusts blow through the steel mesh in certain cross sections; elsewhere, glass panels enclose a movie theater, two rotating restaurants, and shops.
Johannesburg, South Africa
In Jo’burg, where soccer is more religion than sport, Soccer City, the venue for this summer’s World Cup, is an appropriately dazzling temple devoted to the worship of headers and punts. And since 2010 marks the first time any African nation has hosted the tourney, architect Bob van Bebber, of Johannesburg-based Boogertman Urban Edge, sought to rep the whole continent with a multihued melting pot that would loom large but feel familiar to fans in each of the stadium’s 94,000 seats. He modeled his 7,000-ton steel-and-concrete arena after the calabash, a gourd that has varied uses—musical instrument, beer stein, motorcycle helmet—and that is found all over the continent’s 11 billion square miles. Furthering the melting-pot motif is an earthen-colored exterior set into a “fire pit” of lights. “The design was inspired by ideas about shared experiences: drinking, pattern making, storytelling,” says Van Bebber. “We wanted to bring divided cultures together not only for this world event but for the future.”
Design Museum Holon
Curvaceous and expressionist, Ron Arad’s Design Museum in downtown Holon defies Bauhausian efficiencies in an area of the world molded around that movement’s strict, practical lines. Arad’s brazenly decorative design comprises five Cor-Ten steel ribbons oxidized to different shades of reddish-orange. After wrapping around a courtyard (shown here), the steel strips bind together to create the walls of the museum’s small lower gallery, reminding the visitor that “the building envelope is not just a pretty space, it’s a structure,” says Arad. One band swells into a ramp that connects the museum’s two levels; inside, an “immersive design environment” is punctuated by interactive and digital exhibitions accessible through an underground entrance “cave.” As for Arad, his ultimate commission was to create a second Bilbao—an obscure city brought to the forefront by a postcard-worthy piece of architecture—and in this capricious rotunda of steel, he may have done just that.
New York City
A deconstructionist cube slashed with a jagged hook-shaped gash, the bold new Cooper Union centers around a 20-foot-wide grand staircase that ascends to a rooftop atrium; that glass topper also serves as a skylight for the 175,000-square-foot superstructure (75 percent of which is naturally lit). Home to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Morphosis’s iconic design has operable insulating stainless steel panels, radiant heating and cooling, and a “green” roof that entitled it to an LEED Gold rating and makes it 40 percent more energy efficient. In the spirit of Peter Cooper, who founded the institution in 1859 to foster free access to the arts in New York, a public gallery shows architectural exhibits and a 200-seat auditorium hosts open art lectures.
Za Koenji Public Theatre
Bright with neon wattage and bustling with Lady Gaga–like Harajuku fashionistas, Tokyo is not known for subtlety. But the aesthetic is less flashy and more fanciful on the outskirts of Suginami City, where rising Japanese architect Yoko Ito settled on an otherworldly, craterlike look for his Za Koenji Public Theatre. “I tried to create an impression of an enclosed tent cabin, or playhouse,” Ito says. A thin, sheeny skin of black steel stretched over a scalloped silhouette, the 36,000-square-foot construction certainly dwarfs low-lying neighbors, but its crenated sloped roof and dotty apertures hint at its role as an outlet for community performing arts. Ito designed three stories and three basements to comply with stringent height restrictions. One concert hall is flat and flexible; another, created specifically for rehearsals of the Awa Odori dance festival, has a revolutionary concrete floor that bounces back from the liveliest cartwheels and steps.
Calais Fine Arts and Lace Museum
“Lace evokes those incomparable designs which the branches and leaves of trees embroider across the sky.” So said fashion goddess Coco Chanel, who would be chuffed to see that same sky embroidery glimmering in the glass-and-steel facade of the Calais Fine Arts and Lace Museum, an homage to the millions of yards of frills and tulles threaded in Calais since the early 1800s. With an exterior that looks screen printed by a Jacquard loom’s punch cards, the undulating L-shaped construction references the northeastern French town’s industrial past, when Calais reigned as the world’s lace capital. Inside, the sunlit space is filled with fashion magazines, costumes, and lace—from the seventeenth-century trim trendy with Louis XIV and the like to the traditional, flowery fabric in this photo’s foreground. “We wanted to pay tribute to the generations of men and women who worked this difficult and mysterious trade,” said Alain Moatti of the French architectural firm Moatti et Rivière. “The structure is an homage to lace—to its sensuality.”