Winners for this year’s Arch Daily’s Building of the Year Awards for 2016 definitely favored the low-tech—and sometimes the low-income options.
The awards for a range of categories featured beautiful and cost-effective architecture in developing countries, deserts, and using reclaimed spaces.
My personal favorite is the Vila Matilde House—which appropriately won the “Houses” category. The home of a domestic employee, this was by far the most modest of the winners. Its single floor and rooftop terrace, however, are incredibly beautiful—especially considering the fact that it’s in what appears to be a lower-income area outside of São Paulo.
Vila Matilde uses the same unadorned cinderblock walls common in developing countries across the world. And the beauty is in the details. The inside area is narrow, but cut into a slim kitchen and a courtyard divided by a wall of windows—quite modern. To boot, there’s a green wall and a small garden in the courtyard. Especially important considering the fact it’s 4.54 meters wide.
A much larger, though no more modest structure, won the only slightly different “Housing” category. Dubbed the Great Wall of WA, this one is a series of 12 temporary housing units for a nearby cattle station on the border of a desert in Australia.
Part of the impressiveness of the structure is that the building is the longest single rammed earth wall structure in the Southern Hemisphere, like adobe. At 450 mm thick, it has great thermal mass to keep the interior cool in the subtropical temperatures.
The winner of the “Public Architecture” award was the Community Kitchen of Terras da Costa. This building in Costa de Caparica, Portugal was designed to support the local community, which in and of itself, seems to have little-known history.
Within sight of the city’s downtown skyscrapers, this simple wood structure was built by a partnership that included community support and the University of Lisbon. It offers food to the community that originally started to support the surrounding agricultural fields and is made of largely illegal constructions.
The winner for “Healthcare Architecture” was in a remote area of Rwanda. The building was designed by New York City-based Sharon Davis Design, in partnership with Rwanda Village Enterprise for Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health, all within a very limited budget.
The design sounds kind of like my college dorms—individual hospital rooms with shared bathrooms in between and a hallway outside. However, these “dorms” have an incredible view over the surrounding country side, and breezy screened in walkways. Oh, and there are doctors there saving dozens of lives at any given point.
Several of the buildings were also refurbished buildings. One was a beautiful old castle in Portugal—but that didn’t seem to fit the vision of this post. However, another gorgeous piece of refurbished architecture (also in Portugal, oddly enough) won the “Hospitality Architecture” category.
The Cella Bar is what they call a “regenerative transformation” of a structure that had been abandoned for many years. The old square field stone-type building has a very organic addition. While the two portions would sound like a contrast, the end result is an incredible marriage of two era’s very different views on the relationship between an environment and a building.
Lastly, a restorative effort, the House of Vans London, is at once grimy and upscale. I include it because it did restore an otherwise questionable-use space (what else in God’s name would you ever use underground railway tunnels for??) and because of the minimalist approach chosen.
The five tunnels and the 150 year old brick arches of the railway lines heading out of Waterloo station and next to London’s famous graffiti street, Leake Street, won best “Interior Architecture.” The sprawling 2,500 sq. meter space is now considered a “mixed use creative venue”—and an homage to all that is the skateboard culture. Did I mention that is actually has a skate park inside?