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By: Kendall Jones on December 20th, 2021

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Top 5 Coolest Buildings of 2021

Architecture | Construction Fun

It’s that time of year again. As we say get ready to say goodbye to 2021 and ring in another new year, it's time to unveil ConstructConnect's Top 5 Coolest Buildings of 2021

The criteria for inclusion on the list are simple. The building has to have been completed, topped out, or opened within the calendar year and has to have some aspect that makes the building cool. This could be the architecture, sustainability elements, unique construction methods, technology, building materials used, cultural impact, or some combination of these elements.

Without further ado, here is our list for 2021:

1. Wormhole Library – Haikou, Hainan Province, China

First up on our list is the Wormhole Library from MAD Architects. The sinuous facility located on the coastline of China’s Haikou Bay was cast in white concrete using CNC-cut and 3D printed formwork to achieve the seamless feel of the building. The seamless design is reinforced with all the plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work concealed within the concrete walls.

The curved walls connecting the ceiling and floors give the impression that the building was carved or sculpted by the elements rather than built by man. Recessed bookshelves and reading nooks further that impression. Circular openings of various sizes for the windows and skylights let in plenty of natural light and along with the retractable curtain walls and curved sliding doors allow for natural ventilation and airflow.

The library was completed in April 2021 and houses 10,000 books inside its two-story reading room. The building also features a rooftop terrace with views of the bay, public facilities, a café, and a tunnel-like children’s reading room.

2. Valley – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Valley, designed by MVRDV and developed by EDGE, is an 807,300 square foot mixed-use development in Amsterdam’s Zuidas business district. The valley in Valley is formed by the void between the building’s three towers, or peaks. Valley is made up of 196 apartments, seven stories of offices, a three-story underground parking garage, retail and restaurant spaces, and a cultural center.

The exterior facing glass façade literally mirrors its corporate surrounding, while the inner facing façade is clad in natural stone and features large planters covering the building in vegetation. The vegetation and landscaping are intended to provide year-round greenery and were designed by Piet Oudolf.

A public park is situated in the valley of the three towers on the 4th and 5th floors and linked together by pedestrian paths and staircases that span five levels. Below the valley is a grotto clad in natural stone serving as a hallway to the retail spaces and offices. The grotto is lit by two large skylights that pull double duty as ponds in the park.

A parametric design tool, developed in conjunction with engineering firm Arup, was used to design the natural stone façade and test structural components, daylighting, and privacy requirements. As a result, each of the 196 apartments has its own unique design and floorplan—no two are alike.

3. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures – Los Angeles, California

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, designed by Renzo Piano, opened to the public on September 30, 2021. The museum is made up of two buildings, connected by skyways, the historic Streamline Moderne Wilshire May Company department store and a new glass-domed sphere building.

Renovation of the May Company Building, originally built in 1939, included replacing 200,000 of the 350,000 24-karat gold glass mosaic tiles covering the cylinder on the building’s southwest corner. The replacement tiles were provided by the same manufacturer in Venice, Italy as the original ones. Repairs to the building’s limestone façade were made by sourcing new material from the original source outside of Austin, Texas.

The dome on the sphere building is made of 1,500 flat, laminated shingle glass panels. To keep the dome and open-air Dolby Family Terrace below clean and fresh, a Harris’ hawk named Spencer is being employed to ward off pigeons and prevent them from pooping on the building.

Of course, as impressive as the building is, the real draw is what’s inside. The building boasts two theaters, the 1000-seat David Geffen Theater and the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater, and both can show films in multiple formats. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which owns the museum, holds over 13 million pieces of film memorabilia from costumes and props to film reels and screenplays.

Some of the items on display include:

  • The 40-foot-tall painted backdrop of Mt. Rushmore from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest
  • The only surviving fiberglass model made from the original mold of Bruce, the Great White Shark, from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws
  • Rosebud, the little red sled from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Only three were made for the movie and the first two were destroyed filming the scene where it is thrown into the fire. Luckily, Welles got the shot he wanted on the second take.
  • A cape worn by Bela Lugosi in Universal Pictures’ Dracula from 1931
  • These are the droids you’re looking for. The mechanical version of R2-D2 used on Star Wars Episodes I – IV and Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO costume worn in Episodes I, II, III, V, and VI.

4. Little Island @Pier55 – New York, New York

Next up on the list isn’t actually a building, it’s a park. Little Island @Pier55 designed by Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio sits atop the remnants of Chelsea Piers’ Pier 54 in the Hudson River. The 2.4-acre park opened on May 21, 2021, but had been in development since 2013 after Pier 54 was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy the year prior.

Little Island sits in the Hudson River atop 132 concrete pillars, or tulips because of their shape, each with its own unique shape to support the weight of the soil and vegetation. The tulips are set at varying heights to create the park's hilly topography. Engineering firm Arup used parametric design tools to design the tulips.

The park features a 687-seat wooden amphitheater and is home to 35 different tree species, 70 species of shrubs, and 200 species of perennials, herbs, and flowers. Pier 54 operated trans-Atlantic voyages for the Cunard-White Star line. The original building’s steel archway still stands at one of Little Island’s entrances.

Little Island was the brainchild of Barry Diller in collaboration with the Hudson River Park Trust and he privately funded a majority of the park’s $260 million price tag. A number of legal disputes over environmental issues almost derailed the project, and at one point was canceled, before construction finally began in 2018.

Fun fact: Pier 54 holds some historic, if tragic, significance as it was where the 712 survivors from the Titanic disembarked from the RMS Carpathia rescue liner in 1912. Three years later, Pier 55 saw the departure of the RMS Lusitania on what would be its final voyage. Five days later it was sunk by German U-boats off the coast of Ireland during World War I.

5. Las Américas Social Housing – León, Mexico

Last up on our list is Las Américas, an affordable housing development, designed by New York firm SO-IL. The project was developed in collaboration with the Instituto Municipal de Vivienda de León, León's government housing agency, as a prototype to address urban sprawl in the city.

The 56-unit building’s figure-eight shape encircles two interior courtyards and was designed so that no two apartments face each other to provide an added feeling of privacy. The building’s unique shape also means that no two apartments look alike. The courtyards allow for community interaction while also providing air circulation to the individual apartments. Each unit has operable windows that stretch from the floor to the ceiling to allow for cross ventilation from the city facing side to the courtyards.

SO-IL designed the building’s concrete blocks specifically for this project. Each block weighs approximately 37 pounds, which just so happens to be the maximum weight an individual worker is allowed to carry by law in Mexico. This allowed for low-cost, local labor to be used to keep the costs down.

So, what was your favorite new building of 2021, let us know in the comments below.

About Kendall Jones

Kendall Jones is the Editor in Chief at ConstructConnect. He has been writing about the construction industry for years, covering a wide range of topics from safety and technology to industry news and operating insights.