2021, we hardly knew ye. This year will likely be remembered for the rollercoaster of COVID-19 waves and variants upending our lives, but it still managed to produce some incredible art, design, and architecture along the way. These 10 projects stand out for their ingenuity, creativity, and innovative spirit, displaying the kind of verve we need to deliver us to a truly brighter future.
The late designer Virgil Abloh gifted us with a lot of creativity before his untimely death this year, including a fun collection of architecture-meets-menswear for Louis Vuitton. Taking inspiration from James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village,” the Fall-Winter 2021 collection introduces wearable buildings modeled on such recognizable structures as Mies Van Der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavilion.
Office environments don’t have to be sad, stuffy, and boring. Selgascano’s Second Home Hollywood staggers lemon-yellow office pods and communal spaces through a lush landscape for a co-working environment that fosters connection, concentration, and good mental health. It’s the kind of work environment you might not actually mind returning to when the pandemic danger is over.
Bringing the same LED technology that benefits plants in greenhouses into open fields, Studio Roosegaard explores how artificial sunshine can benefit both plants and people with GROW. Part art installation, part agricultural innovation, the project turns farm fields into a setting for spectacular light shows while boosting crop growth.
Strikingly sculptural in appearance, The Chapel of Sound is an open-air concert hall by OPEN Architecture set near the Great Wall of China outside Beijing. It’s organically shaped enough to seem almost like a natural growth, but its concrete striations produce an ideal acoustic space for performances, and it even has a rooftop observation deck.
Somewhat depressing story aside, Netflix’s Squid Game stood out for its striking sets, each one symbolizing a contrast between childhood innocence and the harsh reality of adulthood in the modern world. Exaggerated and oversized playgrounds, eerie combat arenas, models of traditional Korean villages, and beds stacked like stadium bleachers come together to produce a nightmarish spectacle of life-or-death competition.
Tiny houses have a reputation for feeling a bit too cramped and utilitarian for most people, but the Cabana offers middle ground on both fronts. What’s remarkable about this 355-square-foot off-grid abode is that not only is it two full stories with an attractive modern design, it’s also made up of modules that are light enough for just two people to transport and put together.
Wutopia Lab deftly demonstrates how to make urban locations feel zen with its Duoyun Bookstore, a cloud-themed commercial space that takes visitors on a journey of tranquility and discovery. Located in the Huangyang district of Taizhou in China, the nearly all-white bookstore features a series of connected outdoor rooftop spaces for reading and discussion in between interior spaces that show off the books to their best advantage.
Sculpture, self-expression, a rebuke of sexist design standards: Bethan Laura Wood’s ornate and imaginative furniture reflects a daring approach and a uniquely brilliant vision. The English designer put together a collection of both new and old works for “Ornate,” a solo show at Nilafur Gallery in Milan, and it was a buffet of beautiful and strange objects that are also functional pieces for the home.
Sure, Mold Architects’ NCaved house in Greece looks a bit like a Bond villain’s lair. But it’s also smart in various ways: passively cooled and heated by the earth, blended into its hilly environment for a lower visual and environment impact, and designed to perfectly frame views of the water.
Designs for ultra-tiny apartments that rely on robotic and electronic elements are certainly impressive, but out of reach for the average person who actually lives in a small space. Design firm K-Thengono took a more practical approach for this ultra-narrow apartment in Jakarta using drawers, cabinets, and fold-down tables. It’s a great example of what’s possible when you think creatively.