1. World Trade Center Memorial
and Museum, Snøhetta
In the dispiriting saga of ground zero, the one glint of optimism is this Norwegian firm’s design for a 9/11 pavilion. Snøhetta offsets the politics and melodrama with an architecture of humane subtlety. The steel-ribbed glass wedge, sheltering the Twin Towers’ magnificently rusted columns, bows toward the memorial pits and supports the irregular form with an apparently crazed, structurally lucid tangle of tilted beams.
2. 23 East 22nd Street,
Office for Metropolitan Architecture
As the demand for hyperexpensive condos teetered dangerously on the edge of collapse, Rem Koolhaas’s OMA unveiled a design for … a luxurious condo building that seems to be teetering dangerously. One side steps back as it goes up, the other cantilevers in the same direction, so that the whole thing leans spectacularly like a pair of dancers in a dip.
3. 56 Leonard Street,
Herzog & De Meuron
It looks at first like a parable about the modernism wars: A sloppy stack of pristine glass houses rests on a mirrored, pillowy sculpture by Anish Kapoor. Showy surface and austere forms balance each other, almost literally. The design, like the firm that produced it, looks both to baroque and minimalist aesthetics, pleased at not having to choose.
4. HL23, Neil Denari
No flamboyant West Chelsea condo more eloquently reflects the transformation of the High Line than this California architect’s first New York creation. At once adaptive and alien, the glass-and-steel building will sprout alongside the old railroad tracks and then widen, spreading its shine and shade over the new park.
5. Eldridge Street Synagogue,
Walter Sedovic Architects
A twenty-year restoration, opened just at the turn of the year, has revived the synagogue’s once-moribund Moorish magnificence. Though the Jewish millions of the Lower East Side have long since dispersed, a small congregation hangs on, and its home glisters again with stained glass, painted ceilings, and wooden columns disguised as marble.
6. Bronx County Hall of Justice,
A glass courthouse in the South Bronx: A generation ago, that concept would have made as little sense as a fur jail in Baghdad. Yet there it is, sun-filled, unforbidding, and eminently civilized, announcing that in this borough, the justice system can occupy a crystal palace, rather than a concrete fort.
7. Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant,
At a time when New York architecture has been driven by a luxury race, it’s good to see Hervé Descottes’s blue spots light up the digester eggs of Greenpoint’s sewage leviathan. Those functional forms towering over Polshek’s color-coded buildings bring fine design to one of society’s least glamorous achievements.
8. Public Farm 1, Work Architecture
Conflating the ideas of urban farm, community garden, architecture, sculpture, and playground, the winners of P.S.1’s Young Architects competition filled the museum courtyard with a procession of great cardboard tubes. It suggests how grand ideas can be tackled with little more than dirt and paper rolls.
9. CityRacks Design Competition Winner,
Ian Mahaffy & Maarten De Greeve
New York has a lot to learn from Denmark about retooling for bicycles, so it’s fitting that a Copenhagen firm produced the minimalist, circular design for our new, soon-to-be-everywhere bike racks, an Anglicized version of the Danish letter ø.
10. Buckminster Fuller: "Starting with the Universe,"
The 21-gun retrospective couldn’t have come at a better time: We could use a visionary like Bucky Fuller right about now. He captured the public’s imagination with fantastical yet utterly rational proposals for inexpensive, ecologically efficient, structurally rigorous, and quickly fabricated shelter.
Photo: Courtesy of Squared Design Lab
Photo: Courtesy of Herzog and De Meuron, Basel, Switzerland
Photo: Courtesy of Workac/MoMA
Photo: Courtesy of the DOT of NYC
Photo: Courtesy of the estate of R. Buckminster Fuller