The Best Architecture Projects of 2009

2009 was a difficult year for architecture. Here are eight projects that polis considers to be among the most excellent of the year.

1. The Highline, New York - Diller Scofidio + Renfro and James Corner

2. Restaurant Tusen, Ramundberget, Sweden - Murmar Arkitekter

3. The Cooper Union, New York - Thom Mayne

4. Ticket Booth, New York - Perkins Eastman

5. Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, Johannesburg - Peter Rich Architects

6. Bamboo Forrest and Corinth Hut, Osaka - Rryuichi Ashizawa Architects

7. St. Edward's University Dormitories, Austin - Alejandro Aravena

8. Mason Lane Farm Operations Facility, Chapel Hill - Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

Please give us more suggestions.

Credits: Image of The Highline from niznoz. Image of Cooper Union from Image of Tusen Restaurant by Image of Ticket Booth, Corinth Hut, and Bamboo Forest from Image of Mason Lane from Image of Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre from


  1. what is the method to your madness, pray tell?

    Some of those are beautiful and obscure projects. But why put the high line at #1? In my opinion, it is a disingenuous project and basically took a page from Battery Park City. It is a good, expensive economic generator and has some wonderful details, but little else, methinks.

    and 3 NYC projects in the top 4?? although the tkts booth is pretty awesome.

  2. @faslanyc, good question. Natalia was kind to assemble submissions from several of us for the new projects we found most interesting in 2009. While the others who submitted are architects, I'm not, so my selections (Mason Lane, Corinth Hut, Cooper Union) were based on an interest in their materials, form, and presence. The only one of those I've seen in person is Cooper Union.

    I also selected the High Line for its horticulture, although I think the project could have used less new design elements, if that makes sense. I love that they opened it to the public (even though the landscape before it was reopened was, in my opinion, even more beautiful) and the way you can pass through so many different environments and see the city from new perspectives. I don't quite understand the part about Battery Park City, so maybe you can expand upon that?

    As for the prevalence of NYC projects, it's true, and while New York was fortunate to have a lot of praiseworthy new architecture last year, it may also be that projects in New York receive an inordinate amount of press and thus come more readily to mind when assembling a list at year's end.

    I found it hard to identify and assess the architectural projects of 2009, especially without having visited most of them. I relied on blogs and other media, so there's a good chance that the same projects are being celebrated while others remain obscure.

    So, I encourage you and other readers to add things that we missed. It would be interesting for us, and would help spread the word about lesser-known projects.

  3. thank you for the great explanation. My battery park city reference just meant that the project was essentially just linear-park-as-economic-generator but just redone in the style of the day. The design itself is not particularly significant (though I am a huge friend of the planting design and some of the detailing, and the novelty of it cannot be denied, though that wears off if you aren't just passing through). however, i am of the opinion that they totally missed the boat on "preserving that wandering, wild nature of the high line" (to paraphrase field ops) in the name of sexing it up and for that reason i call it disingenuous. nonetheless, it's there now, and there are wonderful things about it, i just think it has gotten essentially a free pass to date, when there are lessons to be learned from it through valid criticism.

    i myself wish i had more suggestions. i am in new york and so know that the best. however, i would have nominated the closing of Broadway at times square and herald square and the fundamental reshaping of midtown traffic patterns before any of those other nyc projects.

    im not a fan of thom mayne's building, but mostly because ive only seen it this winter when it's cold and dark and i am irascible and hate everything. most good designers i know like it a lot.

    landscape is also difficult, as "ribbon cuttings" are more complexly defined.

    you guys seem to have a good south american connection. i was hoping to see some cool stuff from there, maybe something that 30-60 published but hasn't made it up here yet.

    at any rate, the projects chosen were all excellent. and i really appreciated the obscure ones, which i hadn't yet seen. i guess i need to look at more blogs!

  4. That's an interesting point about the High Line. I hadn't thought about that at all, but I think you're right. I also just read your post on the High Line from August, which was a great read.

    I'm not sure if the main purpose of the design was to attract capital, but the way you describe the process of suspending a place in motion, "photoshopping" in some slick features, and packaging it for sale sounds right on target. It kind of sounds like gentrification.

    Still, is it a bad thing necessarily to bring investment into a neglected area? Although there are regulations, it doesn't seem that anyone is really excluded from the High Line, and of course it's free of charge. But I agree that they didn't preserve its "wild nature." I wonder how that could have been done. Wish I could have gone up there at least once before it was redeveloped.

    As for Times Square, the few times I've walked through since it was closed off, the atmosphere felt even more surreal than before. There were all these lawn chairs scattered around, with people on them texting or staring vacantly and silently, exhaustedly, maybe after walking around all day. It's nice to have a place to rest, but it all felt really exposed. There wasn't that Central Park quality that offers comfort in places that seem kind of intimate. But maybe I didn't go to the right parts, or ended up there during off days.

    Hmmm, there I go with the NYC tunnel vision. Thanks for the suggestion about looking to South America. Is 30-60 the same as 306090?

    You know, it would also be interesting to do a list on ad-hoc projects, like the creative ways people build, partition, or add on to their living spaces. Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful comments.

  5. 30-60 is a minimagazine covering latin american architecture (from mexico at the 30th north parallel to argentina at the 60th south parallel, hence the name). it is out of argentina and is not always amazing but they do a great job of keeping their ear to the ground.

    one of my favorite projects ever is the orquideorama in colombia by plan b arquitectura.

    it opened in 2006 officially, but only now are the orquids growing in and the canopy recovering which would make it a good time for a retrospective/award which is what I mean about difficult to define finish dates on landscape projects.

    that is true, the ad-hoc list.

  6. That Plan B Arquitectura project is amazing! Thanks for bringing it to my attention, as well as 30-60. Good point about finish dates. Maybe there should be contests for buildings at different ages, like 5, 10, 25, 50 years etc, based on how they function (including aesthetics) over time.

  7. The list was not done in any particular order, although the Highline was probably the best know project of the year. 2009 was very difficult for architecture, therefore it was not easy to make the list.
    I am curious to see what the 2010 best projects will be after the crisis.
    For example Japan had interesting post bubble projects, such as Atelier Bow-wows pet architecture.

    Also, the orquidorama is a fantastic project but from 2006.

  8. glad you guys recognized a much more humble project....the mason lane looks nice from the pics, i hope to check out in person...

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