Mask Up! It’s the 2020 Architecture and Design Awards
By Mark Lamster & Alexandra Lange
It has been a year, people. COVID-19. Economic collapse. Political madness. Social unrest. Fire. Mank. Through it all, we’ve been keeping tabs, marking down who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, so we can bring you, for the 11th consecutive year — !!! — our annual architecture and design awards.
With no further ado, here’s what we’ll remember from this year to forget:
Design of the Year: The mask. Cotton, silk, knit, disposable, novelty, high fashion, political, N95. Whichever option you have chosen — and you better have chosen one — no human-made object has had more impact on our lives in 2020.
Chemosphere Prize: To Dua Lipa, who had us levitating with her John Lautner call out on the title track of our favorite album of the year, Future Nostalgia.
Playskool Badge of Dishonor: Trump’s itty-bitty widdle desk. It should have been colored plastic, for design consistency, but as with all else in his benighted administration, it wasn’t thought through.
Richard Scarry Vision Award: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bizarro kiddie art “New York Tough” COVID poster left us speechless.
Crayola Award: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s color-coded warning system had residents seeing red. And purple. And blue. And …
Good for Women in Urbanism Award: To Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, who used the pandemic to further their pro-pedestrian, pro-bike lane, pro-clean air and explicitly feminist urban agendas.
Bad for Women in Urbanism (and every other profession) Award: To the coronavirus, which has driven hundreds of thousands of American women out of the workforce.
The Facebook Award for Loathsome Inescapability: To Zoom, which achieved hegemony — and became a verb — in the war of grid-based meeting platforms. Maybe next year, we’ll see you in person?
Nose Candy of the Year: To Twitter account Cocaine Decor bringing you all the orange carpet, mirrored ceilings and glass block your so-over-millennial-pink heart desires.
Stamp of Approval: To Ruth Asawa, star of the year’s most beautiful postage. In a year when the USPS did heroic work under duress, seeing her tough-but-delicate wire sculpture at the corner of a letter was [chef’s kiss].
Building(s) of the Year Award: To the streateries, some basic, some stylish, some practically indoors, that kept the restaurant industry working. We only wish such ingenuity had also been applied to transforming public space to shelter the unhoused, provide public bathrooms, keep sidewalks and streateries accessible, and offer children more space to play.
Hottest Home Good: The firepit, not just for campgrounds anymore.
Safety First, Safety Last Prize: The year’s most poignant architectural commentary came from John Wilson, who showed us that we may have too much scaffolding in our lives, physical and otherwise.
Best Trip: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild let us journey across meadows, stand at the edge of cliffs, and explore villages from the safety of our sofas.
Jonah Ryan Government Service Medal: To internet troll Justin Shubow and his National Civic Arts Society, for pushing a ridiculous Trump executive order mandating traditional style federal buildings.
C.J. Cregg Government Service Medal: To AOC and other backers of the Green New Deal, for creating the actionable package of new jobs, new maintenance, and new (low-emission) public infrastructure that the country needs way more than columns.
Gloria Gaynor Survival Award: Cities and skyscrapers were declared dead, again. Never gonna happen. Stop saying it.
Constituent Service Award: Nikil Saval decided to give up the wealth, glamour, and influence of architectural criticism to bring democractic socialism to the Pennsylvania State House. Fight the power.
Memorial of the Year: Howeler and Yoon’s ringed memorial to the thousands of slave laborers who built the University of Virginia.
Your Moment of Zen Award: To the Rothko Chapel in Houston, restored and refreshed by ARO, allowing visitors to plunge into Mark Rothko’s canvases of “blood and wine.”
The Annual What Are You Thinking, LACMA? Award: To LACMA, for knocking down its historic architecture in the middle of a financial and health crisis without an acceptable final plan for a new building.
Pickle of the Year: We were sad to learn that roadside landmark round bank of Waco was demolished this year, but happy to discover its architect, Durwood Pickle, is still with us.
Odd Couple Roommate Award: What happens when you build a shared stadium and the two primary tenants hate each other? Welcome to Inglewood’s $5.2 billion SoFi Stadium, home to the NFL’s Rams and Chargers. Or is it the Chargers and Rams?
1619 Award for Historical Revision: To Race and Modern Architecture, edited by Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis, and Mabel O. Wilson, which begins a long-needed reckoning with the references, representation, and hero worship that have kept histories of 20th century architecture so white.
Tenet Award for Poor Timing: Steven Holl opened his Kinder Building for the Houston MFAH in November, but with the pandemic and the election nobody wanted to hear about it …
Pisan Prize for Precariousness: To the Leaning Tower of Dallas, a failed demolition attempt that became an instant metaphor and Internet meme.
Personal Growth Prize: To Barclays Center, long a symbol of everything that’s bad about the way things get built in New York City, serving as a central Brooklyn meeting spot for weeks of Black Lives Matter protests. PS: And now KD is balling.
Cognitive Dissonance Prize: To departing Pritzker executive director Martha Thorne, last seen snubbing Denise Scott Brown, for claiming herself a champion of women in architecture.
Matryoshka Doll Award: In the shrinking architectural publishing business, Phaidon gobbled up Monacelli.
S,M,L,XL Award: To every design book published in 2021 with a Zoom friendly short title / all caps / thicc spine design.
Childhood Deprivation Badge: Jan Abrams didn’t get a bauhaus from her father, but we got a sweet book out of her plight.
Max Fischer Award for Excellence in Symmetrical Composition: To Accidentally Wes Anderson, the subreddit that became an Instagram that became a community that became a book, just in time to take us around the world looking for A-frame cabins, baroque hotels, hand-painted lettering and so many little pink houses. (Alexandra: And I don’t even *like* his movies!)
Best Question Award: To What Can A Body Do? by Sara Hendren, a philosophical, imaginative and personal exploration of design and disability, and the creativity that comes from not fitting in with the world as made.
Virtual Reunion of the Year: FAT, the most inventive practice of the 1990s, got together via Zoom to explain what their joyfully sly neo-postmodernism was all about.
Who Knew? Award: To the doc Unexpected Modernism, about the Jewish architect brothers Sam and William Wiener, who built dozens — dozens! — of avant-garde buildings in Shreveport, Louisiana. Jews. Modernism. Shreveport. For real.
Neologism of the Year: Coronagrifting, by the ever-inventive McMansion Hell, to describe the bubblicious and pixel-only creations of architects and designers desperate for relevance in a pandemic. Honorable mention to hard pants — will we ever zip ourselves into tight denim again?
Transparency Does Not Equal Democracy Prize: To Plexiglas, material of the moment, once again presented as a savior in dark times.
We Don’t Need Another Statue Award: To Monument Lab, the now Mellon Foundation-funded art and research studio conducting an audit of our country’s too-white, too-male, too-supremacist public sculptures ahead of a wider discussion of how best to represent history in three dimensions.
Posthumous Lump of Clay: He’s been dead since 2005, but Philip Johnson is still causing problems, this time from a group demanding MoMA and the GSD remove his name from their walls. PS: Recommended reading: The Man in the Glass House.
Making Lemonade Prize: To the curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum, whose online Pandemic Objects project has provided instant, thoughtful and needful context on the new importance of items from flour to hopscotch to cocktail shakers.
Do You Even Newsletter, Bro? Prize: To Kelsey Keith’s wry and highly shoppable Ground Condition, Sarah Archer’s curious and highly cosy America at Home and Elizabeth Goodspeed’s surprising and wide-ranging Casual Archivist.
Very Superstitious Award: To independent studio InnerSloth, which scored an unexpected hit with Among Us, an online multiplayer game in which you try to guess which friend is the murderer while fixing your spaceship. Who knew, when they designed the game, that hanging out with friends IRL could literally kill us?
Meme of the Year: Nature is healing. Emissions were down, walks were up, birdwatching went viral. Whether used as commentary on human, animal or vegetal resilience, this meme never failed to lift our spirits.
The architecture and design worlds also lost a number of influential figures.
Mr. New York Prize
He created the slogan (twice), he founded the magazine, he crowned Windows on the World, he designed the beer label. The city wouldn’t look like itself without the work of Milton Glaser.
Knives Out Cup
Michael Sorkin, the sharpest, the funniest, the most down-to-earth of critics. His collections Exquisite Corpse and Variations on a Theme Park remain essential guides to both the personalities and commercial realities of architecture under capitalism.
House Proud Award
Virginia McAlester wrote the book on the American house, an essential resource for preservationists, historians, and the general public. And when it came to preserving those houses — and neighborhoods and cities — she was a tireless and innovative advocate.
Textile designer, raconteur, and philanthropist Jack Lenor Larsen’s tactile, innovative and boldly colored fabrics were the go-to for modern architects and interior designers in search of sumptuousness. At least we still have LongHouse Reserve, the house and gardens which showcase his collections, his green thumb, and his taste.
Curtain Wall of Fame
Never as famous as his longtime business partner I.M. Pei, Henry N. Cobb was among the greatest of his greatest generation, the architect of towers — the Hancock in Boston, Fountain Place in Dallas — that achieve a seamless geometric perfection.
Design World’s Best Friend
Finally, we say goodbye to our mascot the Gnar-beast, Instagram legend and pet of awards consultant Carolina Miranda.
Alexandra Lange is a cultural critic and author of The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids. She is currently at work on a book about the history and future of the shopping mall. Twitter. Instagram.