Spheres, Jeers & Cheers: It’s the 2023 Architecture and Design Awards

By Alexandra Lange, Mark Lamster & Carolina A. Miranda

The world is a beknighted garbage fire, war is spreading, authoritarianism is on the rise, the climate apocalypse is upon us, everybody hates everybody else, and male architects still can’t keep it in their pants. What are we to do? What we have done every year for the past fourteen consecutive years: pick out the best, worst, and most befuddling in the worlds of architecture and design and then give them fake awards.

And so, with no further ado…

Bad for Architecture Award: The long-sought Gilgo Beach serial killer turns out to be an architect with a New York City practice. Not helping.

Thanks But No Thanks Award: Clients rush to dump David Adjaye following allegations of workplace exploitation, sexual and otherwise.

Kandy-Kolored Streamline Baby Award: The new Terminal E at Boston’s Logan Airport is a cherry-red flying saucer designed by Spanish architect Luis Vidal.

Tom Wolfe Golden Turd of Reactionary BS: Thomas Heatherwick’s whiny, ahistorical screed against modernism is a project nobody needed or wanted. Kind of like the Vessel. And the Garden Bridge.

100 Yard Dash in a 90 Yard Gym Badge of Shame: Say what you want about modernism, Mr. Heatherwick, but what the heck is this mess?

Nothing to Sphere but Sphere Itself Ceremonial Scepter: Vegas has the biggest ball of them all, but it’s unclear whether TikTok’s favorite venue, which cost a whopping $2.3 billion to build, will turn a profit IRL.

Best Sprawl: The 12 artists in the Nasher Sculpture Center’s superlative “Groundswell: Women of Land Art,” taking territory back from dudes since the late 1960s. Know their names: Albuquerque, Aycock, Buchanan, Denes, Hassinger, Holt, Johanson, Mendieta, Miss, Pinto, Stuart, Webster.

If At First You Don’t Succeed Award: Boston’s heroic City Hall, which has long topped lists of the USA’s ugliest buildings, has been recommended for landmark status. Current mayor (and previous award-winner) Michelle Wu is a fan!

Nattering Negativity Memorial Staff: SF got on the doom loop, then couldn’t get off — even though the scenario wasn’t supported by data. But it was all worth it for the sardonic instruction manual published by the San Francisco Chronicle on how you too can write your own sloppy doom loop story.

Time Flies Prize: Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, architecture’s Marilyn Monroe, hits the quarter century mark, and wins the AIA’s 25 Year Award.

Starchitectural Dead Mall Plaque: The Grand LA, Gehry’s flashy downtown mixed user, which sits across from his Disney Hall, however, isn’t off to as good of a start. It was supposed to bring urbanity to dull corporate superblocks, but so far … crickets.

Pilgrimage Award: David Hotson’s St. Sarkis Armenian Orthodox Church, in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, is the most beautiful — and moving — new building of the year.

As Long As They Don’t Auction It Off Award: Marcel Breuer’s “harsh and handsome” ex-Whitney will become Sotheby’s. How is this better than a designer flagship? We were hoping for Thom Browne.

Going Mainstream Award: Landscape architects rejoice! Rewilding is among this year’s additions to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

If It Ain’t Broke Award: Another year, another spectacular waterfront reclamation: This year it is Memphis’s Tom Lee Park, by Studio Gang and SCAPE, with striking tetrahedral canopies, circuitous paths, and play equipment shaped like riverine fauna.

Metal Medal: Marlon Blackwell’s PS1200 development in Fort Worth brings back the humble Quonset hut, with style.

LeRoy Neiman Prize: The NBA’s color-jacked In Season Tournament court designs made watching games an eye-straining chore.

Rice-A-Roni Award: Portal, our colleague John King’s treat of a book, gave us an architectural look at the history of San Francisco.

Perseverance Prize: Design Observer, where these awards got their start, turned 20. For a blog that’s like 4,000 years.

Beyond ADA Award: Books from David Gissen and Andrew Leland suggest new directions for addressing disability in design.

Marie Kondo Medal for Anal Retention: Straighten it like Beckham? Netflix bio doc reveals Britain’s favorite footballer to be a fastidious design maven — even more than Posh.

Rorschach Prize: Jeanne Gang’s cave-like Gilder Center for the AMNH was the building that had every critic talking.

BEST Store Prize: A suburban Chicago supermarket with a swoopy white canopy looks like the illegitimate offspring of SITE and Zaha Hadid.

Load the Fish Cannon Ceremonial Sash: Manhattan’s Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine is single-handedly reviving Neo-Manueline architecture in the name of tinned fish.

Pollyanna Prize: Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister’s tone-deaf monograph, Now Is Better, tries on some very rose-colored glasses. Now is better? What world is he living in?

It’s All A Facade Plaque: REX’s Lindemann Performing Arts Center at Brown and Perelman Performing Arts Center at Ground Zero stuff a lot of stuff into some very flashy boxes.

Less Is Less Prize: La Sombrita, the shade? light? sign? intended to offer safety and comfort at Los Angeles bus stops. Ended up underlining the problems rather than providing a solution.

Fortress of Sauron Villain Lair Parchment of Distinction: Eric Owen Moss’s concrete-encrusted Wrapper tower in Culver City is the sort of structure where you could unleash a virus or plan gentrification.

Architect Barbie Statuette: Greta Gerwig’s feminist message may be muddy, but the Dreamhouses, pinked and primped by production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer, were anything but.

I’m not Talking About the Italian Renaissance Roll of Honor: Es Devlin’s remarkable production design for Beyoncé’s tour had the pop star birthing herself through a circular channel cut into a massive screen projecting everything from Gothic architecture to Bey herself.

Lifetime Achievement Award: *Another* Danish design monograph? Roll your eyes before you realize that Jens Quistgaard was the man behind your favorite casserole, peppermill, and ice bucket.

Now We’re Cooking Cup: The Smithsonian acquires the premier example of postwar Black design, the psychedelic, swoon-worthy Ebony Test Kitchen from 1972.

It’s the Parking, Stupid Prize: Henry Grabar’s thorough and enraging “Paved Paradise” is this, in book form.

Stairways to Heaven: The best tools to address the housing crisis may not be flashy (see parking reform, above), but reforming building codes to all single-stair multifamily buildings up to six stories, as Washington recently did, opens the possibility for more economical, flexible, and even sunlit options.

YIMBY Cup: A new book from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies offers models from around the nation and the world on how to build more (and better looking) housing.

Certificate of Don’t Call It a Comeback (Yet): Architecture World breathed a sigh of relief in 2022 when Google picked up Helmut Jahn’s Chicago Thompson Center. But recent permits issued by the city revealed plans to demolish the exterior and atrium for a renovation design that has yet to be disclosed.

Little Pink Houses Medal: Bay State Cohousing in Malden, Mass. by the sisters of French 2D, 30 households and a south-facing courtyard wrapped in blush siding.

Stage Five Clinger Trophy: We love the work of Boston architects Anmahian Winton, but don’t see why I.M. Pei’s Green Building at MIT needs a fannypack.

Just Google Them Prize: In a city known for hiring big name architects, the Dallas Museum of Art selects Spanish firm Nieto Sobejano for its expansion project.

Tear the Roof off the Sucker Prize: Lauren Halsey built a stunning Egyptian-style temple on the roof of New York’s Met Museum this summer that paid tribute to the aesthetics of Black life in L.A.

Papyrus Frond of Honor: In keeping with the ancient theme, Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, where the first ever movie premiere was held in 1922, has regained its early 20th century glamor after a sumptuous Netflix-funded renovation by Studio 440 Architecture & Acoustics.

Catching Strays Over Here Prize: The crew-neck sweater, that humble wardrobe workhorse, became the creepy brand of serial liar George Santos.

Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly Crystal Cup: A definition for “x,” according to Merriam-Webster, is to “cancel or obliterate with a series of x’s.” Which is exactly what Elon Musk achieved with his disastrous takeover of Twitter, which appropriately enough, is now a big “X.”

The Astrodome Prize for Shuttered H-Town Institutions: The Rice Design Alliance, beacon of Texas architectural culture that gave us Cite magazine and launched many a design writer, closes.

Shiplap Plaque: Whereas once bad things happened to pretty people in glass houses, “Leave The World Behind” locates the end of the world in Modern Farmhouse.

Your Museum Doesn’t Need a Bulbous New Wing Trophy: Michael Maltzan Architecture’s deliberate redo of L.A.’s Hammer Museum proves that taking a scalpel to existing architecture can yield great results.

Plants As Memory Prize: Landscape architect Walter Hood brought South Carolina to the Venice Biennale, installing a Low Country wetland in the historic Carlo Scarpa garden, building on the powerful combination of bound bodies, involuntary voyages, and native vegetation Hood Design Studio set out at Charleston’s wharfside African Ancestors Memorial Garden.

Bob Hope Thanks For The Memories Gold Watch: Rosalie Genevro retired after more than three decades leading the Architectural League of New York, flagship of architectural culture in the United States.

IN MEMORIAM

Kent Bloomer: If you have ever boggled at the giant owl-topped pediments at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, you know Bloomer’s exuberant, extravagant ornament, a design passion he pursued (and taught to Yale students) while architectural styles came and went.

Jean-Louis Cohen: One of the most influential historians and curators of the late 20th century, Cohen was also an amused and committed mentor, willing to help students get as close to his unreachable standard as they could reach.

Claude Cormier: Cormier’s witty, colorful and fanciful public spaces — Dogs! Valentines! Pink umbrellas! — gave the often gray cities of Montreal and Toronto both conversation pieces and embracing places to have those conversations.

Carin Goldberg: Though not a household name, there is hardly an American household that doesn’t possess the work of the beloved graphic designer, who put the giant U in Ulysses.

Robert Irwin: The master of light and space brought ephemeral, ethereal qualities to a body of work that transcended sculpture, and called bullshit on Richard Meier.

Gene Kohn: The gentlemanly K in KPF was a widely admired practitioner of corporate architecture at its best.

Robert Mangurian: A key figure in the establishment of SCI-Arc, the L.A. architect was also known for his deep studies of Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome and the wildly PoMo Venice gallery he designed for Larry Gagosian with Craig Hodgetts.

Harriet Pattison: The landscape architect brought softness and movement to Louis Kahn’s linear Kimbell Art Museum, and helped him sculpt the dramatic site for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

Rafael Vinoly: The notoriously difficult architect created dramatic high-tech structures, one of which literally set cars on fire, and kept New York opticians in business.

Yours truly,

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. You can find him @marklamster on Instagram and other platforms.

Alexandra Lange is a design critic and author of Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall. She can be found @langealexandra on all platforms.

Carolina A. Miranda is an art and design columnist at the Los Angeles Times. Find her on Bluesky @cmonstah.bsky.social or on Instagram at @cmonstah.

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