The world's best architecture of 2021 revealed in prestigious awards

The world’s best architecture and interior design of 2021 named in prestigious awards, from a street food market in London to an energy plant in Copenhagen with a SKI SLOPE on the roof

  • A waste plant topped with a ski slope was named Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival
  • Also honoured was a New York project that repurposes landfill-destined plywood into restaurant furniture 
  • The Interior of the Year award went to a hostel in China with room for 20 guests that also houses a bookstore 

Only something extraordinary is going to win the prestigious accolade of Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) – and Amager Bakke in Copenhagen is exactly that.

The structure is an astonishing and surreal combination – an incineration plant topped with an artificial ski slope, hiking trail, a rooftop bar and the tallest climbing wall in the world.

The judges at the annual festival – a three-day virtual affair this year – awarded it Building of the Year 2021 having concluded that it ‘reminds us that buildings can be fun’.

Plenty of eye-catching designs could also be found among the WAF category winners list, including a trendy street food market in London that occupies a vacant historic building, a New York project that sees plywood used to board up shops repurposed into outdoor dining furniture for restaurants – and a research hub constructed from wooden triangles.

Running alongside WAF was the Inside World Festival of Interiors, which awarded Interior of the Year to the Capsule Hostel and Bookstore in China, a former house with mud walls transformed into a bookstore and hostel that can accommodate 20 people.

Scroll down for more on these and other gong-luring designs from the festival awards… 

Behold, the amazing Building of the Year – Amager Bakke, in Copenhagen. The structure, designed by Copenhagen and New York-based B.I.G Architects, also came top in the ‘Production and Energy and Recycling – Completed Buildings’ category. Amager Bakke is a waste-to-energy incineration plant topped with an artificial ski slope, hiking trail, a rooftop bar and a 280ft-high climbing wall (the tallest in the world). The judges said that the building ‘addresses the role of architecture in the new world of recycling and zero carbon’ and ‘reminds us that buildings can be fun’

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The winner of Interior of the Year goes to the Capsule Hostel and Bookstore in the village of Qinglongwu, in China’s Zhejiang province. The building used to be a 232-square-metre (2,497-square-foot) wooden house with mud walls, but was transformed by Beijing-based architectural practice Atelier Tao+C into a capsule hostel that can accommodate 20 people, a community bookstore and a library. The contest’s judges were impressed by the project’s ‘simplicity in converting an existing rammed earth building into a complex and rich interior’ and were taken by the ‘simple but warm palette of materials that have been used, including brick flooring made from recycled demolition materials and bamboo strip shelving’. The project also ranked number one in the ‘New and Old – Inside’ category 

Feast your eyes on the winner of the ‘House and Villa (Rural/Nature) – Completed Buildings’ category of the contest. This abode, known as Coopworth, was designed by FMD Architects and is located in Tasmania. The judges praised its ‘beautifully simplistic, agricultural rigour’ and the way the project ‘demonstrates a symbiotic relationship with its rural context through its form, colour, visual connectivity and material palette’

The ‘Civic & Community – Completed Buildings’ category winner was the sophisticated Kirkkonummi Library (pictured) in Kirkkonummi, Finland. It was designed by JKMM Architects, who incorporated an existing 1980s building on the site into the design. A statement reveals: ‘Judges found it striking how the new and the old elements were so well integrated that it was difficult to see where one stopped and the other started’

The top spot in the ‘Culture – Completed Buildings’ category was taken by Phoenix Central Park in Sydney, Australia, a space for performance and visual arts. It was designed by Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects. The judges praised the ‘spectacular brick exterior wall’

First place in the ‘Transport – Completed Buildings’ category went to Moynihan Train Hall, pictured. It’s an expansion of Pennsylvania Station in the US, and opened to the public in January 

Reigning victorious in the ‘Sport – Completed Buildings’ category was the Ken Rosewall Arena Redevelopment at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Cox Architecture is behind the sleek design 

LEFT: Holme Apartments in Collingwood, Australia, ranked number one in the ‘Housing – Completed Buildings’ category. John Wardle Architects is behind the design. According to a statement, the judges were impressed by the consideration of ‘urban scale through to finely crafted interior detail’ in the building as well as the ‘skilful re-use of the existing heritage’. RIGHT: The grand prize in the ‘Office – Completed Buildings’ category went to ‘Olderfleet’. Tim Griffith and Nicole England are responsible for designing the striking Melbourne office facility

The Raas Chhatrasagar hotel, set east of Jodhpur, India, won the ‘Hotel and Leisure – Completed Buildings’ category. The hotel, designed by Studio Lotus, was chosen by the judges ‘for its strong ideas and respect towards the environment’. Judges were especially struck by ‘the way the pavilion and the back of house reuses already existing buildings and materials’

The Sky House, pictured, was the cream of the crop in the ‘House and Villa (urban/suburban) – Completed Buildings’ category. Mia Design Studio is behind the construction, which is located in An Phu, Vietnam. Judges selected the winning project for its ‘simple, elegant, and well-resolved design that successfully brings nature into the house, in the midst of a sprawling sea of high-rise urban development; a problem faced by many cities today’

This beautiful London structure took the top spot in the ‘Mixed Use – Completed Buildings’ category. Known as ‘The Post Building’, it was designed by Simon Morris of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Pictured here is the winner of the ‘Higher Education and Research – Completed Buildings’ category, the Scion Innovation Hub in Rotorua, New Zealand. The geometric structure, designed by Rta Studio and Irving Smith Architects, also won a special prize for the ‘Best Use of Certified Timber’. Scion is a government-owned company that specialises in research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood and wood-derived materials sectors. Members of the public can visit the ground floor of the firm’s three-storey hub, where they can learn about Scion’s research through interactive exhibitions 

Fortitude Valley State Secondary College (pictured) in Brisbane, Australia, topped the list in the ‘School – Completed Buildings’ category. Cox Architecture and ThomsonAdsett design firm impressed the judges with the ‘manmade landscape which evokes informal learning, spontaneous encounters, and play’. The judges added that this project ‘gives a new perspective to vertical schools in an era of sustainability and Covid-19’

Look above and you’ll find the winner of the ‘Competition Entries – Future Projects’ category. Design and More International are behind the concept – a house of prayer in Preston, Lancashire, known as Jannat Masjid. ‘The design aspires for visitors to both literally and metaphorically rise above their surroundings, and leave behind nearby motorways and dwellings,’ a statement reads, adding: ‘The building also draws in both worshippers and other members of the community, making it a shared space for congregation, discussion, discourse and social activity’

The Atlassian Headquarters (pictured) in Sydney, designed by Shop Architects, ranked number one in the ‘Office – Future Projects’ category. The judges described the project as ‘liberating in its approach’ to design

This clever design proposal for a ‘revolutionary wooden residential building in the heart of the Lloydquarter in Rotterdam’ took the lead in the ‘Experimental – Future Projects’ category. The concept – called ‘Sawa’ – was designed by Mei architects and planners. A statement explains: ‘Judges felt that the project goes beyond the requirements of carbon neutrality in the building process, considering the ecology of the site and nature as essential aspects of its development’

The charming Shahgholi Villa in Iran, designed by FMZD, took the gold medal in the ‘House – Future Projects’ category. Judges described the project as ‘an elegantly conceived and presented scheme that imaginatively turns a space once occupied by an orchard into a family home which enriched conventions about privacy and intimacy’

Take a look at the plan for the No 2 Grinding Wheel Factory Cultural Creative Park in China. Conceived by Shenzen-based CCDI Group, the innovative park was a joint winner in the ‘Culture – Future Projects’ category

Above you’ll see the other joint winner of the ‘Culture – Future Projects’ category. Designed by Studio V Architecture, it’s an arts and cultural campus in Buffalo, New York, called ‘Silo City’

The eye-catching Music Campus Myanmar, pictured, in the town of Keng Tung, came first in the ‘Education – Future Projects’ category. According to the judges, the Mlkk Studio-designed music school is ‘much more than a building but a catalyst for change in a rural community – teaching the local community simple building techniques with which to construct the music centre, giving them valuable skills to use elsewhere’

The redesign of Sunderland High Street West claimed the top spot in the ‘Commercial Mixed-use – Future Projects’ category. Faulkner Brown Architects is behind the vision. A statement notes: ‘The selection of this scheme as the winning entry was a unanimous decision by all the judges.’ They were impressed by ‘the ambitious plans by Sunderland City Council to achieve carbon-neutral status by 2040… the architects’ collaborative efforts with the local community and the reuse of major structures’

This chic office in Sydney, Australia, came up trumps in the ‘Workplace (small) – Inside’ category. It was masterminded by Smart Design Studio, which turned an industrial building into a contemporary office space. Judges praised the designers for transforming the building’s ‘character’

First prize in the ‘Temporary/Meanwhile Uses’ category goes to BVN Architecture’s ‘Re-ply’ project in New York, for which thousands of sheets of landfill-destined plywood installed to protect shops during lockdowns and protests have been repurposed into sidewalk tables and chairs and ‘retail kits’ (pictured) for ’embattled restaurants and bars’. Judges felt that this project was ‘truly part of the zeitgeist of 2020, leveraging a set of events into a series of impactful opportunities’ 

LEFT: The winner of the ‘Workplace (large) – Inside’ category, the YTL Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Ministry of Design Pte Ltd designed the space. Impressed, the judges observed that ‘at times the images looked like renderings with all the clutter associated with interior office space removed’. RIGHT: The winner of the ‘Residential- Inside’ category. It’s an apartment in China, known as ‘The Home for A Brand New Start’, and it was designed by Stiff and Trevillion. Judges felt that the project offers ‘an empathetic reimagining of an existing apartment for a mother and her child’, with the use of ‘flexible and interlayered spaces’

Stiff and Trevillion is also behind the winner of the ‘Bars and Restaurants – Inside’ category – the Kerb Foods street food market in Covent Garden, London. ‘This project reoccupies a vacant historic building with a row of market stalls, and a two-storey atrium with restaurant and coffee outlets,’ a statement reveals. The judges said that the building ‘continues the role of food in the city’s social and physical fabric, while working hard to be sustainable’

Topping the podium in the ‘Public Buildings – Inside’ category is The Museum of Copenhagen in Denmark, designed by JAC Studios APS. It’s described as ‘a sophisticated transformation of an 1891 orphanage’. Judges were taken by the ‘beautiful touches in every detail, like the mirrored pavilion which houses exhibition pieces as well as reflecting the gorgeous ceiling designs, and the hand-blown glass staircase lights inspired by the stained-glass windows of the original building’

Pictured above is the stylish Casa Palerm in Mallorca, Spain. The design, created by Spanish studio Ohlab, reigned supreme in the ‘Residential Single Dwelling – Inside’ category. A statement says: ‘The layout, parallel to the slope of the terrain, allows all the rooms to enjoy views of the countryside and the Tramontana mountains towards the north while taking advantage of the south sun’

The gong in the ‘Education – Inside’ category goes to The Schoolhouse at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, a ‘prototype space for in-person learning’ designed by Rapt Studio. A statement explains: ‘The Schoolhouse offers multiple layouts in an existing building, selected to create a Google School for Leaders, a unique initiative that helps executives develop the skills needed to lead effectively in the 21st century.’ The judges described the concept as ‘an ambitious and innovative example of how it is possible to retrofit an existing building to create a dynamic, welcoming and comfortable work and learning environment’ 

The Sanya Mangrove Park in the city of Sanya, China, was one of several winners in the ‘Landscape – Nature Context’ category. It was created by Turenscape, and was designed ‘to protect the coastline, avoid flooding and soil erosion whilst creating a green space accessible to the community’

The second of four winners in the ‘Landscape – Nature Context’ category. Koper Central Park, pictured, is located in the city of Koper, Slovenia, and was designed by Enota Architects. A statement explains: ‘The fusing of the elements of a city beach and a contemporary city park encourages the area’s residents and visitors to use the space of this new development for many different activities’

The third winner in the ‘Landscape – Nature Context’ category was Suining South Riverfront park in Suining City, China, by  Ecoland Planning and Design Corporation and the Sichuan Provincial Architectural Design and Research Institute Co. ‘This project transforms a four-kilometre- (2.3-mile) long ecologically and socially lifeless shoreline belt into a verdant, sustainable riverfront park by integrating ecological infrastructure and resilient strategies,’ a statement explains

The ‘Landscape – Urban Context’ category also had multiple winners – the first of which was Niederhafen River Promenade, in Hamburg, Germany. The 625m (2,050ft) promenade, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, doubles as a flood protection barrier and offers visitors panoramic views of the river Elbe and its historic port

Another winner in the ‘Landscape – Urban Context’ category was Xuhui Runway Park (pictured) in Shanghai, China. It was conjured up by the international design firm Sasaki. A statement explains: ‘Once the main runway of Longhua Airport, the site has transformed into a side-by-side public street and linear park, providing a valuable open space corridor which serves the district’s high-density developments and offers a much needed recreational space for adjacent neighbourhoods’

Another winner in the ‘Landscape – Urban Context’ category was this renovation by SD Atelier Design & Planning of a formerly closed section of railway in Taichung City, Taiwan. It’s now an ‘urban recreational area with diverse features of ecology and culture’

A third winner in the ‘Landscape – Urban Context’ category was the transformation of the area surrounding the Qasr Al Hosn Fort (pictured in the background) in Abu Dhabi. The fort is the oldest standing stone structure in Abu Dhabi. Pictured in the foreground is the Al Musallah prayer hall, which is part of the redesign 

The ‘Best Use of Colour’ award in the ‘Special Prizes’ category went to the Majara Residence on the island of Hormuz, south of Iran. The brightly-coloured construction, described as ‘a holiday community of 200 brightly coloured domed residences’, was created by Zav Architects. The judges said: ‘The colour and form are beautifully integrated in these simple and stunning domes with their references back to Persian culture and to the immediate natural environment’. They added: ‘They bring harmony and a peace, providing an impressive visual treat to an otherwise quite desolate area’

The base in St James’s University Hospital in Leeds for Maggie’s Yorkshire, a charity that provides free support for people with cancer, won the Best Use of Natural Light award in the ‘Special Prizes’ category. The light-filled space was designed by Heatherwick Studio. ‘The biophilic design, combining vegetation and wood, creates a unique experience, and the scarcity of natural light pushes the architects to do more with less, turning restrictive conditions into opportunities,’ said the judges

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