Beyond Buildings


Not the Best Buildings of 2010

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What was the best new building of 2010? How about of the first decade of the third millennium? You know what? I don’t care. I have avoided the end-of-the-year list making, which only seem to intensify the kind of questions I get from everyone from journalists to guys I meet in restaurants: What’s your favorite building? Whose you’re favorite architect? Who is more important, Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier? My recent favorite: Is Philip Johnson’s Glass House the most important modernist building?

Design Observer recently asked a panel of experts to pick their favorite New York building (they blew it, it is not Grand Central, as most of them agreed, but obviously Rockefeller Center … sorry, couldn’t help myself), but it did make me wonder why I dislike such list-making.

Certainly there is no denying that there are certain buildings that are absolutely great. The question remains, however, whether they are great in an absolute manner, or whether they are great because of the way in which we perceive, use, or talk about them. I certainly feel as if there are buildings that, when I see them, make me feel that this whole architecture business is worth something. (I have discussed that sense of wonder in previous posts.) Does that mean that the aura of the architect, on the one hand, or the place, on the other, has nothing to do with it? I think not. It is difficult not to find something worth looking at in even a pedestrian Frank Lloyd Wright building, but I think that also has to do with the fact that you are looking for it because of who designed it and how his signature elements are inevitably all over it. On the other hand, it is difficult not to like a site like the one on which the Salk Institute sits, though it is also true that Kahn made masterful use of that place.

Beyond such considerations, there are also buildings that are important because what they do or when they appear. The Schroeder and Schindler houses changed everything in the early 1920s because they opened up new possibilities in architecture.

All of this leads me to an even simpler statement: I have not seen a single building that was finished last year that I think was truly astounding, astonishing, and amazing. There certainly are several that I simply haven’t seen, like SANAA’s Rolex Center in Lausanne, or Coop Himmelb(l)au’s school in Los Angeles; some that were finished earlier (MAXXI comes to mind) or too late; and countless others that I don’t know about and that might be great—but it is a bit worrying. I would say the closest to an “oh wow” experience of a building finished in 2010 I had was upon visiting the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and that skyscraper didn’t even have any interiors worth looking at when I saw it.

So are we heading into a dark age in architecture such as we had in 1970s and 1980s, when precious few great buildings appeared beyond drafting tables? I hope not, but it would certainly give me a simple answer to those persistent questions. In the meantime, I would love to be proven wrong, so please, tell me what you think are great buildings finished in 2010. We won’t make a list, but it would be nice to have some hope.



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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.