CLAD Review of 2016: The best cultural buildings of the year

We wrap up our CLAD review of 2016 with a look at some of the most significant new cultural buildings that have opened this year. We have compiled a separate list for museums – of which there have been many spectacular examples in the last 12 months – so this one focuses on other typologies, from concert halls to theatres and arts centres.

No such list can ever be truly comprehensive of course, especially when the design standard is increasingly so high, so please let us know your own favourite leisure buildings of the year in the comments section below, or on our social media pages.

CLAD Review of 2016: The best cultural buildings of the year

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie by Herzog and de Meuron


This truly spectacular building, over a decade in the making, had its soft opening in November. The project was oft-delayed and came in far over the original budget, but the end result is a new landmark for Hamburg. A 7,000sq m (75,347sq ft) roof – added on top of an existing warehouse – consists of eight spherical, concavely bent sections that form an elegantly curving silhouette. Inside, stylistic flourishes and attention-to-detail wow throughout. Restaurants, cafés, bars, a hotel, a huge public plaza and an elevated outdoor terrace all feature, but it is the main concert hall that leaves the biggest impression. Rising 50m (164 ft) and seating 2,100 spectators in interwoven tiers, the 12,500-tonne hall rests on 362 giant spring assemblies to decouple it from the rest of the building and features sound-modulating textured ‘white skin’ conceived with acclaimed acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Athens by Renzo Piano Building Workshop


Opening in June with a four day festival of cultural events, this elegant building is a multi-functional and environmentally sustainable education, arts, and recreation complex for both the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera. Features include a sloping grass roof that visitors can climb to access a glass-walled Reading Room and a 360 degree viewpoint over the city and coast. This links at the bottom to the 210,000sq m (2,260sq ft) Stavros Niarchos Park, created by landscape architects Deborah Nevins and Associates. Alongside the centre, a wide canal has been built as a figurative extension of the adjacent sea, and an anti-flooding window for the whole site. The building is a gift by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to the Greek state – one of the largest donations in Greece’s history.

Harbin Opera House by MAD Architects


This striking, sinuous opera house has been designed as a response to the region’s untamed wilderness and chilly climate. The building’s smooth white aluminium walls twist and turn as if sculpted by the water and wind, blending into the surrounding environment and transfusing the local identity with art and culture. Hidden pathways carved into the facade allow visitors to ascend the structure as if climbing a mountain. Inside, large transparent glass walls span the lobby, visually connecting the curvilinear interior with the sweeping exterior. Above, a supported crystalline ceiling comprises of smooth and angular glass pyramids, referencing the snow and ice that covers the region in winter and allowing natural light to enter the lobby. A swooping wooden staircase takes visitors from the lobby to the 1,600-capacity grand theatre. MAD founder Ma Yansong has built a reputation for his nature-inspired designs, and the Harbin Opera House is one of the finest examples of his philosophy in action.

Dubai Opera House by Atkins


Architecture studio Atkins were inspired by Dubai’s maritime history – specifically Arabian sailing vessels – for their design if this major new cultural landmark for the emirate. The ‘bow’ of the structure contains Dubai Opera’s main stage, orchestra and seating areas, as well as a sky garden and rooftop restaurant. The elongated ‘hull’ area features the waiting areas for spectators, a taxi-drop off area, and parking amenities. “We looked into Dubai's heritage and traditions for inspiration to find an architectural language which would celebrate the city's past, as well as supporting its future,” explained design director Janus Rostock. The opera house had its soft opening in August, with Spanish tenor Placido Domingo headlining the opening performance.

Writers Theatre by Studio Gang


It has been a good year for Chicago’s Studio Gang – who have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline and whose founder Jeanne Gang was named Architect of the Year at the Women in Architecture awards in March. One of the highlights was the opening of this performing arts centre in Glencoe, Chicago, designed as a new cultural landmark for the city. Built for the Writers Theatre group, which produces inventive interpretations of classic plays, the theatre features an elevated glass box lobby which glows in the dark at night to beckon people in.The theatre is spread across a village-like cluster of distinct volumes around a central hub. The 36,000sq ft (3,345sq m) complex includes rehearsal rooms, a second-floor gallery and two performance spaces – a main stage and a smaller 99-seat black box venue – designed to be intimate and easily configurable. “The building engages its context through transparent visual connections and ivy-covered backdrops to the surrounding parks,” explained the architects.

Serpentine Pavilion by Bjarke Ingels Group


Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) continue to grow at quite a pace – and opened several impressive buildings across the world in 2016. We particularly liked this temporary contribution to the famous Serpentine Pavilion series, which marked BIG’s first project in the UK and celebrated the foundation of their new London office. Conceived as an “unzipped wall pulled apart to form a cavity within it,” the structure was made from hollow fibreglass blocks stacked on top of one another. Viewed from the front, it appeared almost solid, while from the side the hollow blocks allowed views right through the pavilion to the park beyond. Studio founder Bjarke Ingels said designing the pavilion had allowed the practice to demonstrate their values in a way that their more traditional building work cannot. “As architects, we almost always work in situations that are so saturated with existing constraints that the project becomes very much about the place we're working in, and maybe less about the pure manifestation of our ideas about architecture,” he explained.

National Music Center by Allied Works Architecture


A giant international hub for music and sound technology, nicknamed Studio Bell, opened in Calgary this summer to house Canada’s National Music Centre. A vast street-crossing construction, the 160,000sq ft (15,000sq m) building rises in nine interlocking towers clad in glazed terra cotta. It includes five floors of exhibition space showcasing over 2,000 artefacts and musical instruments intended to educate and inspire visitors about Canadian music. To the west of the structure, a skybridge spans like a gateway over Calgary’s 4th Avenue and connects the building with the existing King Edward Hotel – one of the birthplaces of jazz in the city. Each of Studio Bell’s exhibition spaces is designed to produce an experience more aligned with a music festival than a traditional museum. Galleries are envisioned as spaces for performance, where music is heard and experienced, and each can be customised to suit the needs of its specific collection. Both inside and out, the centre is certainly a striking new landmark for the city.

Museo Atlantico by Jason deCaires Taylor


This last entry to the list not a building, but is included here for its design excellence and thoughtful conception. Billed as an underwater attraction, visitors can snorkel or board glass-bottomed boats to view crowds of motionless human figures fixed 12 metres below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in Lanzarote. The sculptures, created by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor using a specialised marine cement, are portrayed taking selfies, using tablets and phones and striding across the ocean floor. The centrepiece, The Raft of Lampedusa, depicts a boat carrying 13 refugees to Europe. “The project, designed with a conservation goal, traces the dialogue between art and nature through the creation of an artificial reef and large-scale sculptures to help increase marine biomass and species of local fish,” explained Taylor. The result is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting, and always compelling.

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CLAD Review of 2016: The best museums of the year

We wrap up our CLAD review of 2016 with a look at some of the most significant new cultural buildings that have opened this year. We have compiled a separate list for museums – of which there have been many spectacular examples in the last 12 months – so this one focuses on other typologies, from concert halls to theatres and arts centres. No such list can ever be truly
Hamburg Elbphilharmonie by Herzog and de Meuron
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