The 10 Most Creative People in Architecture

Which architects have the most unusual, influential visions for the field?

1. Will Alsop, ALSOP Architects
Few architects have been so dedicated to such an unusual design aesthetic as maximalist Will Alsop. And fewer still have been as successful at building their designs. His nearly completed “Chips” building was inspired by piled french fries; his extension for the Ontario College of Art and Design is one of the strangest, most exciting buildings in recent memory:

Ontario College of Art and Design

2. Yansong Ma, MAD architects
Chinese architecture has often lived in the shadow of the west–copying its ideas, importing its talent. MAD is changing that, and representing the avant-garde of a new generation of homegrown Chinese talent. Here’s their design for the China’s Erdos Museum, which is currently nearing completion:

Erdos Museum

3. Minsuk Cho and Kisu Park, MASS Studies
MASS Studies is South Korea’s own locally produced, internationally recognized success story. Working at a variety of scales–from city plans to galleries and boutiques–they’ve distinguished themselves with a refinement that’s rare in go-go Asian architecture. Here’s their design for the Korean Pavilion of the 2010 Shanghai Expo, which integrates the Korean alphabet into its structure:

Korean Pavilion of the 2010 Shanghai Expo

4. Rem Koolhaas, OMA
You can’t talk about contemporary avant-garde architecture without mentioning Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture, which introduced a rigor–and weirdness–to design; they’ve always been at the forefront of pondering what design can be, and how it fits in modern society. The firm’s crowning glory is, of course, the CCTV tower in Beijing, set to open soon (current construction photo here):

CCTV tower

5. Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries, MVRDV
MVRDV–whose name is an acronym for the founding members–made its name with wacky ideas, like a high-rise pig farm. But they’ve since matured into an astonishingly elegant style. Here’s their “Book Mountain” project, which just broke ground. The entire building turns the books into a structural, symbolic element:

Book Mountain

6. Shigeru Ban, Shigeru Ban Architects
Ban is a genius with unconventional materials. For many year’s, he’s created architecture using paper; he made his name with a house whose facade was simply a massive, billowing curtain. Here’s his design for the Centre Pompidou Metz, which is inspired by the shape of a Chinese farmer’s hat:

Centre Pompidou Metz

7. Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Mueron, Herzog & De Meuron
The duo made their names introducing surface decoration into modern architecture–which used to be taboo, thanks to stern modernists like Mies van der Rohe. They made international headlines with their “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium. But they’ve always been hard to pin down. Here’s their design for the CaixaForum arts center in Madrid, which was built upon the walls of an old power station:


8. Thom Mayne, Morphosis Architects
Thom Mayne made his name with aggressive, hyper-angular buildings. But his designs show more range than that. Here’s his sinuous design for the Phare Tower, set to rise above Paris’s La Defense business district, with groundbreaking to begin in 2010:

Phare Tower

9. Zaha Hadid, Zaha Hadid Architects
Oh, Zaha. You design hideous, insanely expensive furniture, but still, we can’t quit you because no one has been as successful making such an unabashedly futuristic vision of architecture into reality. Here’s her just-unveiled design for a business district in Cairo:

Cairo business district

10. Norman Foster, Foster + Partners
And who could forget Lord Foster, the man who parlayed high-tech architecture into a design firm with dozens of projects, with budgets ranging into the billions, all across the world. The firm has never had anything less than a masterful stroke with building logic and cutting-edge technical innovations. Here’s their design for Terminal 3 of the Beijing International Airport, completed last year, which is easily the biggest, most technically advanced building in the world:


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.


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