The world’s most innovative companies of 2020 in architecture

Olson Kundig, Snøhetta, and Studio Gang made the list again this year, joined by some surprising upstarts.

The world’s most innovative companies of 2020 in architecture

Certain stalwarts caught our attention for their thoughtful approaches to reducing architecture’s impact on the environment. The building and construction industry generates an estimated 39% of all carbon emissions worldwide. We were also impressed by the architects behind such novel projects as natural swimming pools, large timber buildings, and heat-regulating software.


1. Studio Gang Architects

For building with cities, not for them

Gang’s influence on community-based design tends to be overlooked and underappreciated. The studio did notable work this year on an architectural level—think Solar Carve, the Memphis Riverfront, California College of the Arts—but it is also behind pioneering projects involving civic engagement and the future of cities, such as Tom Lee Park, a public park in Memphis, Tenn., and a carbon-neutral county government building in Redwood City, Calif.

2. Snøhetta

For pioneering carbon-negative buildings that generate more energy than they consume

Snohetta is an example of a high-end, high-profile architecture firm taking the lead on climate change. The studio invented a term, Powerhouse, to describe its “carbon negative” buildings that generate more energy than they will consume during their lifetime, and just pledged to make all of its work negative in 20 years. Other major clients they’ve worked with in 2019 include Ford, Under, and Sidewalk Labs.

3. Olson Kundig

For redesigning the cemetery


The firm’s focus on end-of-life care alone is enough to win it a spot on this year’s list: the company recently revealed plans for the first human composting facility in the world, with a projected completion date of 2021 in its home city of Seattle. Other notable 2019 projects include Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture; Center for Wooden Boats; and Leach Botanical Garden.

4. New Story

For developing resilient houses alongside underserved communities

Technically a nonprofit, New Story is pushing architectural boundaries with its efforts in the housing sector. Last year, New Story finished the first permitted 3D printed homes in Mexico, using a structural 3D printer developed by the company Icon, and at the same time is codesigning homes with underserved communities all over the world.

5. WRNS Studio

For making net-zero energy buildings a net positive at the Stevens Library and Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus

The firm has an impressive all-around sustainability mission. Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, slated for completion this year, features a living roof and an elaborate water conservation system that could be net positive, generating more water than the facility uses.


6. Lever Architecture

For leading the way in designing timber buildings, such as Adidas’s new HQ expansion

Lever Architecture is setting a new standard for timber architecture in the United States. The firm’s Oregon Conservation Center was built with Forest Stewardship Council-certified cross-laminated timber panels—one of the first structures of its kind in the United States—and its expansion of Adidas’s headquarters in Portland, Ore., features an all timber building.

7. Foster + Partners

For transforming Apple Stores in Miami and NYC into community plazas

Apple’s new flagship in Miami blurs the divide between the indoors and the outside, with an undulating white concrete roof set atop floor-to-ceiling glass and a densely planted courtyard with tables and seating for the public. In 2019, Foster + Partner also redesigned the plaza of Apple’s Fifth Avenue flagship, with mirrored public benches that offer views into to the store below.

8. KieranTimberlake

For figuring out where an office is cold or drafty with its Roast survey app, so issues can be fixed


KieranTimberlake is a rare example of a midsize firm that has a thriving research and technology division. The company is deeply focused on connecting spaces and has developed its own software to measure things like energy usage to inform architecture. An architecture firm that acts more like a tech company.

9. Nendo

For applying its Japanese product-design aesthetic to architecture projects such as Tokyo’s Kojimachi Terrace, which features a “sky forest”

Nendo is a darling of the industrial design world for its witty, minimalist takes on everyday objects, such as a spork for eating noodles and a chair that appears to float in midair. The firm’s architecture takes a similar approach, combining simplicity with the sublime. Nendo’s design for the Tokyo highrise Kojimachi Terrace features a three-story “sky forest” where workers can relax amid trees without stepping foot outdoors. The firm also designed a new Internet of Things center in Tokyo that cleverly reflects the center’s business with 0s and 1s subtly patterned on the conference room walls.

10. Gh3

For jumping into the world of natural, chemical-free pools

This leader in the concept of “natural” swimming pools opened one in North America last year, a lovely and technically sophisticated project in Alberta that uses locally sourced granite gravel and microorganisms as filtration.