This year’s entries were as strong as we’ve ever seen, with over 1,500 projects from across the globe. In the eyes of our esteemed judges, the projects you'll find below were the best of the best. There were only 13 winners anointed in the entire competition. Each of them represent what's best about design today: Big ideas, meticulously thought out details, and a clear viewpoint about how we live now—and how it could be better.
There's more: On top of those 12 honorees, you can find equally inspiring work, in the finalists for each of the 13 categories, which are linked below.
More than half of the world's population lives in cities and that number will jump to 66 percent by 2050. Now, more than ever, it's imperative to think about more efficient, more livable urban design. The finalists in our 2015 Innovation By Design Award vary in scale and scope, but they all represent inspiring collaborations between private industry and the public realm.
Judges: Denise Cherry, Richard Florida, Janette Sadik-Khan, Nicole Dosso
All Aboard Florida
Public-private partnerships have yielded a new wave of civic innovation, such as the popular Citi Bike program in New York. All Aboard Florida scales this strategy to a commuter rail system. The new 235-mile rail network is meant to connect South Florida to Central Florida, and its stations would feature shopping opportunities to revitalize the economies. SOM-designed rail stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach would serve as key nodes of the system and are envisioned as gateways to their respective cities—and architectural destinations in their own right.
In 2014, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti called for 100,000 new housing units to be built by 2021. Kevin Daly Architects propose 500-square foot dwellings to fill the need, estimating that building these structures in 20 percent of the city's backyards would be enough to do accomplish the goal. Think of the low-cost Bi(h)OME as an efficient and sustainable granny flat. Thanks to material technology like ETFE cladding, the environmental impact of the structure over its entire life cycle is between 10 and 100 times less than a conventional auxiliary dwelling.
Invisible New York
Income inequality isn't a new story in New York, but quantifying its impacts and presenting them in a compelling way is. The city’s uneven expansion of wealth has resulted in a marked scarcity of housing, pushing poor and middle-income New Yorkers into increasingly cramped living conditions as well as informal rental markets—a condition that is at once pervasive and hidden. Using photography and data mapping, SITU Studio compiled information about informal housing units in New York City to open discussion about affordable living and made proposals on how to combat it through design.
While many people want to "buy local," the convenience of one-click shopping from services like Amazon and Instacart can trump goodwill. The founders of Kiezkaufhaus want to make online shopping from one's neighborhood as easy as buying from a big-box website. The site connects small local businesses on a single online platform and offers on-demand delivery service that uses eco-friendly bikes powered by senior citizens.
New Tube For London
The New Tube for London strives to improve the experience of everyday riders and accommodate the forecasted growth of the already-crowded Underground system. Design strategies like wider doors and walk-through trains translates to more passengers per train and the ability to run more trains per hour on each particular line. PriestmanGoode estimates that overall capacity can improve between 25 and 60 percent on some lines. Other strategies like more efficient cooling systems and lighter materials—meaning less mass to propel—help operations become less taxing on the environment.
Octave Living Room
This 21,500 square-foot adaptive-reuse project represents a new vision for development in China. Sudden and unprecedented urbanization is challenging and transforming historical, cultural, and ecological ties among people. The learning center joins wellness services, restaurants, and a small-scale urban farm focused on sustainability under one roof and uses architecture to inject much-needed communal space into downtown Shanghai.
Apps that track activity are common, but using one as an instrument for civic participation is far more novel. In Wiesbaden, Germany, there's an immediate need for cycling infrastructure, but the concerns for simple safety measures like bike lanes fall on politicians with deaf ears. By mapping out where cyclists are riding and visualizing it in a gorgeous format, the app shows where the unofficial bike routes are and where permanent measures are needed. Rather than requiring a simple signature or click, it involves actually using the infrastructure that needs to be changed—a far more actionable strategy than any run-of-the-mill petition.
Responsive Street Furniture
This system centers around using smart technology to make streets easier to use for disabled people with different kinds of impairments. It borrows the principle of responsive web design—the ability of a website to reconfigure to the need of individual users—and applies this to the physical environment. People can register their smartphones and request services that go into effect when they pass the responsive furniture, like brighter street lighting, extra spaces to sit, audio information, and longer intervals for crosswalk signals. Once users set up with the system, the responsive items will perform services according to their profile without requiring any further direct action.
Sandy Hook 2016
After suffering the second deadliest school shooting in United States history, Sandy Hook was razed and the city of Newton, Connecticut, sought to rebuild a safer school. The brief called for designing an iron-clad structure that didn't feel like a fortress to teachers and students. Inspired by feedback from the community, the redesigned campus includes gardens and amphitheaters to help create a welcoming environment and strategic organization to make all parts of the campus easier to see and protect.
Seattle Denny Substation
Seattle’s tech, biomedical, and nonprofit sectors are experiencing rapid growth, causing an unprecedented demand for power in the city’s downtown business area. The problem is most electrical substations—which transform and distribute electricity—are also mostly glum, concrete facilities relegated to desolate stretches of cityscapes. Not so with NBBJ's design for the Denny substation. The architecture firm took the same care and attention to detail that's usually reserved for major public buildings and applied it to infrastructure. In addition to providing much-needed power downtown, the structure also offers event spaces, housing, and public gardens.
There's a perpetual sea of people craning their necks upward while walking through the recently opened Fulton Transit Center in lower Manhattan, which means one thing: the designers and engineers tasked with making it an alluring space have succeeded. A tensioned cable-net structure clad in perforated optical-aluminum panels floods the station with natural light. Integrating functional and artistic architectural elements creates a special connection to the natural world within the urban experience.
Rising six stories within the burgeoning Jamsil district near the Olympic Village in Seoul, South Korea, SsD’s Songpa Micro-Housing combines eleven 120-square-foot micro units into a dense, but porous, mixed-use building. Intended as affordable accommodations for emerging artists, the structure features art and toy galleries, a micro auditorium-cafe, and communal spaces. Units can be combined and separated as users' needs change, allowing for longer and more sustainable occupancy. Plus, each of the apartments can be custom configured courtesy of foldable walls.
The challenge for solving homelessness doesn't just lie in providing housing; the equation requires medical and social services, too. Located in Los Angeles's Skid Row—one of the most impoverished areas in the country—the Star Apartments harness modular design to offer affordable housing units with common spaces and an on-site medical center for homeless people. The six-story, 95,000-square-foot building facilitates a recovery process for its residents based on positive re-socialization, healthy interpersonal relations, and wellness. In sum, it improves the quality of life and inspires a sense of pride, independence, and dignity for its inhabitants.
Cafes are used differently depending on where they're located. In neighborhoods, they're places for lingering and relaxing, but in the fast-paced Financial District of New York, it's about getting in, buying your Venti Frapppawhatsit, and escaping as quickly as possible. To that end, Starbucks experimented with a new design for its franchise on Wall Street. The 538-square-foot storefront uses multiple point-of-sale locations throughout the store to speed people through and the space is noticeably free of traffic-impeding chairs and tables.
The Lawn on D
Formerly a surface of vacant lots and parking spaces, the Lawn on D is now an interactive outdoor event space with bright furniture, expansive lawns, and hubs of activity. As Boston seeks to revamp its convention center and surrounding neighborhood, the redeveloped lawn, which is located nearby, sets the tone for the forthcoming district and serves as an anchor.
To Park or Not to Park
Think of the last time you saw a parking sign. Chances are it wasn't very legible or clear. Read it incorrectly and you've made a costly mistake. In Los Angeles, concerned citizen Nikki Sylianteng started a guerilla campaign to change the signage by creating graphics that were easier to understand. Instead of posting times as numerals, she deployed a more graphical, timechart-based parking sign that clearly visualized blocks when parking was and was not allowed. Mindful of the constraints that a large organization like the Department of Transportation might face for a change as seemingly small as this, everything else—from the colors to the form—was kept as-is. The project demonstrates how a small, but thoughtful, change can make a big difference.
Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype
Post-disaster housing has notoriously fallen short of users' needs, case in point: the FEMA trailers deployed after Hurricane Katrina. The Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program outlines a new plan for interim housing that will provide more suitable living spaces for New Yorkers displaced by disaster. Garrison Architects prototyped a three-unit temporary housing space using recyclable materials and it features living rooms, bathrooms, storage and fully-equipped kitchens. Units can be equipped with photovoltaic panels, which will not only alleviate pressure on the city grid, but also ensure the units are self-sustaining. People are living in the space to provide useful feedback on how it actually performs.