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The best architecture of 2011: Rowan Moore's choice

It was the year of pop-ups and postmodernism – and the playful Frank Gehry went sky high

In New York they managed to complete the vast 9/11 memorial fountains in time for the 10th anniversary of the events of 2001, while around them rises the strange spectacle of commercial skyscrapers sponsored at huge expense from the public purse. Also in New York, Frank Gehry completed his tower of flats in Spruce Street with a playful beauty that has not been seen in skyscraper design for a while. These days, it's fashionable to knock Gehry for being the father of iconic building, but this tower, and his New World Symphony in Miami, shows that he is what has always been: a proper architect who likes to enjoy himself.

Last year the Serpentine Gallery got the turkey award in this space with its pavilion by Jean Nouvel; now it gets into the top 10 with Peter Zumthor's version of its annual commission. Pop-ups, identified as craze of the year in 2010, are still popping up, with Assemble's Folly for a Flyover leading the field. Olympic projects, such as the stadium and the aquatic centre, are getting their final buff and polish. Both are looking good, if you overlook the temporary add-ons on the latter, and the pointless plastic wrapper planned for the former, supplied courtesy of the Bhopal-implicated Dow Chemical Company.

In other news, postmodernism continued its inevitable revival. The magnificent James Stirling was honoured with a show at Tate Britain, and the V&A is currently revisiting the age of Grace Jones and leopard-skin Formica.

In a strong field of turkeys, the catastrophic Museum of Liverpool breasts the tape ahead of Rafael Viñoly's Firstsite in Colchester, the underwhelming new home of the BBC in Salford Quays and the anti-urban Westfield Stratford City.

TOP 10

8 Spruce Street, New York

Dazzling, elegant fun from Frank Gehry.

The Hepworth Wakefield

David Chipperfield completed two of his sober, considered, light-filled art galleries in 2011, in Margate and Wakefield. The one in Wakefield is the more convincing of the two.

New Court, London

Financial prestige meets cultural super-sophistication in Rem Koolhaas's headquarters for Rothschild.

Brockholes Visitor Village, Preston

A very nice place for looking at nature, on the edge of Preston, by Adam Khan. It floats.

Folly for a Flyover, London

Assemble, maker of the 2010 hit Cineroleum, maintained its form with this temporary cinema/bar/performance space under an elevated section of the A12.

Aquatic Centre, London

Breathtaking inside. Will look good outside, after the Olympics, when they have removed the giant water-wings that contain temporary seating.

Olympic Stadium, London

Handsome in its simplicity, until they wreck it with a festive wrapper for the Games.

Lyric theatre, Belfast

Just plain good, by the Dublin practice O'Donnell and Tuomey.

Maggie's Centres

Three more in the series of high-design cancer centres. The one in Glasgow, by OMA, and the one in Nottingham, by Piers Gough and Paul Smith, stand out.

Serpentine Gallery pavilion, London

An arena for watching plants grow, by Peter Zumthor.


Museum of Liverpool

Confused, expensive, misguided and offensive to the adjoining "Three Graces". Otherwise OK. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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