We’re happy to announce the winners for the 2021 Best of Products Awards, one of our best ever. As always, this year’s recipients comprise building products of all types, ranging from architectural lighting and decorative hardware to cladding solutions and design and construction software. This breadth of coverage—31 categories in all—attests to the complex, yet interconnected nature of the AEC industry, a quality noted by our excellent jurors (see opposite). Each was given a product type that best aligned with their expertise, ensuring that the most deserving submissions were awarded accordingly (using “winners” and “honorable mentions” designations). The Architect’s Newspaper editors ratified their selections and then chose picks of their own to complete the process.
Seeing how eventful that past 18 or so months have been, it’s interesting to compare the 2021 awards with the 2020 editi son. Last year, AN introduced categories that spoke to a time of uncertainty, before COVID-19 vaccines had been developed and at a time when the best defenses against spreading the virus (apart from masks) were hand-washing and social distancing. Hygienic surfaces remained a big category in 2021, as did products—apps as well as building materials—geared to customization and residential design. Still, one senses a subtle shift in tone in the winning submissions. Reading through the product descriptions, they strike a less anxious note and emphasize more conventional design desiderata; i.e., comfort, function, and aesthetics. On this point, the return of industry trade shows—beginning with Salone Del Mobile in September and NeoCon earlier this month—has surely had a marked effect.
Texture is among the trends exhibited by the winners, with several interior products favoring a variegated look and (seemingly) rough feel. Several manufacturers offered customizable color schemes for their wares, though calming greens and earth tones appeared to rise to the top. Safety exerts a big influence over the residential categories—no surprise here, seeing how much more time people are spending in their homes these days. For the same reason, awards for submissions falling under the “outdoor” rubric were among this year’s most striking. Be it park and patio furnishings or collapsible openings, designers clearly have the outdoors on their minds. Don’t we all.
Of course, this is but a small sampling of this year’s award recipients. Flip through the following pages to fully immerse yourself. And then join us in toasting the honorees!
Find the full list of winners, honorable mentions, and editors’ picks in our AN Best of Products Awards 2021 digital issue linked here.
Interior Finishes & Surfaces
Silestone Sunlit Days
Sunlit Days is the quartz surfaces and engineered stone industry’s first carbon-neutral collection. To reach this milestone, Cosentino is offsetting CO² emissions for the series’ entire life cycle. Created with HybriQ technology, the collection also uses 99 percent reused water, 100 percent renewable electric energy, and 20 percent recycled raw materials in its composition. This new formula significantly reduces the presence of crystalline silica—important for fabricators—while maintaining the brand’s renowned performance features and price point. Sunlit Days is a result of more than 1,200 hours of testing and a $12-million investment by Cosentino, providing a sustainable alternative without any design, performance, or financial compromise for consumers. It is available in five colors, inspired by the Mediterranean: Faro White, Cincel Grey, Arcilla Red, Cala Blue and Posidonia Green.
“It is encouraging and near revelatory to see such a ubiquitous product reimagined around an environmental position, especially as thorough as this. And to do it while offering a series of finish options that make it a standout in an otherwise staid product category. Remarkably well done on two critical fronts for our industry.” –Jonathan Tate
Decorative Lighting & Electrical
Designed by Daniel Rybakken, Fienile Suspension incorporates a powerful LED light to illuminate the underlying plane to integrate into any environment. The lamp directs non-glaring light downward and upward with 360-degree rotation. Two suspensions can be linked together with a single power cord without compromising freedom of movement. The aluminum suspension is available in white and dark gray colorways and in multiple configurations.
The Davani Group
Designed by INC Architecture & Design, in collaboration with DAVANI, the Lamé series of nesting, occasional, and dining tables is characterized by expressive shapes, a singular material gesture, and structural daring. Named after the mathematician who pioneered curvilinear coordinates, Gabriel Lamé, the series is at once precise and gestural, simple and sensuous. Developed as functional sculpture, the organic silhouettes of these deceptively simple tables have been rendered with an abstract clarity that is meant to balance natural and nurtured form.
“In line with the latest trends in furniture design—be it from the collectible or contract sectors—these organic, flat-pack, and natural stone tables cut a striking profile.” –Adrian Madlener
Sunbrella Contract and United Fabrics Reflections Collection
Reflections is the second contract upholstery collection from Sunbrella Contract and United Fabrics, designed to help professionals discover new opportunities for peaceful and functional spaces. The collection features 30 new fabrics in tactile textures and coordinating colors that are ideal for commercial environments. Reflections complements its predecessor, Origins, as well as other fabrics within the existing textile portfolio. The patterns in this collection evoke feelings of serenity while honoring design elements that are increasingly conscious of new demands for commercial environments. Engineered to hold its vibrant color even in high-traffic spaces, Reflections is durable, stain-resistant, bleach-cleanable, and comfortable, with fabrics that feature soft yarns and bold design.
Kitchen Appliances & Plumbing
24″ Combination Steam Oven
Fisher & Paykel
The new 2021 Combination Steam Oven offers one of the largest cavity capacities on the market, an integrated water tank, and a TFT touch screen interface for ease of use. With 22 steam and oven functions, in addition to a cleaning function, the new oven offers nine new functions (Steam Regenerate, Steam Proof, Steam Defrost, Sous Vide, Steam, True Aero + Low Steam, True Aero + Medium Steam, True Aero + High Steam and Crisp Regenerate). With its easy-to-use, intuitive display, the Combination Steam Oven is designed to fit seamlessly in the kitchen and fits flush with cabinetry to minimize gaps and add to a cohesive aesthetic. The sophisticated design and stainless-steel finish bring an element of luxury to the kitchen space.
“Home bakers know how difficult it is to get a crisp, crackly crust on baguettes and sourdough loaves using conventional ovens. This oven ensures you’ll be turning out bakery-quality bread in no time. For the gluten-averse, there are several cooking functions to choose from.” –Samuel Medina
Bathroom Appliances & Plumbing
SensoWash Starck f
While at first glance SensoWash Starck f looks like a super attractive but still conventional toilet, it is in fact a highly evolved designer shower-toilet, housing all shower-toilet and toilet functions within a pristine, minimal ceramic body. The flat seat and white cover form a flush fitting unit, with the technology discreetly hidden away. Operated via a remote control or smartphone app, it allows users to easily program profile settings for maximum comfort. This bold new shower-toilet design expands Duravit’s range of industry-leading offerings, allowing for greater design flexibility and enhanced hygiene in the bathroom.
Hygienic Finishes & Surfaces
Formica Laminate Antimicrobial Collection
As a result of the COVID-19 virus, there is increased market demand for antimicrobial surfaces. In response, the Formica Corporation launched this new laminate collection featuring antimicrobial surface protection. The curated collection of solid colors, patterns, and woodgrains includes some of the company’s best-selling laminates with an embedded BioCote antimicrobial additive for increased surface protection. The collection uses BioCote’s safe, effective silver ion technology, which is designed to protect against the negative effects of odor causing and staining microbes like bacteria and fungi.
“Antimicrobial surfaces have become the norm in the past two years. Formica not only ensured that this collection meets the strictest protection standards but also went the extra mile, providing a full range of colors and finishes to select from.” –Adrian Madlener
Paint & Coatings
The Bluetooth-enabled ColorReader EZ device works with its robust ColorReader mobile app to accurately match a color scanned from any flat surface and provide the three closest paint colors from leading paint manufacturers. By tapping the color match, users can find complementary colors and explore entire room color palettes, removing any uncertainty about color coordination. This is especially helpful when creating color palettes that need to factor in color adjacency for multiple rooms, open floor plans, or fixed décor elements such as flooring, cabinetry, tile, etc. Color matches and palettes can be easily saved, then organized by project, room, client—anything! It’s simple to then share these colors and palettes with contractors, paint stores, clients, staff, anyone! Color data for matched colors such as CIE LAB, RGB, and Hex color values are also available, which can be important for digital designers, and can be converted to Pantone colors.
“The intelligent tool takes the guesswork out of identifying often elusive interior paint colors. It also reduces the need for excessive swatches and waste associated with that practice.” –Adrian Madlener
Mixu is a sustainable and versatile collection of chairs and stools that can be customized to suit the needs of any context, environment, or desire. The seat, backrest, and base can be personalized with myriad color and material combinations to create a silhouette whose softly rounded geometric curves and minimal gestures provide a perfect canvas for material expression. The design team conducted research to better understand end users’ needs for a plastic chair. In response, the Mixu family was thoughtfully designed to provide material and color flexibility, as well as personalization for the broadest range of commercial and residential applications. Mixu was also designed for disassembly, making this dynamic collection a materially conscious and sustainable collection throughout its life cycle.
“We appreciated the responsible approach of the brand in choosing postindustrial recycled plastic and other recycled materials and allowing modularity and versatility. The design is pure and simple, and it’s all about customization and playing with colors and finishes. That seems to be the correct design response to what is needed now in the contract world.” –Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat
AuralScapes Acoustic Wall Panels
This year modularArts introduced its new AuralScapes Acoustic Wall Panels. Available in four distinct surface designs and a variety of colors, the rigid felt baffles create sculptural, sound-absorbent topographies. Maximum sound control is achieved with parabolic ridges at the base between these baffles. The built-in ridges are designed to reflect sound into the absorbent baffles. Surface designs are continuous, so they can be applied to an area of any size. Like all modularArts wall panels, AuralScapes panels accurately interlock for precise alignment and attach to any substrate (typically drywall). Panel joints require only caulking at the seams. Relatively large repeats (four to six panels) create lively, non-repetitive expanses providing stunning topographies to visually enliven your interior.
“This is a very smart modular acoustic product system designed with a set of variations that allow a designer to create customized patterns over large surface areas. The variations are interesting and seem suited to a wide variety of contemporary architectural applications.” —Ken Smith
Outdoor Finishes & Surfaces
Precision Patina combines an expertise in patination with the precise control of robotics. Patinas are in a sense “living finishes” that respond to local environmental conditions and exposure, adding temporal richness to a building’s exterior finishes. Using its Fanuc robotic arm, Zahner explored brushing various patina chemistries onto cladding panels, prescribing speed, pressure, and orientation of the application. The results are robotically crafted patterns full of life and variation, celebrating inherent material variability and environmental response. A parametric configurator is included for exploring different brushstrokes and material finishes on cladding panels—users simply need to upload a design intent image and can visualize their design in seconds. In contrast to printed cladding surfaces, Precision Patina allows designers to retain control over the application. They can explore this overlap of automation and calligraphy, generating selectively patinated panels with nuanced colors.
Upfit is a new approach to outdoor destinations, eliminating many of the barriers involved in creating useful and dynamic outdoor landscapes. The adaptive outdoor structure system uses flexible, modular design to transform a wide variety of spaces into tailored destinations that support a connection to nature while providing the specific functionality and desired amenities to elevate the everyday usability of the outdoors. Upfit can become any inspiring outdoor classrooms, practical meeting rooms, social and dining spaces, and meditative gardens—destinations that people look to for relaxation, safe social connection, healing, and productivity. Upfit gives designers the unique tools to look at underutilized and in-between spaces through a new lens, uncovering latent potential and providing new value for their users.
“Landscape Forms introduced the first iteration of Upfit some years before the pandemic made people conscious of their work environments, the air that gets pumped into them, airborne contagion, and so on. That is to say, the design was a good deal prescient. The latest upgrade builds on the earlier model now that everyone has caught up.” –Samuel Medina
Mixed Metals Bit Pull
Forge a feeling of wonder and excitement with the new mixed metals Bit series expansion. This new look shies away from the classic appearance of one-tone decorative hardware and presents an eclectic mix of 36 pieces in Top Knobs’ highly sought-after Flat Black finish, paired with the Honey Bronze or Antique Pewter finishes.
INOX debuts the PD97PT, an advanced alternative in its PD97 series of commercial-grade, motor-driven mortise locks for sliding doors, providing healthcare facilities and other commercial buildings with another security option for high-traffic areas. The power connects directly through the strike and into the lock motor, activating the latch and lock as soon as the door is closed, making the PD97PT the first electrified motorized lock of its type in the world. The PD97PT can be specified and installed as Entry/Office or Classroom lock functions and is compatible with most existing access control systems, including keypads and hand wave actuators. The PD97PT is tested to 25,000 cycles, ensuring commercial-grade strength. A patented antigravity winged dead bolt prevents binding, and an advanced stepper motor offers quiet operation.
Architectural & Commercial Lighting & Electrical
A fusion of technology, space, and architecture, Sticks offers a creative tool kit for integrating light elements in an interior space. Pure and graphic, the minimalist aluminum rods transform linear light into floating sculpture. The namesake sticks rotate on their own axis, offering freedom in directing the light source precisely where desired. Sticks can be connected from wall to wall, floor to wall, wall to ceiling, or suspended from the ceiling. The tool kit features three minimalist aluminum rods, which can be combined in custom arrangements for a maximum length of 177 inches per electrical connection. Through its physical form and the light it casts, Sticks creates and disrupts architectural planes. It effortlessly enhances the ambiance of an interior while doubling as an abstract light installation.
“Minimalist lighting fixtures are a dime a dozen these days. Vibia’s Sticks luminaire stands out in its scale and proportions, and for how ‘architectural’ it can be. Add it to a room and it will completely transform the ambiance.” –Adrian Madlener
Smart Lighting with Netatmo
Legrand, a global specialist in electrical and network solutions, expands its collections of designer switches and outlets to include smart lighting solutions featuring Netatmo smart home technology. With a selection of smart switches, dimmers, and outlets, the solutions will be available from both of Legrand’s design-inspired collections—named adorne and radiant—and will leverage Netatmo technology to deliver the benefits of smart lighting control with unprecedented reliability and flexibility. Homeowners can then manage their lights and power, set scenes, create automated schedules, and much more, from anywhere, through Legrand’s intuitive Home + Control app.
Outdoor Lighting & Electrical
Typology Collection – Lighting
The Typology Collection is an innovative seating and lighting system that adds dynamic new dimension to any site, enveloping the visitor—both from above and below—in an immersive design experience. The comprehensive collection includes a modular bench system, two sculptural area lights, and a corresponding path light. Systemic and adaptable, the Typology Collection lives comfortably in both new and existing architectural environments, guiding the movement of traffic and creating unique, three-dimensional spaces that invite and connect, surprise and inspire. The materials are elegant and refined, yet resilient and enduring—cast aluminum and concrete run as a common thread through the collection to create a unified visual and tactile experience. Technological advances in manufacturing and lighting integration challenge preconceptions of form and space.
Palisades Bi-folding and Sliding Door and Wall Systems
The Palisades collection represents the next generation of movable wall and sliding door systems, offering the most desirable features in looks and performance. A new collection encompassing two innovative and complementary systems—the Palisades S100 Sliding Door and Wall System and the S90 Bi-Folding Door and Wall System—it offers grand scale and minimal hardware for virtually uninterrupted views, along with acoustical and thermal benefits. Whether installed on their own or together, they set the new architectural standard as the only system in the industry distinguished by a North American Fenestration Standard CW40 Performance Grade rating.
“With a tendency to be bulky or cumbersome, bifolding solutions don’t always live up to the elegance of the idea. The Palisades line does, however, delivering a slim frame with concealed hinges. In other words, it knows how to move out of the way.” –Samuel Medina
Single Track Thermally Broken Invisible Frame
This single-track invisible frame is the only thermally broken option that is exclusively available with the Vitrocsa Invisible Wall system. This innovation allows for all the framing to be concealed on all sides: the sill, jamb, and header are all hidden, with only a single slot per track, while the track underneath the flooring material is self-draining and air- and watertight. This minimal look is maintained throughout the whole system, allowing for an almost completely invisible wall system.
Model 523RX Security Shutter
Model 523RX is a unique innovation that delivers real value to homeowners seeking both visibility and security. Offered in fully perforated or fenestrated patterns, Model 523RX allows for 22 percent and 24 percent open area, respectively. The door is a UL 325–listed residential exterior security shutter opener with a weather-resistant motor enclosure. This feature provides benefits such as a quiet and smooth-running motor with direct drive operation of the shutter and monitored photo eyes and force detection for safe operation. The Model 523RX Security Shutter offers an aesthetically pleasing security system due to its extruded aluminum curtain, plus compact and visually appealing design. It includes a variety of finish and slat options.
EQUITONE Fiber Cement Facades
Reminiscent of the surface of the moon, EQUITONE [lunara] is a large format cladding with randomized textures and a rough, unpolished, natural finish. This elevated fiber cement is a high-density material with through-color, allowing it to be cut, routed, and perforated without the need to be treated or hide edges. Designed in conjunction with architects, EQUITONE [lunara] offers limitless possibilities.
“With composite siding taking the industry by storm, it’s often hard for manufacturers to stand out from the pack. But that’s what EQUITONE’s new geometric [lunara] collection does. It’s as aesthetically dynamic as it is robust.” –Adrian Madlener
Facade Structural Systems
MasterWall builds on the robust MasterLine 8 windows-and-doors platform, providing exceptional weather sealing performances, fabrication efficiency, and design freedom. With all the profile options that the MasterWall product offers, any different expression of the facade is possible with the standard product: punched openings, horizontal or vertical accentuation, or hybrid walls. A wide variety of opening types can be chosen from the MasterLine 8 portfolio, according to which in- and outside opening elements, terrace doors, and hidden vents best fit a project’s needs. In addition to the window and door opening types, the system is able to incorporate sliding doors.
Timber Building Materials
Mass Ply Lams
Freres Lumber Co.
Mass Ply Lams (MPL) are made from a patented, veneer-based engineered wood product called Mass Ply Panel. MPL beams and columns are assembled in thin layers of stress-rated Douglas Fir veneer, creating a monolithic, large-format mass timber product prefabricated to exact dimensions. MPLs are strong, fire-resistant, and lighter per volume than traditional building materials such as concrete and steel. MPLs are sustainable and renewable wood products that can use trees as small as 8-inch diameter to produce panels as large as 12 feet wide by 48 feet long by 24 inches. The production of Mass Ply Panel and Lams requires a fraction of the energy that concrete and steel require, and sequesters carbon in their cells for their lifetime.
Stone & Concrete Building Materials
This collection evokes the optimism and aesthetics of midcentury design reimagined for today’s architecture sensibilities. Brise Blocks creates opportunity for purposeful design exploration, providing designers and architects unique architectural elements for their projects that are unlike anything else on the market. They are a symbol of Southern California’s renowned indoor-outdoor lifestyle, exemplified everywhere from Hollywood bungalows to Palm Springs estates. The blocks can be rotated and put together in different configurations, random or repeated, providing the possibility of infinite patterns, lighting effects, and shadows. They’re available in a range of warm colors that reflect California landscapes.
“You might think the Brise Blocks an ersatz idea. ‘Not another inspired-by-midcentury-design so-and-so,’ you are likely thinking to yourself. But the system is versatile enough to yield pleasing results.” –Samuel Medina
Hardie Textured Panels
Hardie Textured Panels mark the creation of a new category in home exteriors. The most significant expansion to date in fiber cement building solutions, Hardie Textured Panels allows homeowners to achieve contemporary designs for any style, while continuing to deliver on the trusted protection and lasting beauty of fiber cement. The panels are currently available in three textures: Hardie Smooth Sand Panel, Hardie Multi-Groove Panel, and Hardie Knockdown Panel. They can be oriented vertically or horizontally and can be mixed with a variety of fiber cement products to create one-of-a-kind exteriors. Modern ship-lapped joints create a sleek V-groove aesthetic that improves installation efficiency with 40 to 50 percent less labor time than traditional three-coat stucco. (Actual labor savings may vary based on wall complexity.) Low-maintenance fiber cement siding also offers noncombustible fire resistance.
“I like the honesty of this fiber cement panel system. It doesn’t pretend something it isn’t. I saw a lot of other panel products that imitate brick or wood or some other traditional material, which I disliked. For the most part this product allows for a variety of esthetic applications, and I especially like the larger scale and modularity of the panels that seem well suited to contemporary architectural expressions.” –Ken Smith
SOLARVOLT Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) Modules
Vitro Architectural Glass
SOLARVOLT building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glass modules combine the aesthetics and performance of Vitro Architectural Glass products with CO2-free power generation and replace conventional building materials, providing three functions within one product. Solarvolt BIPV can be used to enhance various components of commercial building exteriors, including balustrades, balconies, overhead glazing and skylights, facades and opacified spandrel glass—all while passively generating solar power, reducing air-conditioning costs, and replacing conventional cladding materials. To meet a wide range of design and environmental performance targets, Solarvolt BIPV modules can be used with virtually any Vitro Glass product, including Starphire Ultra-Clear and Acuity low-iron glasses, as well as the company’s full range of performance tinted glasses. Vitro Glass manufactures Solarvolt BIPV modules using “glass-glass composite”—solar panels with solar cells arranged between the two glass lites —and glass-film techniques. Vitro’s wide offering on Solarvolt BIPV enables unique, truly customized green buildings.
Weather, Air Barriers, & Insulation
RainScreen SA is a self-adhered Air Barrier and Weather Resistive membrane (WRB) with a built-in rainscreen drainage matrix. It protects the building envelope by allowing vapor to pass through but not air or liquid water, mitigating costly moisture damage and saving energy for the life of the building. The factory-bonded drainage matrix (3mm or 7mm) maintains an unimpeded vertical drainage plane behind the cladding, giving contractors a one-step installation of three critical building envelope elements: air barrier, WRB, and rainscreen drainage plane. RainScreen SA features a new aggressive adhesive that even sticks to OSB; contractors will notice the time-saving convenience of a single-step installation process with the result being a robust, energy-saving wall assembly. It can be applied in below-freezing temperatures and stops air infiltration.
“RainScreen SA takes the idea of a drainage mat that we all use on foundation walls and stretches it up over the building’s facades. I haven’t used it yet, but it seems like a great way to ensure the proper functioning of a rainscreen when you have a slim build-up, and don’t have space for channels or other substructure on top of your sheathing.” –Tom Wiscombe
ThermaPANEL Radiant Heating System
ThermaPANEL is a patented modular hydronic heat exchange system that efficiently heats or cools pedestal and ground-mounted pavers. Fully designed and engineered by Therma-HEXX, the panels are set beneath hardscapes (e.g., rooftops, pool decks, roof patios, driveways, walkways, plazas). During the winter, the system can be used to snow-melt the surface using low temp heat sources. As the sun heats the hardscape, the BTUs are absorbed by the panel. This heat transfer cools the hardscape surface while the collected energy can be used to heat domestic hot water or pool water.
Planning & Management Software
Architects finally have a smart, intuitive, and easy-to-use CRM solution that empowers them to win more business and grow their existing client relationships. CORE CRM is the latest addition to the BQE CORE ARCHITECT platform: a fully integrated, native-cloud practice management platform that handles time and expense tracking, invoicing, accounting, project management, HR, and now CRM. CORE CRM can be securely accessed anywhere, anytime, through PCs or iOS/Android apps, giving users real-time access to all the tools owners, managers, and marketing teams need to grow their firm. CORE CRM takes advantage of the BQE CORE ARCHITECT platform, improving efficiency through automation and artificial and business intelligence. BQE CORE ARCHITECT provides real-time insights into all aspects of a firm’s projects, operations, and finances, and is fully integrated with the new CORE CRM module providing all the tools a firm needs to manage their marketing needs while simplifying their workflow and reducing costs.
Design & Construction Software
PreDesign enables architects to test design strategies and understand how a site’s climate and environment will impact design proposals. Created to help prepare designers for the conceptual phase, PreDesign also provides the data and graphics needed to articulate and build a narrative around early-stage climate-related design decisions. By providing the climate stats and insights, PreDesign simplifies and enhances design research, giving users the confidence to propose the most viable solutions.
Smart Building, Smart Home, & Automation Systems
LG NeON 2 ACe
LG Electronics USA
The NeON 2 ACe model, a new addition to LG’s NeON 2 lineup, is an ideal solution for both architects and installers seeking superior service and performance from an easy-to-install, highly efficient solar panel. The design of LG’s new smart AC solar system is fully integrated with LG’s own microinverter recessed into the frame of the panel. The LG NeON 2 ACe offers straightforward logistics and simple accessories. From an installation perspective, the design not only reduces Balance of System requirements compared to a typical inverter that might clutter a garage or outside walls, but it also reduces the opportunity for field installation errors. The LG NeON 2 ACe has also been designed with aesthetics in mind, providing a premium and sleek appearance on the end-user’s home or building.