What constitutes good architecture? Vitruvius had thoughts, as did every epoch of architects who followed. Today, the question is as relevant as ever, given the urgency of the many crises facing society at large. Knowing what we know now, perhaps good architecture, beyond widely accepted criteria of beauty or usefulness, ought to consider its participation within larger environmental flows. This could mean a concern for which products are used, how much energy the project consumes, or even the minimizing of how much construction is needed, in addition to its overall appearance or how it meets the needs of its users.
The initial question can be rephrased: Where does goodness reside in architecture? In the experiences of its users or the intentions of its designers? In the forms themselves or their materials, realized or proposed? In the judgments aired via press coverage or in the longer historical record, in which buildings stand the test of time—or don’t? (Of course, this supposes that architectural labor results in buildings, which it often does. But at times the output remains as drawings, images, models, texts, and other types of media.) Frustratingly—and thankfully—there are many answers to this query; architectural meaning is a circle with many centers.
AN’s award programs seek answers to this tough but essential question through our three campaigns: Best of Practice evaluates the work of architects, landscape architects, and engineers to create firms that attempt excellence through their overall operations; Best of Products examines current offerings to see which items best fit the concerns and needs of contemporary practitioners; and Best of Design combs through projects of all sizes to seek the most encouraging and considered productions. This year, the selections by the respective juries were made after thoughtful deliberations and, taken together, capture much of what is captivating lately in the wide world of architecture.
What follows are the winners, honorable mentions, and editors’ picks for each effort, plus a preface where AN editors summarize the design trends witnessed during this busy year. Want to see your work on these pages? Consider applying in 2024.