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Six of the best architectural projects of 2012

DNB Headquarters in Oslo by MVRDV

For nearly 20 years, the Dutch firm MVRDV has created bold, often boldly geometric projects. Its headquarters for the Norwegian financial group DNB in the fast-developing Bjørvika neighborhood on Oslo’s waterfront is no exception. “The building is basically a large box of Legos,” says MVRDV principal Winy Maas. “Shuffling individual components of the block slightly allows for more natural light inside. Removing some elements and adding others elsewhere creates fantastic outside spaces. This play leads to an unexpected, complex structure.” (Rendering courtesy of MVRDV)

Pazhou Hotel in Guangzhou by Aedas

As bombastic as any building conceived in the past decade, the Pazhou Hotel, designed by the international firm Aedas, stacks guest-room floors in two staggered piles atop a nearly 200-foot-high atrium that links exhibition and retail spaces. Located in Guangzhou’s rapidly expanding Pazhou district, the new building strives to be unique among the bold designs that already occupy the area, including Zaha Hadid’s Opera House just across the Pearl River. (Rendering courtesy of Aedas)

 Azerbaijan Cultural Center in Baku by Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid’s signature sexy curves are on full display in the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, a fluid form constructed of glass-reinforced concrete that emerges from the folds of the landscape’s natural topography. This major new venue will play a pivotal role in the redevelopment of the Azerbaijani capital, housing a conference hall with three auditoriums, a library, and a national museum. (Rendering and photo: Zaha Hadid Architects)

 Phoenix International Media Center in Beijing by BIAD UFo

For years China has imported big-name architects (Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl) to create out-of-this-world structures. But now China is producing its own generation of daring designers. Beijing-based BIAD UFo’s Phoenix International Media Center is giving Herzog & de Meuron’s “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium a run for its money. The complex features a pair of buildings with offices and TV-broadcasting facilities encased in a dramatic doughnut-shaped shell of swirling steel. (Rendering and photo: Courtesy of BIAD UFo)

 London Bridge Tower by Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Of all the buildings added to the London skyline in the run-up to the Olympics, the most imposing is unquestionably Renzo Piano’s London Bridge Tower, located on the south bank of the Thames, next to the bustling London Bridge transportation hub. At 72 stories and 1,016 feet high, it dwarfs the mostly low buildings around it and will be the tallest building in the European Union. Nicknamed the Shard, because of its façade of tapering glass panels, the tower will contain offices, apartments, a hotel and spa, restaurants, shops, and, at its pointed top, a 15-story public viewing gallery. (Photo: Hayes Davidson and John McLean)

 Dalian International Conference Center in Dalian, China, by Coop Himmelb(l)au

Founded in 1968, Viennese firm Coop Himmelb(l)au has taken its unique brand of Deconstructivist architecture from Europe to the U.S. and more recently to China. At nearly 1.3 million square feet, its Dalian International Conference Center—which includes exhibition spaces and a performance hall—is one of its biggest projects to date. The building’s floating, wavelike envelope (which sits atop a load-bearing shell structure) and soft, rippling surfaces evoke the forces of the sea, referencing Dalian’s history as an important port. (Rendering:, Vienna)

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