The best architecture of 2021: constraints that unleash creativity


It’s easy to assume that an artist is most creative when he’s most free from constraints, but it’s the other way around. The more constraints there are, the higher the order of thought necessary to overcome them. Michelangelo found his David in a block of marble worked by two other sculptors and then abandoned, and it was too superficial for such a heroic figure. Of course, constraints do not guarantee success, nor does their absence preclude it. Studio Gang is beautifully tapered St Regis Chicago, most exciting skyscraper of the year, towered above a fairly open site facing Lake Michigan. But it is significant that many of this year’s best buildings faced this most onerous challenge, inserting an entirely new program behind a beloved historic facade.

To all of us who suffered the indignities of Penn Station in New York, Moynihan train hall is easily the most rewarding building of the year. Fortunately, the tracks under Penn Station also run under the Farley Post Office across the street to the west, allowing bags of mail to be hoisted directly into its central room. Now that the trains no longer carry mail, it was possible to convert this space into a 255,000 square foot waiting room for railroad passengers. We no longer emerge in a humid and disconcerting cellar, but we climb majestically into a high room lit by a skylight. It doesn’t permanently solve the infrastructure disaster at Penn Station, a bottleneck of three converging rail lines, but it’s a crucial first step in discovering that ticket holders can in fact be treated as human beings deserving compassion. and dignity.


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