10 Architecture Firms You Need to Know


Forget Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Norman Foster. Sure, they’re still doing important work, but the old guard of “starchitecture” – a group of designers of iconic buildings that have become flamboyant signatures for cities across the globe – is no longer at the forefront of design. The new wave of architecture, championed by emerging firms worldwide, is characterized by a more deconstructivist attitude, a willingness to try anything, and an aversion to getting set in any one style. Here are a few names worth following, and what they’ve recently accomplished.

MAD (China)

Photo credit: MAD’s Fake Hills courtesy of CentralArchitecture

Headed up by the iconoclastic architect Ma Yansong, MAD creates buildings that are as reactionary and aggressive as their name might suggest. Their early conceptual projects, such as the global spaceship “Chinatowns,” are more provocations than literal plans, but with Fake Hills, they brought their twisted spatial thinking into reality.

BIG (Denmark)

Photo credit: BIG, West 57th Street Residential Building courtesy of DesignBoom

BIG is the descriptive acronym for the Bjarke Ingels Group, a young firm named for its energetic, slickly branded founder. The subject of a recent New Yorker profile, Ingels is a powerhouse, completing large projects in China and an upcoming ski slope-like structure in the middle of New York City.

DnA (China)

Photo credit: DnA’s Songzhuang Artists’ Residence courtesy of Moving Cities

Founded by the young female architect Xu Tiantian in just 2005, DnA (short for design and architecture) is responsible for some of the most interesting buildings coming out of China today. DnA’s structures are usable, low-key spaces rather than dramatic skyscrapers — the firm’s artists’ residence in Beijing features geometric living and studio spaces with visually striking flashes of red underneath the raised spaces.

HWKN (United States)

Photo credit: HWKN’s Wendy courtesy of Architizer

Headed by Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner (the name derives from the principles’ last names), HWKN is an innovative New York-based firm that created a giant, angular, air-filtering pop-up structure at MoMA PS1. HWKN has also designed a geodesic wooden pavilion on Fire Island, pop-up stores for Uniqlo, and the new Menscience flagship store in Manhattan.

Li Xiaodong Atelier (China)

Photo credit: Liyuan Library by Li Xiaodong courtesy of Modern Library Designs

The Li Xiaodong Atelier (named after its founder) has a strikingly simple, organic style that is characterized by its already-iconic Liyuan Library in the outskirts of Beijing. The single-story structure has a façade made of frames filled with sticks gathered from the forest floor. The sticks — which reference the woodpiles locals gather to fuel their cooking stoves — provide a natural ambiance, but also filter daylight streaming in from the outside into the reading area.

Oyler Wu Collaborative (United States)

Photo credit: Anemone by Oyler Wu Collaborative courtesy of SuckerPUNCH

The Los Angeles-based Oyler Wu Collaborative is made up of Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu, two alumni from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Their projects include Anemone, a twisting, spiny pavilion installed in Taipei, Taiwan, and architectural interventions everywhere from galleries to suburban Californian backyards.

Snohetta (Norway)

Photo credit: SF MoMA expansion courtesy of San Francisco Citizen

The Norwegian firm Snohetta is behind the massive expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a glacial, 225,000-square-foot structure that looks like a striated iceberg.

INABA (United States)

Photo credit: INABA’s pop-up Whitney restaurant courtesy of the Whitney

Founded by Jeffrey Inaba, an architect as well as a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, INABA takes on provocative projects including pop-up exhibitions at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, a temporary restaurant at the Whitney museum, and even an ephemeral waiting room.

MOS (United States)

Image credit: MOS’ Afterparty courtesy of ArchDaily

MOS’ “urban shelter,” called Afterparty, took roost at MoMA PS1 for the museum’s Warm Up series. Consisting of a series of towering chimneys conceived of as cooling stations, the avant-garde structure hosted parties and visitors throughout the summer.

Arquitectura 911sc (Mexico)

Photo credit: Arquitectura 911sc’s performing arts center at the University of Guadalajara courtesy of U Penn

Arquitectura 911sc is a Mexican firm that responds particularly strongly to the natural landscape, creating iconic, monolithic structures that share textures and forms with the local vistas. Check out their performing arts center in Guadalajara, seen above, or their blocky campus for CEDIM.