Top Design Cities of 2016

This year, we looked at 10 places being transformed by new architectural projects and public spaces. Here is our guide to 2016's top design cities, from San Francisco to Sydney.


In Japan's capital city, a reverence for tradition doesn't mute an enthusiasm for change. The demolition of the iconic Yoshiro Taniguchi–designed Hotel Okura, which will be replaced by a pair of vertiginous glass towers in time for the 2020 Olympics, and forthcoming relocation of the famed Tsukiji seafood market to a man-made island, are proof of that. The juxtaposition plays out at venues like the Nezu Museum, fresh from a recent makeover by Kengo Kuma, the local architect designing the city’s National Stadium for the summer games, which contrasts modern exteriors with more than 7,000 Asian antiques.

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(Pictured: National Arts Center)



A romanticized art deco heritage and ascending hotel and culture scenes merge in America’s new boom town. On our radar now: Faena Forum, an exhibition and performance space designed by Shohei Shigematsu and OMA; the forthcoming Surf Club Four Seasons Hotel, merging Russell Pancoast’s 1930 building and three gleaming towers by Richard Meier, with interiors by French architect Joseph Dirand; the David Rockwell-designed Brightline train debuting in June; and breaking ground next year, the Underline, a 10–mile urban trail beneath the Metrorail.

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(Pictured: Faena Forum)

Rio de Janeiro

After a year in the global spotlight, Brazil’s party capital is showing off a more sophisticated edge. The formerly deteriorated port, rechristened Porto Maravilha, was transformed into a modern waterfront destination with sleek new plazas, promenades, and museums. Downtown’s historic Praça Tiradentes was brought back to its former glory, attracting boutiques and cafés. Catalonian master Santiago Calatrava is behind the supernatural-looking Museum of Tomorrow, while the upcoming Museum of Image and Sound displays a zig-zagging facade that pays tribute to Roberto Burle Marx’s Copacabana promenade.

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(Pictured: Museum of Tomorrow)

Tel Aviv

The cosmopolitan city is a beacon of 21st-century dynamism in a region that desperately needs it. While world-renowned architects like I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, and Norman Foster have been busy erecting forests of glass luxury towers, the artistic epicenter is gradually shifting from the now-trendy quarters of Florentine and Noga to lesser-known neighborhoods further south, with ambitious landmarks such as the 1960s socialist-modernism concrete compound called Kiryat Hamelacha, which houses more than 250 artists’ studios and numerous galleries. Coming next year: the W Tel Aviv hotel, British designer John Pawson’s adaptation of a 19th-century convent and hospital.

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(Pictured: W Tel Aviv)


More than 25 years after the unification of East and West, the ghosts and stories remain, but they live alongside a vibrant and optimistic creative energy hurling Berlin steadfastly into the future. The most successful projects are those that improve on the past, such as David Chipperfield’s masterplan for five world-class cultural institutions on the historic Museum Island, the revival of the city’s Jewish Girls’ School in Mitte (shut down by the Nazis in 1942 and now a hub of galleries and restaurants), and the Boros Collection, a private museum in a World War II air raid bunker.

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(Pictured: Boros Collection)


The antiseptic city of excess along the Persian Gulf is quickly developing a refined edge. With a facade inspired by an Arabian dhow, the Atkins-designed Dubai Opera opened downtown in November, adding another ambitious landmark to the landscape. Meanwhile, a more organic movement is afoot on the maze-like Alserkal Avenue, in the industrial zone of Al Quoz, where creatives and baristas have recently cultivated a grassroots art café enclave. Masterminded by Foster + Partners, the Dubai Design District, or D3, will officially launch in 2017.

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(Pictured: The Dubai Design District)

San Francisco

Design heft and art world gravitas are giving the City by the Bay a new patina. The debut of Snøhetta’s SFMoMA this year marked a watershed moment. In the coming years, the city will welcome notable arrivals to its skyline: Pelli Clarke Pelli’s glass-and-steel Salesforce Tower; the gyrating Folsom Bay Tower by Jeanne Gang; and a geometric skyscraper by OMA and local firm Fougeron Architecture. Change is happening on the waterfront too, as the derelict Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is set to be remade into a community of 12,000 homes by architect Jeffrey Heller, a project 20 years in the making.

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(Pictured: SFMoMA)


London’s cultural ambition was on display this year in a series of new projects: Herzog & de Meuron’s torquing extension of the Tate Modern sits on top of The Tanks, the world’s only permanent space for performance art in a public gallery. The Design Museum finally relocated to its ethereal new home, the former Commonwealth Institute renovated by OMA and John Pawson. And Gagosian Gallery is now open in Mayfair. On the luxury fashion front, the biggest news was the relocation of Japanese brand Comme des Garçons from Mayfair to central London’s Haymarket.

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(Pictured: Gagosian Gallery)

Buenos Aires

While the European influences are obvious—seen in art nouveau mansions, ample boulevards, and streetside cafés—B.A. displays its very own amalgam of global trends in architecture, fashion, and beyond. For instance, the city’s new eco-forward city hall, Casa de Gobierto, was designed by Foster + Partners and sits across the street from the spruced-up Parque de los Patricios. On the heels of the widely loved Casa Cavia, Florería Atlántico is another showcase for the many multi-faceted concept stores taking hold, with a flower shop, wine boutique, cocktail bar, and casual restaurant within its walls.

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(Pictured: Casa Cavia)


Thanks to an increasing focus on design and fashion, the world is seeing the Australian surf city in a new light. Take the new urban renewal project, Barangaroo, designed by Australian landscape architects Johnson Pilton Walker in association with California-based Peter Walker & Partners, which hosts public art installations. The hospitality scene is showing some diversity as well: the Dolphin Hotel is a gastropub with an artist-in-residence in a heritage building reimagined by designer George Livissianis. The Old Clare, set in an 1830s brewery, is the city's most dynamic new hotel.

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(Pictured: The Old Clare)

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Design Dispatch: Dec. 22, 2016
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