A "best of" list is always a tricky task. Inevitably, someone will disagree with what makes the cut. Such is the case surrounding Vanity Fair magazine’s recent world architecture survey. Released at the end of June, Vanity Fair’s list surveyed a select group of architects, critics, and deans of architecture schools to name the five most important buildings, bridges, or monuments built since 1980. In addition, they also asked participants to name the greatest work of architecture thus far in the 21st century. From the 52 sets of responses, Frank Gehry topped the list for the Guggenheim Museum’s Bilbao outpost, in case you were wondering. But, it wasn’t what was on the final list that sparked debate—it was what was missing that drew flak. Most notably: the noticeable dearth of sustainable buildings.
Understandably, architects and designers immediately spotlighted this omission. Among them was Blair Kamin, architecture columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Lance Hosey, eco-columnist for ECO-STRUCTURE’s sister publication, ARCHITECT magazine. In his column, Kamin gave Vanity Fair’s list a green thumbs-down. As for Hosey, fired up by Vanity Fair’s list, he first responded via his blog, and then set out to conduct a companion poll of his own. As detailed here, Hosey asked 150 green building experts and advocates in the U.S., the UK, Europe, and Asia, to name "the five most-important green buildings since 1980" using the criteria of their choice. Topping this list? The Adam Joseph Lewis Center in Oberlin, Ohio, designed by William McDonough + Partners in 2001. (In the interest of full disclosure, Hosey noted that he served as a director with McDonough’s firm, but that this past position bore no influence on the poll’s results.)
Just as the design community cried foul on Vanity Fair’s original list, factions of the architecture world took issue with Hosey’s compilation—perhaps the most vocal being Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times. In his Culture Monster column, Hawthorne noted that he had no problems with the results of Hosey’s survey, but that he did believe that the list—as well as that of Vanity Fair—provides a skewed viewpoint of architecture. His argument is that by singling out individual projects and buildings, these lists are missing the larger picture of what green architecture has really achieved. Rather than look to specific projects, he says, we should remember that architecture is both a sum of parts (be they solar panels, zoning regulations, tax credits, or building materials) and part of a larger contextual whole (such as neighborhoods, school campuses, or even a collection of green architects).
In turn, Hosey has responded twice—in direct response and by releasing the entire list of projects suggested in his poll. Other editors in the field have chimed in, and, not being one to sit on the sidelines, Vanity Fair also has jumped back into the conversation.
With this in mind, ECO-STRUCTURE wants to hear from you. First, what are your thoughts on polls that attempt to name the greatest hits, if you will, of a certain time period or architectural movement? What criteria would you require be taken into consideration in choosing contenders? Second, what projects of the last 30 years do you think are missing from Hosey’s G-list? Send us your thoughts via comments below, on ECO-STRUCTURE’s Facebook wall, or by way of Twitter (@ecostructure).