The Top 14 Buildings Of 2012

From a skyscraper that cleans pollution to a re-invented college dorm to a pre-fab house that comes in a shipping container, these are some of the most mindblowing structures of the last year.

About 40% of all the energy used in the United States is consumed by buildings: lighting them, heating them, cooling them. While we innovate new, clean power sources, it’s also important that we build new offices and houses that don’t waste energy.


Visions to solve these problems include rolling skyscrapers, zero-energy houses, and totally sustainable soccer stadiums. But besides the important work of reducing energy consumption, we also saw building projects this year that worked on making architecture more humane and better able to serve the people using it.

As the work environment changes, people’s houses and offices are starting to combine: What does a new live/work space look like? Can we re-invent the higher-education living experience by building a beautiful dorm that doesn’t feel like a prison? Can we make cheap housing for low-income people that doesn’t look like we’re treating them like second-class citizens?

Take a tour through some of the most exciting buildings of the year:

1: 8 Insane Skyscrapers Of The Future

From buildings sucking water from Himalayan glaciers to round towers that let residents escape from danger, here are 10 ways that architects imagine how the quintessential urban building might look.

2: The College Dorm You Wish You Lived In


A university in Denmark has created a circular dorm that will make you incredibly frustrated at the tiny double room where you spent your college years. Bet you didn’t have french windows, balconies, and a bike workshop.

3: LiveWork: The Future Of Living Where You Work And Working Where You Live

America is changing how it works. As more people start their own entrepreneurial businesses out of their bedrooms, is it time to rethink how we divide work and living? This new home design makes space for both.

4: Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation Completes Its First Frank Gehry-Designed Home In New Orleans

With a $200,000 price tag, the stunning duplex shows that sustainability and affordability can go hand-in-hand, and will hopefully anchor a rebuilt 9th Ward.

5: An Office Designed To Keep Employees Working From Home


The headset manufacturer Plantronics doesn’t much care where its employees work, and to prove that, its new offices are outfitted with a cornucopia of features that make telecommuting simple, easy, and encouraged.

6: Floating Housing (And Golf Courses) For Post-Climate-Change Island Paradises

A new resort development in the Maldives (currently sitting five feet above sea level) will be ready if the country starts to go underwater–the whole thing is already floating.

7: Low-Income Housing That Anyone Would Love To Live In

Housing for the poor doesn’t need to be horrible. The Richardson apartments in San Francisco are offering up high-class digs in the hopes of helping to lift its residents out of poverty.

8: These Gorgeous Sustainable Pre-Fab Houses Fit In A Shipping Container


Just because a house is pre-fabricated doesn’t mean it’s easy to move. But Connect Homes’ innovation is to make them fit in shipping containers, so high-end green design can end up anywhere on the planet.

9: A Skyscraper That Scrubs The Air Clean

Sitting above a congested highway, this concept building would use algae to deal with the pollution.

10: A Prefab Vertical Gym For Urban Slums

Gyms provide activities that keep kids off the street. But in the sprawling slums of the developing world, where do you find the space to put one? This new architectural marvel stacks all the amenities you could want.

11: The World’s Largest Sculpture Will Be A 500-Foot-Tall Pyramid Of 410,000 Oil Barrels


Christo, the legendary public artist, has been planning the sculpture called the Mastaba for decades. Is it now about to become reality outside Abu Dhabi?

12: The First Net-Zero-Energy Stadium Will Be In The Next World Cup

In 2014, the world’s best soccer players will be playing in a solar-powered, pollution-eating arena.

13: In China, New Sustainable Cities Are Rising From Nothing

China is planning a building explosion of dense, sustainable suburbs, connected to its megacities by public transit. Can these “prototype cities” alter the course of the country’s unsustainable development?

14: This Breathing Office Building Makes You Feel Like You’re Outside


PNC Bank’s new global HQ in Pittsburgh is going to be a skyscraper like no other–including the ability to open windows and even take a walk outdoors, no matter what floor you’re on.

More 2012 roundups:

Architecture, cities, clean tech, collaborative consumption, design, education, energy, environment, food, health, infographics, photography, responsible business, and transportation.

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly