Japan's draws on nature— organic structures like forests, nests, and caves—to upend conventional assumptions about what a space for living can actually look like. His light-filled houses make us question the necessity of even such basic elements as walls and staircases in favor of a groundbreaking new architecture of openness and flexibility. As a result, Fujimoto's star is rising in the West: On the heels of his acclaimed 2013 Cloud Pavilion at London's Serpentine Gallery, he is creating one of his biggest structures yet, a "white tree" tower in Montpellier, France.
CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM RIGHT: Sou Fujimoto; A design for an apartment tower in Montpellier, France; Fujimoto's House NA in Tokyo.
With his spare but luxurious designs, Antwerp, Belgium, architect VINCENT VAN DUYSEN shows that a minimalist approach need not sacrifice comfort and livability. Inspired by the late Belgian decorator Jean de Meulder, who taught him what he calls "l'art de vivre," he was one of the first to use natural wood and Belgian linen to warm up his interiors. For Van Duysen, the smallest detail counts, which is why, in addition to homes and skyscrapers, he designs everything from hardware to furniture to chandeliers.
FROM TOP: Vincent Van Duysen; Van Duysen's Antwerp, Belgium, home.
, the avant-gardist husband-and-wife team behind New York City–based Asymptote Architecture, have a tendency to let their imaginations fly. Their Manhattan condo 166 Perry Street is fronted by a waterfall of angled glass, while their space-age Velo Towers in Seoul, South Korea—a pair of stacked cylinders connected by a sky bridge—seems to inhabit an entirely different galaxy altogether. More than just technological feats, this duo's imaginative architecture points the way toward the future of design.
Western architects are flocking to China, but Beijing-born is that nation's first breakout architectural star. Ma, who studied at Yale under Zaha Hadid, draws on natural forms and Chinese Taoist principles to create organic, shimmering designs that serve as an antidote to soulless urban structures. Exhibit A: his twin Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Canada, which the locals have dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe buildings" in an affectionate nod to their bodacious curves.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT: Ma Yansong; Design for Nanjing, China; An aerial view of Harbin Cultural Center in China; Chaoyang Park Plaza in Beijing.
Beloved by his fellow architects (he has won seven AIA National Honor Awards), takes a humanist approach to modernism, infusing every one of his projects with a sense of craftsmanship and an environmentally conscious aesthetic. Whether it is a home or a museum or a courthouse, Phifer's innovative structures engage the landscape with their sense of proportion and play of light. As if that weren't enough, his elegant new LED street lamps are lighting up the streets of New York.
CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: Thomas Phifer; Design for a pedestrian bridge in Austin, Texas; A house in Madison, Wisconsin.
Not yet 40, Denmark's does not lack for chutzpah (nor a sense of humor): His cutting-edge buildings include a Copenhagen waste-treatment plant with a roof that doubles as a ski slope. His approach fuses architecture, urbanism, and nature, and, as Ingels himself explains in his book, Yes Is More, his goal is to engineer environments—even in crowded cities—that do nothing short of making people happy. In the works: the Big U, an eight-mile hurricane barrier for midtown Manhattan's coastline.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Bjarke Ingels (left) and partner Thomas Christoffersen; Audemars Piguet exhibition space in Basel, Switzerland; Gammel Sports Hall in Hellerup, Denmark; Design for a resort in the Bahamas; VM apartment buildings in Copenhagen.
Snøhetta, based in Oslo, Norway, and New York City and named after one of Norway's highest mountain peaks, practices what the critic Ada Louise Huxtable has called "the architecture of engagement, a building conceived as a social and environmental act instead of a static, formal object." Snøhetta's principals, CRAIG DYKERS and KJETIL TRAEDAL THORSEN, integrate architecture, landscape, and interior design in projects that are deeply rooted in their surroundings—from Egypt's library of Alexandria to the recently opened National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York City.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Craig Dykers and Kjetil Traedal Thorsen of Snøhetta. Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo.