The top 10 architecture and design trends of 2015

Dezeen editor Anna Winston identifies 10 of the key architecture and design trends of 2015, including ocean plastic, floating buildings and "broken-plan" living.

Floating architecture

London architecture studio Baca has proposed building floating homes on London's canals

Dezeen investigated the trend for floating architecture following a flurry of proposals ranging from housing developments on the canals of London to floating homes in Amsterdam and amphibious cities in China.

Walden Raft by Elise Morin and Florent Albinet
This see-through floating hut is modelled on the remote cabin built by 19th century American author Henry David Thoreau

Architect Kunlé Adeyemi, whose projects include a floating school for a Lagos lagoon, told Dezeen that floating buildings were an opportunity to think about "living with water as opposed to fighting it and doing land reclamation." More about floating architecture »


Eva plastic robotic arm by Automata
The Eva robotic arm by Automata is designed to help robots become as ubiquitous as desktop 3D printers

Engineers and scientists have been trumpeting the beginning of the robot age for decades, but this year it finally felt like it might be dawning.

Austrian architect Wolf D Prix declared robotic construction and 3D printing to be the future of architecture, while Dutch designer Joris Laarman shared his plans to use robots to 3D print an entire Amsterdam footbridge in mid air.

Joris Laarman and MX3D's steel canal bridge in Amsterdam will be 3D-printed by robots

We witnessed drones building complex woven structures, revealed plans for robot shopping delivery services, and discovered that robot-crane hybrids will be used to build BIG and Heatherwick's Google headquarters. More about robots in design and architecture »

Linked towers

Copenhagen Gate by Steven Holl
Steven Holl's Copenhagen Gate is linked by a suspended footbridge and cycle path

Steven Holl's plan to build two huge structures in Copenhagen that connect 65 metres above the city's harbour via a cycle and pedestrian bridge were revived. But he wasn't the only architect trying to link skyscrapers.

Cloud Corridor by MAD
MAD's conceptual Cloud Corridor design calls for nine connected residential towers in LA

Chinese firm MAD proposed a complex of towers for LA that would be linked by sky gardens on various levels, while Vietnamese firm Vo Trong Nghia designed three towers for Ho Chi Minh City that connect at the roof with bridges covered in greenery.

And we featured three different designs linked with elevated transparent swimming pools – one in London, one in India, and one in Paris. More about linked towers »

Crowdfunded architecture

The crowdfunded Luchtsingel bridge in Rotterdam, designed by ZUS

While crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have become established tools for designers to bring their products to market, 2015 was the year crowdfunded architecture moved beyond student projects and temporary popups.

Lowline-underground-park-New-York-_dezeen_468_12 sq
The proposed design for the Lowline in New York, billed as the world's first underground park

This year saw the completion of the "world's first crowdfunded public infrastructure project" – the 400-metre-long Luchtsingle pedestrian bridge in Rotterdam – while Danish architecture firm BIG launched a campaign to fund the smoke-ring-blowing chimney for its Copenhagen power plant.

Other crowdfunded projects launched this year included the Lowline underground park proposal for New York and a floating swimming pool for London's River Thames. More about crowdfunding »

Timber buildings

The Cube by Hawkins Brown
The Cube, a 10-storey residential building in London's Shoreditch built using cross-laminated timber

New innovations and techniques are turning engineered and laminated timber into the architectural wonder material of the 21st century. Architects told Dezeen it can beat steel and concrete on quality, sustainability and speed of construction.

79&Park Stockholm by BIG
The stepped glass and wood 79 & Park building designed by BIG is under construction in Stockholm

The tallest wooden apartment block in Finland was named as the winner of the 2015 Finlandia Prize for Architecture, while work completed on a 33-metre-high apartment block in London's Shoreditch described as "the tallest building to use structural cross-laminated timber in Europe". More wooden buildings »

Handmade bricks

Broad Street House in Suffolk by Nash Baker Architects
The ground floor of this house designed by London studio Nash Baker Architects is built from handmade-brick

Another traditional material that enjoyed a revival this year was brick, but instead of pushing the boundaries, architects explored the possibilities offered by old techniques.

RielEstate by Joris Verhoeven Architectuur
This asymmetric gabled house in the Dutch village of Riel was also made using hand-moulded bricks

Handmade bricks, which provide wider variations of colour and texture than mass-produced stock, appeared in housing projects in the UK and the Netherlands. In Africa they were used as a means to tap into local skills and engage residents in community projects in Rwanda and Zambia, among others.

Expect to see a lot more handmade brick in 2016, with John Pawson's Living Architecture holiday retreat among the projects due for completion. More architecture featuring handmade bricks »

Ocean plastic

Project Ocean exhibition and Water Bar at Selfridges
Indian Ocean by Studio Swine, one of a series of objects made using ocean plastic and named after the ocean from which the waste was collected

Ocean plastic, created by harvesting and melting down waste from the world's seas, was the breakthrough material of 2015.

3D-printed Ocean Plastic shoe midsole by Adidas
Adidas' concept trainer features an upper made using waste plastic filtered out of the oceans and a 3D-printed midsole created from recycled fishing nets

Sports brand Adidas created trainers from the recycled material, while Pharrell Williams' third collection with fashion brand G-Star RAW included ocean plastic clothes.

London department store Selfridges hosted an exhibition dedicated to the material, while a 100-kilometre array of floating barriers designed by a 20-year-old inventor to clear the oceans of waste plastic was shortlisted for the 2015 Designs of the Year award. More about design with ocean plastic »

Humanitarian design

In Limbo Embassy
The In Limbo Embassy by Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Manon van Hoeckel aims to facilitate open discussion around immigration

The ongoing refugee crisis, a number of major natural disasters, and a growing awareness of global inequality prompted designers and architects to turn their attention to humanitarian projects this year. Designs ranged from coats made form recycled tents that double as sleeping bags to earthquake emergency kits and Ebola isolation suits.

SURI shelters from Suricatta Systems
The SURI, or Shelter Unit for Rapid Installation, is providing temporary housing for refugees displaced by conflict in their home countries

Design Academy Eindhoven creative director Thomas Widdershoven told Dezeen that students were now more interested in responding to real-world problems than making beautiful objects for collectors. More about humanitarian design »

Designers as architects

Coal Drops Yard by Thomas Heatherwick
This scheme to convert a Victorian coal yard in London's King's Cross into a canal-side shopping destination was among the architecture projects unveiled by Thomas Heatherwick this year

Thomas Heatherwick was one of a handful of designers that dominated the news this year with architecture projects. "We just see everything as problems, whether it's [the Olympic] cauldron or a 4 million-square-foot development in Shanghai," he said during a talk in June.

100 Varick skyscraper proposal by Dror Benshetrit
Designer Dror Benshetrit unveiled a series of conceptual skyscraper designs for New York this year

New York-based designer Dror Benshetrit, who is designing an entire artificial island community in Turkey, told Dezeen that clients found his lack of formal architecture training refreshing. And Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek, who is working on a range of buildings, also sparked controversy when he said that most architects are "not interested" in construction. More on designers as architects »

Broken-plan living

Rooms are loosely divided up inside Flint House by Skene Catling de la Peña
Skene Catling de la Peña's Flint House was one example of a "broken-plan" home, with loosely divided living spaces

UK architects told Dezeen that  smartphones and tablets were changing the way people want their homes laid out, with a desire for private spaces spelling the end for open-plan living.

Duggan Morris' Old Bearhurst house in East Sussex features a dining area that is partially separated from the other living spaces

The new style of layout combines big shared spaces with small nooks, partial walls, sliding partitions and private offices and TV rooms instead of one-size-fits-all lounges. Mary Duggan of London-based Duggan Morris Architects described it as "broken-plan". More about broken-plan living »