Milan is crowned Best City by our esteemed panel of judges, beating off competition from Sharjah, Shanghai, Helsinki, and Vancouver. View the entire Judges’ Awards winners here.

Milan

Milan is seeing an exciting renaissance. Enlightened fashion players such as Miuccia Prada and Giorgio Armani have left their mark with projects that are developing into key art and culture destinations: the OMA-designed Fondazione Prada tower was one of Europe’s most anticipated openings of 2018, debuting with works by Carsten Höller and Jeff Koons; and Armani’s empire includes the Armani/Silos museum and the Armani Hotel. Milan’s Triennale, scheduled for 2019, is set to be reinvigorated by a new president, Stefano Boeri, and his team of curators. Moshe Tabibnia’s Building gallery, opened in a converted art nouveau property, has been energising the contemporary art scene, showing international names and new talent. Another conversion, architect Luca Cipelletti’s Cavallerizze, created a dramatic addition to the National Museum of Science and Technology out of former stables. The city staged its second annual Milano Arch Week, while recent projects – Herzog & De Meuron’s Porta Volta mixed-use development, an Apple store by Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects’ Generali Tower and Piuarch’s Gucci HQ – are seeing the cityscape evolve to combine its traditional grandeur with a contemporary architectural language.

New architecture: Generali Tower, by Zaha Hadid Architects; Gucci HQ, by Piuarch
Under construction: Soho House; PwC Tower, by Studio Libeskind; Bocconi campus, by SANAA; Museum of Etruscan Art, by Mario Cucinella Architects
New hotels and restaurants: Hotel Viu, by Arassociati and Nicola Gallizia, furnished by Molteni&C; Cracco restaurant, by Studio Peragalli; Cafezal, by Studiopepe
Cultural draws: Salone del Mobile; Fondazione Prada; Miart fair; Triennale di Milano

BEST CITY SHORTLIST

Shanghai

Shanghai aerial view

Photography: Johannes Eisel/AFP/Getty Images

Shanghai is at the crux of China’s rapid economic development, and its savvy investment in the arts now sees it wield massive contemporary cultural clout too. New galleries and museums, an influx of creative talent, and annual fairs West Bund Art & Design and ART021 have seen the city challenge Beijing as the gateway to contemporary Chinese art. Architectural kingpins are vying for a piece of the development pie. Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio’s Fosun Foundation arts centre is veiled with a pipe-like curtain façade that rotates to the sound of music. Heatherwick Studio’s 1000 Trees mixed-use complex is well under way. André Fu has created a Perrotin gallery outpost, and David Chipperfield is designing a location for the Pompidou. This joins local firm Atelier Deshaus’ Long Museum, and the digitally designed Fab-Union and Chi She spaces by local stars Archi-Union as part of the West Bund arts district. Next year will see the opening of the Tank Shanghai art complex, in former oil storage tanks, by Beijing’s Open Architecture. Hospitality-wise, high-pro le openings include Neri & Hu’s dramatic new Shanghai Edition hotel, while Matteo Thun and Antonio Rodriquez designed Zwilling’s flagship store to include a restaurant and a cooking school.

New architecture: Fosun Foundation, by Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio; Lane 189 shopping, by UNStudio
Under construction: 1000 Trees, by Heatherwick Studio; Tank Shanghai, by Open Architecture
New hotels and restaurants: The Middle House, by Piero Lissoni; Bulgari, by Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel; Gaga restaurant, by Coordination Asia; The Twins restaurant, by Matteo Thun and Antonio Rodriguez
Cultural draws: Shanghai Biennale; ART021; West Bund Art & Design; International Film Festival

Vancouver

Vancouver aerial view

Photography: Anrew Latreille

As Vancouver grapples with being one of the most livable yet unaffordable of cities – its very charms and stunning landscapes attracting international interest yet exiling long-time residents and creatives to its margins – it is being eagerly watched for its response. Local developer Westbank has attracted Kengo Kuma and BIG to design mixed-use residential towers, and Büro Ole Scheeren has unveiled plans for two ‘vertical villages’ of irregularly stacked glass boxes divided by greenery. Patkau Architects has unveiled the impressive Polygon Gallery, and the late Arthur Erickson’s 1980 Evergreen Building will enjoy an extraordinary homage by Shigeru Ban, whose Terrace House tower next door will extrude organically from its neighbour. Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander’s rooftop garden for Moshe Safdie’s Vancouver Public Library recently opened, offering a timely reminder of how Vancouver can stay true to its ‘green city’, community-minded ideal. Vancouver designers continue to make waves abroad, among them lighting specialist Omer Arbel of Bocci; fine art-influenced duo Dear Human; and Martha Sturdy, who launched a furniture collection in Paris in January. And a local ice cream boom – La Glace is a treat among a clutch of new parlours – is keeping life sweet.

New architecture: UBC Aquatics centre, by MJMA; Vancouver Public Library roof garden, by Cornelia Oberlander and Moshe Safdie; North Vancouver City Hall, by Michael Green Architecture
Under construction: Vancouver House, by BIG; Terrace House, by Shigeru Ban
New hotels and restaurants: The Douglas hotel, by Celano Design Studio; Botanist restaurant, by Ste Marie; Saku, by Emily Danylchuk
Cultural draws: Vancouver Design Week; Art Vancouver; The Polygon Gallery

Helsinki

Amos Rex Square, Helsinki

Photography: Mika Huisman and Amos Rex

The Finnish capital is having a cultural boom: 2018 has seen a clutch of new institutions, including the Amos Rex contemporary art museum by JKMM Architects (which also completed a University of Helsinki extension last year), and the Oodi Central Library by local firm ALA, opening soon. The city recently announced ambitions for a new architecture and design museum complex, while a Maritime Biennale for Public Art is to debut in 2020. Garden, a retail hub and showcase for Finnish fashion, will open this November. Visitors can already enjoy Helsinki’s first art hotel, the St George, curated by Mirkku Kullberg, ex-CEO of Artek, and culinary gems ranging from the new-Nordic restaurant Grön, awarded a Michelin star this year, to new opening Yes Yes Yes, a vegetarian eatery set in a former McDonald’s. Regeneration projects are under way for Lonna Island, a short ferry ride from the city; formerly a base for decommissioning mines, it now plays host to bars, restaurants and one of Helsinki’s growing number of public saunas. The sauna scene – which sees locations such as the waterfront Löyly and the Allas Sea Pool regularly fully booked – is to be bolstered further by the opening this autumn of Uusi Sauna, in Jätkäsaari, which will include a restaurant and a brewery.

New architecture: Think Corner at the University of Helsinki and Amos Rex art museum, both by JKMM; Oodi Library, by ALA
Under construction: Jätkäsaari residential district; Pasila transport hub; Helsinki Central Railway Station hotel, by Futudesign
New hotels and restaurants: St George hotel, with interiors by Carola Rytsölä; Restaurant Andrea, also by Carola Rytsölä; Kitchen & Bar by Maannos, by Laura Seppänen
Cultural draws: Helsinki Design Week; Design District Helsinki; Kohta art space

Sharjah

Butterfly Pavilion, Al Noor Island, Sharjah

Photography: Torsten Seidel

Fast emerging as a cultural destination in the Emirates, Sharjah is challenging its higher-profile neighbours, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, thanks to a series of new projects and initiatives. The Persian Gulf city’s art biennial has become a respected draw and will celebrate its 14th edition in 2019. The Sharjah Art Foundation recently brought art group Random International’s immersive installation, Rain Room, to the city’s Al Majarrah area as a permanent fixture, while collective Superflex is creating an intervention in a nearby park. Sharjah is hosting its first graphic design biennial this November, and its inaugural architecture triennial next year, offering a fresh perspective on the Middle East. Architectural big guns are also making their mark – Foster + Partners has master-planned the redevelopment of a land fill site, for waste management company Bee’ah, as Sharjah aims for zero waste-to-landfill by 2020, while Zaha Hadid Architects is building Bee’ah’s new HQ. Meanwhile, Dubai-based firm Anarchitect is completing a desert hotel and spa inspired by the arid setting. Other attractions, such as Al Noor Island – a recreational area dotted with art – the new Al Rawi bookstore and restaurant, and the Fen Café & Restaurant, contribute to making the city a vibrant centre for the region.

New architecture: Hotel and spa by Anarchitect; Al Noor Island
Under construction: Bee’ah HQ and Aljada Central Hub, both by Zaha Hadid Architects; Bee’ah master plan, by Foster + Partners
New hotels and restaurants: Al Bait hotel, by GAJ; Kingfisher Lodge tented hotel, by ARC International; Al Rawi bookstore and restaurant, by Pallavi Dean Interiors; Fen Café & Restaurant, by Rashid Taqui Architects
Cultural draws: Sharjah Art Biennial; International Book Fair; Sharjah Art Foundation §