Best Public Building, Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023, is Chapel of Sound by Open Architecture

The winner of the Best Public Building: Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 category has been announced - congratulations to Chapel of Sound, China, by Open Architecture

Best Public Building: Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 is Chapel of Sound by Open Architecture, at night
Best Public Building: Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 is Chapel of Sound by Open Architecture
(Image credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud)

The Best Public Building: Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 has been announced, celebrating Chapel of Sound, China, by Open Architecture as the finest piece of public architecture of the year. 

The Best Public Building: Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 shortlist was rich and diverse, including a university campus, a museum, a chapel, a gallery and a factory battling it out for the coveted title. Scroll down to find out more about the list, as well as the winner. 


Chapel of Sound, China, by Open Architecture 

chapel of sound in China

(Image credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud, Zhu Runzi)

Nestled in the green, rolling hills of Jinshanling, in the countryside north-east of Beijing, the Chapel of Sound cuts a sculptural, monolithic figure. The project, resembling something between giant land art and a natural rock formation is the brainchild of Chinese architecture studio Open Architecture. The practice, founded by Li Hu and Huang Wenjing, designed the building as an open-air concert hall, offering views to the ruins of the Ming Dynasty-era Great Wall of China, merging its strong, rippling concrete form with its context of greenery and historical architecture. Working with a fairly open brief, the architects described wanting the building to help them ‘see the shape of sound’.

The building has a brutalist, almost boulder-like appearance. The material is enriched by an aggregate of local mineral-rich rocks, connecting it physically as well as conceptually with its surroundings. This, the rock-like overall composition, and the fact that the volume was carved to be narrower towards the base (designed with the help of international engineering firm Arup), helped the architects ensure that the piece has a gentler impact in its natural surroundings. At the same time, using no heating or air-conditioning, the Chapel of Sound consumes minimal energy, in keeping with this sustainable approach. 

Key features: concrete structure, brutalist architecture, open plan, flowing forms

Architects' previous work: Tank Shanghai; Sun Tower (in progress); Pingshan Performing Arts Center in Shenzhen; UCCA Dune Art Museum


 RCA campus, UK, by Herzog de Meuron 

Royal College of Art Battersea Campus Building from above

(Image credit: IWAN BAAN)

A robotic arm, quietly and relentlessly at work, may come into view as you walk around the new RCA Battersea campus in London. Its presence is the result of the freshly completed Royal College of Art Battersea Campus Building, which, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, has opened its doors for the university’s creative community. This visibility also emphasises the RCA's expansion, focus and transformation into a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) postgraduate university, where subjects such as computer and materials science, robotics, advanced manufacturing and intelligent mobility are placed at the heart of the school. 

Within this context, Herzog & de Meuron's relatively low, linear building feels like an ode to brick, featuring the Swiss duo and team's long-standing explorations in material, surface and texture. Clad mostly in brown blocks and glass and featuring hardwearing concrete floors, the new structure includes four storeys of studios and workshops (for art and design); The Hangar – a double-height, 350 sq m multifunctional activity space; a dedicated robotics space; a research and development section; a purpose-built home for the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design; and a seminar and conference facility. The overall character seems industrial, utilitarian; this is a building conceived as a workshop. 

Key features: open spaces, community emphasis, brick architecture

Architects' previous work: M+, Hong Kong; Elbe Philharmonic Hall, Germany; Tate Modern, UK

tadao ando's valley gallery in naoshima

(Image credit: Masatomo Moriyama)

Merging nature, art and architecture, Valley Gallery, the latest build by Tadao Ando on Naoshima, is the Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s most conceptual design to date. It marks 30 years since his first building on the island, the Benesse House Museum, which was Naoshima’s first art museum, as well as a hotel. Nestled in the base of a deep valley, the new gallery is a modest structure with an angular steel roof and a trapezoidal floor plan informed by the landscape. Ando aimed ‘to create an independent architectural space while preserving as much of the existing topography and trees as possible’, in order to make the most of the site’s potential.

Covering a total floor area of 96 sq m, Valley Gallery consists of a white-walled room within an external concrete shell. Both are housed under an angular 12mm steel-plate roof reminiscent of origami folds, and accentuated by two corner openings at 30 degrees, framing the outside sky and revealing seasonal changes – wind, rain, sunshine or snow. The interior uses only natural illumination, with the angled skylights casting shadows on the concrete walls throughout the day, forming sharp silhouettes akin to a sundial. Ando says: ‘As a means of creating such an architectural space as a microcosm, I came up with the scheme of a space as simple and pure as a white canvas [with] natural light entering into it. A void in which everything superfluous has been erased, coloured by light that shifts with time and the seasons.’ 

Key features: concrete architecture, minimalism, connections with the outdoors

Architects' previous work: ‎Church of the Light; ‎Row House in Sumiyoshi; Casa Wabi; 152 Elizabeth Street

 ‘The Plus’ Vestre factory, Norway, by BIG 

Timber interiors at The Plus Vestre factory opening

(Image credit: Einar Aslaksen)

When we met outdoor furniture manufacturer Vestre's then-CEO (and current Minister of Trade and Industry of Norway) Jan Christian Vestre about a year ago, he enthusiastically took us through his plans to create The Plus, 'the world's most sustainable factory'. Now, thanks to his efforts and with a design courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the building site in the middle of a Norwegian forest we visited in 2021 is now a fully fledged production facility – and so much more. The Plus has opened in Norway's Magnor, inviting employees, clients and visitors to experience its sustainable architecture.  ‘The Plus is a factory for the people! It is a project we have put an enormous amount of soul and energy into. This is an important day for us, but also for the Norwegian mainland industry and the Scandinavian export cooperation,' says Stefan Tjust, current CEO of Vestre. 

Key features: sustainable architecture, timber structure, embedded in nature, green roof

Architects' previous work: Danish Maritime Museum; LEGO House; Audemars Piguet Museum; Kistefos Museum

 Bob Dylan Centre, USA, by Olson Kundig 

bob dylan museum

(Image credit: Matthew Millman)

The Bob Dylan Center was conceived as the ultimate destination for the study and appreciation of the famed musician and his worldwide cultural significance. Located in the Tulse Arts District and designed by Seattle-based architecture studio Olson Kundig, the building is now home to a collection of more than 100,000 items spanning nearly 60 years of Dylan’s career. The space was designed to be flexible and easy to adapt – as the architects' winning competition entry was centred on the notion of Bob Dylan as a 'Master of Change'. The design transformed a former paper warehouse into a contemporary exhibition space. The building's brick front facade features the interpretation of a 1965 photo by Jerry Schatzberg. 

Key features: adaptive reuse, brick architecture, community themes

Architects' previous work: LeBron James Innovation Centre; The Cortland; Seattle Space Needle; children's museum at Jewish Museum Berlin

The winners of the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 are revealed in the February 2023 issue, available from 5 January in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).