Best trad buildings of 2017

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Central image from RAMSA card celebrating two new Yale residential colleges.

It has taken me a couple of days to round up the best traditional buildings of 2017 – not, I hope, because there are so few. Winners of design contests generally anoint selections from entries for buildings completed as many as five years prior to a contest, with entry deadlines often falling the year before the current year. This year, Traditional Building, a reliable source of news, reported on many great restorations but no new buildings. The world is chock-a-block with news of awful modernist buildings completed this year, not least on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Can there be any doubt that new trad buildings in their numberlessness may be found in reports in the business and development sections of newspapers across America and the world?


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It can hardly be doubted that the most influential new traditional architecture completed this year were Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College, the two new residential colleges at Yale, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) of New York City. The project (photo atop this post) was inspired by the Collegiate Gothic of James Gamble Rogers’s work at Yale a century ago.


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The other major civic building completed this year (which ends today) was the Museum of the American Revolution, in Philadelphia, also designed by RAMSA. Modernist critics condemned it, inanely, as too traditional to be appropriate for a museum dedicated to a revolution. Little credit was given to the architects for bending backward to avoid brickbats from modernist critics. A lovely cupola was eliminated. The brickbats were hurled anyway.


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This AC Hotel Spartanburg, in South Carolina, which opened on Dec. 12 under Marriott’s Euro-themed brand, was designed by the Washington, D.C., firm of David M. Schwarz Architects. I had heard a while back of this hotel’s development progress but received a timely head’s-up this evening from New Orleans architect Michael Rouchell, in time for me to insert it into this roundup less than two hours after the advent of the new year. Rouchell also mentioned the Hotel Bennett, in Charleston, S.C., designed by RAMSA, which was expected to open up by the end of 2017 but which, it turns out, will open in the summer of 2018.


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The Philadelphia firm of Voith & Mactavish Architects designed an elegant dining hall for Milbrook School, in Milbrook, N.Y., about 90 miles north of Manhattan. It was dedicated in late 2016 but not truly completed until the addition of landscape features the following spring. Thus it made it onto this roundup by dint of a broad definition of completion. Note the rainbow rising from the leftmost portion of the building


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Lovely as they may be, nice houses for the wealthy are the one realm where traditional architecture needs no assistance. People, and especially rich people, are able to choose house designs as they please. Here is a group of more modest homes completed this year, the first phase of a new village near Asheville, N.C., which architect Tom Low calls his Pocket Court Project. I first got wind of it late in 2016, after writing about a village in the Dordogne region of France. “Is this possible anymore?” The answer, says Low, is yes.


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Léon Krier and Andres Duany jointly planned the village of Heulebrug, Knokke-Heist, Belgium, in 2003. It is near Bruge. They recently added a neighborhood of affordable housing. Its has the look of a leafier Poundbury (Prince Charles’s new town in Britain, planned by Krier), in a Belgian vernacular. Poundbury’s Queen Mother Square is well along but won’t qualify for this (hopefully) annual roundup for several more years. But Krier did design the plinth for its statue of Queen Elizabeth, and it was erected in 2017. I add it below as an unofficial bonus feature of this roundup:

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Even with the extensive and magnificent Yale campuses, and even admitting the loveliness and charm of the examples above, this is a pretty thin collection of new traditional architecture spanning the full year of 2017. I assume that the chief culprit here is my own late start and lame online investigation in tracking down what must be a more expansive output by the growing number of firms that concentrate on traditional work. Maybe they are all out doing houses for the wealthy (which I chose not to include in this summary).

If people reading this know of any I’ve left out, please notify me and I will include it, celebrate the mentioner, and urge readers to click on a link to this post in any later post where I mention that this one has been updated.

In recompense for whatever series of lapses this post may represent, I reprint for readers an essay several months ago in Current Affairs. It is called “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture.”

Please have a safe New Year’s Eve and a happy new year!

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Best trad buildings of 2017

  1. Pingback: Best trad buildings of 2017 | Architecture Here and There – Civism and Cities

  2. Pingback: Best snow sculptures? Maybe | Architecture Here and There

  3. Pingback: More worst buildings of 2017 | Architecture Here and There

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