at the end of every year since 2013, designboom has compiled the most talked about projects from the previous 12 months as part of our BIG stories series. as we begin the final month of this unprecedented and unpredictable year, we kick off our annual TOP 10 round up of the year’s biggest and best projects with a look at popular museums and cultural centers. despite the openings of many new institutions being pushed pack as a result of the ongoing pandemic, 2020 saw a host of established names collaborating with institutions to bring their creative visions to life.


from a museum in thailand dedicated to the animal that never forgets, to a spiraling structure in switzerland, see all 10 of our selected schemes below. stay tuned as we continue our BIG stories in the weeks ahead.



1 – elephant museum in thailand by bangkok project studio

TOP 10 museums 2020image © spaceshift studio



designed by bangkok project studio, the ‘elephant museum’ hopes to educate visitors about the close connection the animal has with the people of northeast thailand. the design team, led by boonserm premthada, says that the relationship between the native kui people and the elephants is completely unique and dates back more than three centuries. ‘humans live under the same roof as elephants which are regarded as children rather than pets,’ say the architects. ‘this heritage of tradition, culture, and wisdom has been passed on for generations in a rural village with the largest number of domesticated elephants in thailand.’ the project forms part of ‘elephant world’, a complex that also includes a recreational space and a observation tower designed by the same architect.


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2 – jingdezhen imperial kiln museum by studio zhu pei

TOP 10 museums 2020
image by schran image



earlier this year studio zhu pei completed a kiln museum in a historical area of jingdezhen, known as the ‘porcelain capital’ of the world. the region, which has produced and exported pottery for more than 1,700 years, is characterized by a fabric of ruinous ancient kiln complexes. the museum, comprises more than half a dozen brick vaults based on the traditional form of the kiln, the apparatus used to create pottery for centuries. the vaults — each a different size, curvature, and length — are integrated with the many existing ruins, some of which were discovered during the project’s construction.


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3 – musée atelier audemars piguet by bjarke ingels group

TOP 10 museums 2020image by iwan baan, courtesy of audemars piguet



in june, luxury watch company audemars piguet announced the opening of its new ‘living’ museum designed by bjarke ingels group. bringing history and innovation together under one roof, the spiraling structure invites visitors to explore an extensive collection of timepieces alongside in-situ production workshops. the glass pavilion complements the company’s oldest building, where jules louis audemars and edward auguste piguet set up their workshop in 1875. the new structure appears to rise out of the ground, with floor-to-ceiling glazing offering views across the remote valley in the jura mountains.


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4 – he art museum in china by tadao ando

TOP 10 museums 2020image © he art museum



the ‘he art museum’, designed by japanese architect tadao ando, opened to the public in october. located in shunde, in china’s guangdong province, the new museum takes its name from its founder, he jianfeng. however, the word ‘he’ carries multiple meanings, including harmony, balance, fortune, and union, all of which informed the design and spatial character of the architecture. the institution is home to an art collection that consists of more than 500 works ranging from painting and calligraphy to photography and sculpture.


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5 – zhang yan cultural museum by horizontal design

TOP 10 museums and cultural venues of 2020
image by schran images



to realize the ‘zhang yan cultural museum’, architecture firm horizontal design renovated a series of structures in zhang yan, an ancient chinese village located in chonggu town. the museum comprises three exhibition halls organized as individual spaces around a water patio, and thematically ranging from ‘contemporary’ to ‘traditional’ and to ‘future’. merging the old with the new, the chinese architecture office managed to preserve as much of the original buildings as possible. coexisting harmoniously, the resulting composition addresses contemporary needs while celebrating tradition.


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6 – kinder building at the museum of fine arts, houston by steven holl architects

TOP 10 museums and cultural venues of 2020
image © richard barnes, courtesy of the museum of fine arts, houston



designed by steven holl, the ‘nancy and rich kinder building’ at the museum of fine arts, houston opened in november. the building, which is the final part of the decade-long expansion and enhancement of the institution’s campus in texas, is dedicated to presenting works from the museum’s international collections of modern and contemporary art. ‘light enters the kinder building through the ‘luminous canopy’ of its roof, modeled on the billowing clouds of the texas sky, and light emerges from the cladding of soft-etched translucent glass tubes, whose glowing presence at night will add to the impact of the campus as a civic experience for all of houston,’ explains steven holl.


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7 – kadokawa culture museum in japan by kengo kuma and associates

TOP 10 museums and cultural venues of 2020
image © kadokawa culture museum



kengo kuma designed this monolithic museum building in japan, which opened to the public later in november. located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of central tokyo, the ‘kadokawa culture museum’ is part of a larger development called ‘tokorozawa sakura town’. the site also includes an anime-focused hotel, a book store, and an indoor pavilion for a variety of events. the project even includes its own shrine, also designed by kengo kuma and his team.


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8 – baitasi hutong gallery in beijing by DnA design and architecture 

TOP 10 museums and cultural venues of 2020image by xiazhi



in june we featured a two-storey building in a beijing hutong that DnA design and architecture turned into an art gallery. located in close proximity to a 700-year-old buddhist temple, the project contains artist residences and hosts community exhibitions that cater to the needs of creatives living and working in the emerging neighborhood. ‘the building is a connection of historical context with future programs and will provide new possibilities into the hutong community life,’ explain the architects.


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9 – depot boijmans van beuningen in rotterdam by MVRDV

MVRDV completes mirrored public art depot with rooftop garden in rotterdam
image by ossip van duivenbode



in september, MVRDV completed the ‘depot boijmans van beuningen’, the world’s first publicly accessible art depot. located in rotterdam, the design seeks to offer a new type of museum experience. the building will host an extensive collection of 151,000 objects, which will be stored according to climatic requirements, rather than by era or genre, in one of five different climate zones. the reflective skin, which is made up of 6,609 square meters of glass subdivided into 1,664 mirrored panels, offers reflections of the surroundings, helping to embed the new intervention into the context.


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10 – bourse de commerce museum in paris by tadao ando

tadao ando bourse de commerce
image by marc domage



although it won’t open until january 2021, the ‘bourse de commerce’ — the museum housing the pinault collection in paris — was a big story with our readers this year. the project, which was first announced in 2017, sees the city’s former stock exchange transformed by japanese architect tadao ando into a museum for businessman and art collector françois pinault. as part of the project, ando — who pinault previously tasked with restoring venice’s punta della dogana — designed a central cylinder that has now been inserted into the existing structure, forming a new exhibition space.


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see designboom’s TOP 10 stories archive: