No one will be sorry to kiss 2020 goodbye—which will be about all you’re allowed to kiss these days, given the global pandemic. It was a year that foregrounded the harsh realities of racial injustice, while personal losses and the economic and political turmoil cast our differences into especially sharp relief.

Architects did step up in these crises, moving quickly, for example, to create strategies for reducing coronavirus infections in health-care facilities and converting spaces for more hospital beds. They have adapted plans for safer schools, offices, and restaurants and looked at how to expand streetscapes and public places for everyone spending much more time outdoors.

As the profession began to confront, once again, embedded racism in the field and built environment, the advocacy work of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) took on renewed significance. HOK principal Kimberly Dowdell, NOMA’s 2020 president (who was honored for her exemplary leadership in RECORD’s Women in Architecture Awards in October), will be succeeded in January by Jason Pugh, an architect and planner with Gensler. He speaks in this issue about his new role in the organization.

Yet despite the gravity of current problems—including plummeting billings and layoffs, and clients slower to pay fees—the practice of architecture is usually a long game. Architects bring a unique perspective to envisioning the future. That promise was at the core of RECORD’s first virtual Innovation Conference in late October, which reached an audience of nearly 5,000 around the globe. Jeanne Gang opened the two-day convocation, showing her studio’s visionary work, engaging communities and the environment across every scale, from modest neighborhood amenities to buildings that sympathetically embrace both the skyline and the ground plane. The 2021 RIBA Gold Medal winner, David Adjaye, whose firm has offices in London and New York, spoke from his new base in Accra, Ghana (he is Ghanaian-British), and explained why he is expanding his practice in Africa, the continent with the world’s youngest population (median age: under 20) and where he has several cultural and spiritual projects. Architect Neri Oxman, who focuses on cross-disciplinary research, unveiled a series of stunning experiments in materials and construction that lie at the intersection of technology and nature; she spoke of the future of the planet with both urgency and hope. Finally, Frank Gehry closed the conference by diving into social-justice work in Los Angeles County: his office is the master planner for the 51-mile-long L.A. River basin, which cuts through many poor neighborhoods, where the 91-year-old architect is engaged with local communities in developing facilities such as an arts training center in South Gate.

Also joining the conference were the architects Thomas Phifer and Fabrizio Barozzi, each of whom is known for exquisitely detailed arts buildings that act as urban catalysts. Phifer’s pairing of a theater and museum in central Warsaw will revitalize a vast post-war square, while the Barcelona-based firm Barozzi Veiga has designed cultural buildings that have cleverly invigorated their city surroundings, such as the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland. The office is also working for the first time in the U.S., developing a new master plan for the Art Institute of Chicago. You can read more about the Innovation Conference and access videos of the sessions in the Continuing Education Center.

Designing a cultural project can be the most aspirational and liberating work in architecture, making space for known, and as-yet unknown, creative production. In the December issue, we look at half a dozen such buildings, from an over-the-top collaboration by the architects Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle for a private museum and performing complex in Sydney to a 19th-century clapboard church in Sag Harbor, New York, reborn, thanks to architect Lee Skolnick, as an artist-in-residence center, where God is truly in the details. We also explore the luminous new building for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by Steven Holl Architects; a dramatic circular museum in China by Tadao Ando; an austere Manhattan art gallery by Annabelle Selldorf—as well as the Lindt Home of Chocolate on the shores of Lake Zürich by Christ & Gantenbein, with its curving vanilla facade and an interior atrium with a spiral concrete stair dramatic enough to stand up to the world’s largest chocolate fountain nearby.

Cultural architecture is innately optimistic—and though theaters, concert halls, and museums have been hard-hit in the pandemic, they will, before too long, reopen and give us the experience of architectural imagination unleashed.