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These dazzling architectural projects have been named the best of the year

By Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

(CNN) — In the city center of Tirana, Albania, residents and visitors can climb a monumental pyramid that was once the shining symbol of an oppressive dictatorship — their treading feet a triumph over the past. Reimagined by Dutch architecture studio MVRDV, the Pyramid of Tirana has been transformed from a dilapidated former museum dedicated to the country’s former leader (and later used as a NATO base, among other purposes) into a cultural hub with colorful boxes, stairs and sloping slides. It’s one of 18 new architecture projects that Architectural Digest has named the most spectacular of the year through its annual “Works of Wonder” or “WOW” list in the February issue.

“At a time when climate change looms large in our collective imagination — and when new construction continues to leave an outsize carbon footprint — it felt important to spotlight how existing architecture can be adapted for the future,” Sam Cochran, AD’s global features director, explained over email on the choice to include the Pyramid of Tirana.

“Through careful design interventions, the Dutch firm MVRDV has proven that it’s not just possible to put old buildings to new use, but to do so with a sense of joy, wit and fun,” Cochran added.

Each year, the WOW list highlights outstanding new projects around the globe, with this year’s featured projects hailing from five different continents. They include a public pool repurposed into a Yoruba cultural center in Lagos, Nigeria; floating glass exhibition spaces in Hiroshima, Japan; a new aquarium designed to look like a sprawling ruin in Mazatlán, Mexico; and the spherical LED-paneled concert venue making headlines in Las Vegas.

Many of the projects are cultural milestones designed by some of the world’s leading architects, such as the rehomed Istanbul Modern, the Turkish city’s first contemporary art museum that had “outgrown” its humble warehouse space, according to AD.

Designed by the firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop, “’Wow’ moments abound” in the new space, according to Talib Choudhry, head of editorial content at AD Middle East, in an email to CNN. Perched along the Bosphorus Strait, the building takes inspiration from the body of water, and “is crowned by a 650-square-metre rooftop viewing terrace that hovers above a plane of water that spreads across the entire roof,” Choudhry described.

Other projects that emphasize a connection with the natural world include Chile’s LAMA Pavilion, which rises above the tree line in the town of Yungay to face the wonder of the Andes mountains, and India’s revitalized Parimal Garden, offering an idyllic green space in the city of Ahmedabad. Feats of sustainability are honored as well, including a new Hermès workshop in Normandy, France. To build the impressive space, architect Lina Ghotmeh enlisted local artisans to hand-make 500,000 bricks.

Marina, Hemonet, head of editorial content for AD France, says the saddlery workshop “admirably combines beauty and sustainability” and pays homage to Hermès’ equestrian heritage with “an arched structure reminiscent of a show-jumping course.”

“While the aesthetic appeal is impressive at first glance, the tour de force also lies in the virtuous dimension of the project, which is the first low-carbon, positive-energy industrial building to be delivered in France,” she explained over email.

Hermés isn’t the only luxury brand to make an appearance on the list. Tiffany & Co. received a nod as well for an overhaul of its iconic Fifth Avenue three-story flagship, with new interiors by architect Peter Marino and a glowing, voluminous glass crown by the firm OMA — lit up in Tiffany Blue, of course.

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