As wanderlusters, we spend a lot of time chasing down natural wonders and epic landscapes - and no surprise, since many of them are destinations which could, quite literally, change your life. Adventure seekers are also drawn to the fact that many such sights are remote and difficult to access - making the end goal all the more desirable, and imbuing the journey with an even greater sense of fulfilment. But there are many marvels to be experienced by city-slickers, too, ones made by our very kind - sleek, modern ones contrasting with grand historical edifices, and punctuating city skylines with contemporary genius. Even those more at home in wide open spaces will have to agree that these architectural structures give Mother Nature a run for her money in the design stakes.
1. Sydney Opera House, Australia
The gleaming white sails of this iconic multi-venue arts center are synonymous with Sydney, contrasting with the blue of its harbor and skies, and backed by the equally distinctive Harbor Bridge. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, it was formally opened in 1973 - but by then Utzon had left the country, and never returned to see his masterpiece completed.
2. The Shard, London, UK
Thrusting 95 storeys into the sky above the London skyline, Renzo Piano’s Shard is the tallest building in the whole of the United Kingdom. English Heritage organizations were resistant to its design, saying that it would be “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London” but since its inauguration in 2012, it has become as much as part of the London landscape as St Paul’s, with thousands of visitors ascending its dizzying heights to admire views of the capital from its observation deck.
3. BMW Welt, Munich, Germany
No doubt you’d expect a brand of BMW’s caliber to have a similarly impressive structure from which they run events and conferences, and BMW Welt, opposite the manufacturer’s headquarters, does not disappoint. Constructed over the course of 4 years, at a cost of US$200 million, the building has a 800 kW solar plant on its roof and features a double cone glass front.
4. Museum Of Pop Culture, Seattle, USA
A controversial addition to Seattle’s skyline, the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Experience Music Project) was designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, and is said to have been modelled on a smashed guitar: a nod to Jimi Hendrix. Swooping and flowing in a splash of color, people either hate it for its garishness, or love it for its audacity.
5. Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Situated not in Rio itself, but across the bay in Niterói, this museum was designed by the country’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, at the ripe old age of 89 (he lived until he was 104!) Resembling a gleaming white flying saucer, the structure is a beautiful textural contrast to the surrounding rocky landscape, and offers sweeping views across to the skyline of Rio itself.
6. TWA Flight Center, JFK Airport, NYC
Opened in 1962 and designed by Eero Saarinen, this striking structure speaks effortlessly of flight, looking like a giant bird that’s about to take off on adventures of its own. Abandoned after the demise of TWA in 2001, the building is being restored and will re-open as a hotel in 2019.
7. Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
Designed by Canadian-born Frank Gehry, this confection of glass, titanium and limestone seems to float above the river it’s built beside. Built at a cost of around US$489 million, it houses contemporary works by both Spanish and international artists, as well as having an important exhibition schedule, and was opened in 1997 to both critical and public acclaim. Indeed, it had such a regenerative effect on the surrounding area that the expression “the Blibao effect’ was coined to sum up the transformative effect of art on a city’s failing fortunes.
8. Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, USA
One of the largest museums in the United States, the work of three legendary architects - Eero Saarinen, David Kahler and Santiago Calatrava - are combined here, although it’s probably the 2001 Calatrava addition that the museum is best known for. This Quadracci Pavilion includes huge movable wings that open up during the day and fold protectively over the structure at night or in poor weather.
9. Centre Georges Pompidou
The Eiffel Tower may be the landmark that springs most readily to mind when thinking of Paris, but for sheer complexity, it’s hard to go past the Pompidou Centre. Designed by architects from Italy and the UK - among which Renzo Piano was especially notable - it was the winning entry out of 681 submitted in a competition to create a multicultural complex, which attracted more than five times the expected number of visitors in its first two decades.
10. Dancing House, Prague
In a city so well known for its Baroque and Gothic architecture, the Dancing House cuts an unusual and striking figure. Now a luxury hotel, it was constructed in the nineties and designed in the deconstructivist style. Its curving lines earned it the nickname of the Fred and Ginger building; the legendary dancing duo also give their names to the restaurant on the top floor, from which there are marvelous views of the city.
11. Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India
Taking its name from the flower it resembles, 27 structures resembling petals surround a central, 40 meter high hall, which can accommodate 2,500 people. Completed in 1986, the surface of each ‘petal’ is made from Grecian marble, sourced from Mount Penelicus, which is the same marble from which the Parthenon was built.
12. The One World Trade Center, Manhattan, New York
Standing at a height of 1,776 feet - a direct reference to the year of the US Declaration of Independence - The One World Trade Center was designed by David M Childs and is one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Eight glass isosceles triangles soar to a 104-story height next to the city’s 9/11 memorial, making this an architectural spectacle you simply must see, both for its sheer magnificence and its significance to our times.
13. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
These sleek twin skyscrapers held the ‘tallest buildings in the world’ badge for 6 years from 1998 and are a distinctive feature of the Malaysian capital’s skyline. Architects Cesar Pelli and Achmad Murdijat were responsible for its 88 floor design, which, despite its postmodernist style, contains references to Islamic art, an acknowledgement of Malaysia’s Muslim religion. For instance, the steel and glass facade resembles Islamic art motifs, and the cross section is based on the symbolic Rub el Hizb.
14. Lloyds Building, London
High tech and futuristic - even for now, let alone for its time (it was built over the late seventies and early eighties) - the award-winning Lloyds building was the brainchild of architect Richard Rogers. Dubbed “The Inside Out Building”, its services - water pipes, staircases and even elevators - are to be found on the building’s exterior.
15. Space Needle, Seattle, Washington
Built for the 1962 World Fair, this futuristic design was the result of a collaboration between Edward E Carlson and John Graham and remains one of the most visited sights in Seattle. Standing at 184 meters high, the design is as clever as it is striking; incredibly it is able to withstand extreme winds and even earthquakes up to a certain magnitude.
16. MAAT, Lisbon, Portugal
Situated on the edge of the Tagus, this undulating structure was designed by Amanda Levete and is covered in 15,000 white, three-dimensional ceramic tiles. Its shape flows gently from its rooftop terrace (from which views of the nearby 25 April Bridge, and Cristo Rei statue, on the opposing bank, can be enjoyed) to the riverfront promenade. Inspired by the movement of water, the building takes on different hues at different times of day.
17. Oslo Opera House, Oslo, Norway
Home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, this arts complex features angled exteriors, which are covered with gleaming white marble and granite. Inside, the lobby is surrounded by towering windows, with minimal framing to maximise light and views of the water. From the outside, the combination of the glass and white - plus the aluminium clad stage tower - gives the structure the appearance of an iceberg, rising directly from the water.
18. CCTV Headquarters, Beijing, China
Located in the Beijing Central Business District, this 234 meter structure was designed by Rem Koolhaas, Ole Scheeren and Cecil Balmond; construction was undertaken over a 10 year period from 2002. Its design was intended to flout conventions of traditionally imagined skyscrapers; instead of thrusting impossibly skywards, it has a three-dimensional ‘loop’ design, comprising six horizontal and vertical sections, culminating in a 75 meter cantilever.
19. Villa Savoye, Poissy, France
In 1927, Le Corbusier identified five principles of the modernist architectural movement: an open plan design, horizontal windows, the use of reinforced concrete instead of supporting walls, a roof garden and the separation of the facade from its structural function. All of these are applied in Villa Savoye, which was listed as historical monument during Le Corbusier’s lifetime. Completed in 1929 and situated just outside of Paris, it is now open to the public.
20. Burj Khafila, Dubai
At a whopping 829.8 meters - and thus the world’s tallest building - it is considered to have shifted the goalposts in terms of what is possible in the design and construction of supertall buildings - and Burj Khafila’s obseravtion deck, complete with outdoor terrace and and at 555 meters high, makes it the world’s highest. Completed in 2010, its use combines office space, residences and luxury hotel accommodation.
21. Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri
Soaring gracefully above St Louis in a weighted catenary curve shape, this stainless steel arch was designed by Eero Saarinen in a response to a desire to revive the riverfront and memorialize the nation’s push towards the west. The final section at its top was secured in October 1965; trams to and from its pinnacle were operational shortly afterwards and run every 5 to 10 minutes.
22. Cathedral of Brasília
Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, this Roman Catholic cathedral comprises 16 concrete columns, arranged in a hyperboloid structure. These columns are said to represent hands reaching up to heaven in an open gesture; most of the cathedral itself is actually below ground. Four bronze ‘guardian’ Evangelist sculptures can be seen near the entrance; nearby, the ovoid Baptistery is covered in white ceramic tiles.
23. Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA
Designed by Frank Gehry and completed in 2003, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is an example of desconstructivism. Made from undulating sheets of stainless steel, the structure was in fact inspired by Gehry’s love of sailing. In fact, Gehry had first intended to create a stone-clad building, but his sleek metallic success in Blibao encouraged him to tweak his original design. The result? An expression of swooping enthusiasm that encapsulates LA’s informality and joy.
24. Casa da Música, Porto, Portugal
Even if the historically minded architecture buff were to look at this building’s exterior - blocky in shape, and covered in plates of white cement, broken up by large sheets of glass - and raise an eyebrow, they’d not be able to deny the superlative effect that its shape has on acoustics. Designed by Rem Kookhaas, it was widely acclaimed as one of the most important concert halls built in the last century.
25. Fallingwater House, Pennsylvania, US
Now a National Historic Landmark and a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Treasure, this home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a private residence for the Kaufmann family, Pittsburgh department store owners. Perfectly blending art and nature, the house was constructed of native sandstone and other local materials and integrates the site’s waterfall into its design, rather than merely offering a view of it. Now open to the public, it has been named ‘the best all-time work of American architecture’.
26. The Guggenheim Museum, New York, US
Frank Lloyd Wright’s emphasis on the intricate relationship between humans and environment is again reflected in his design of this museum, which takes an organic form. Inside, the spiral design, which dissolves barriers between spaces, is said to represent an endless journey - for knowledge, or perhaps for spirituality, with geometric shapes said by Wright to represent certain human moods and ideas.
27. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto, Canada
Architect Daniel Libeskind was selected from around 50 finalists in an international competition to imagine the renaissance of this museum at the start of the new millenium. The extension’s centrepiece, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, takes its name from five intersecting metal-clad prisms - which call crystals to mind and were inspired by the mineralogy galleries within the museum. As the largest museum in Canada, the design has won several awards since its opening in 2007.
28. The Turning Torso, Malmö, Sweden
Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, this was the world’s first twisting skyscraper and, at 190 meters, Sweden’s tallest. Opened in 2005, the building’s design was inspired by a sculpture of the same name - and created by the same designer. Comprised of asymmetrical shapes, the ‘torso’ is made up of nine sections of five-story pentagons, each of which rotate 90 degrees as the height increases. Connected by a steel exoskeleton, all of the energy used in the building comes from sustainable sources.
29. Beijing National Stadium, China
Dubbed “the Bird’s Nest’, this extraordinary 91,000 seat complex was built for the 2008 Olympic Games. As well as being thought to be the largest enclosed space in the world, it is also the largest steel structure, comprising 26 kilometers of unwrapped steel, including that which is twisted and webbed from its roof. Incorporating elements from Chinese art and culture, these ‘bird nest’ elements were actually inspired by traditional Chinese crazed pottery.
30. The Reichstag Dome, Berlin, Germany
After the fall of East Germany, architect Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to reimagine the 19th century Reichstag building to reflect its new purpose as the home of a unified German Parliament - and to symbolize its complete break from a past tainted by Nazism. The result is a futuristic, light-filled, double-helix, with the dome open to the public and allowing visitors sweeping views of the Berlin cityscape and skyline.