Building design in its best vision attracts, motivates, and inspires. It has a quality – almost indescribable – that embodies design prowess, connectivity to space, and above all imagination.
But the current architectural monuments are not only intended to be admired from afar. “It’s not about creating an icon, it’s about shaping the public space,” says Stephen Hall, referring to the LinkedIn Hybrid Complex, an eight-tower residential, office, and retail complex that his company designed in Beijing. “You can’t understand it unless you are above, below, and around.” Hall notes that the linked hybrid is also “very green,” noting the 655 geothermal wells below the buildings that provide heating and cooling. As the best architects of his generation, Hall unites social and environmental responsibility with aesthetic ambition.
Also impressive is the Harpa Concert Hall and Congress Center in Reykjavík, a collaboration between the architecture firms Henning Larsen and Batteríi and artist Olafur Eliasson. Together, they envisioned an asymmetric structure clad in a leather-lit LED-lit glass and a steel “brick” that every night provides Icelanders with a dazzling aurora-like spectacle. It is a kind of border crossing that can make architecture a force to revitalize cities and revive cultures.
In Seville, Spain, officials had no clue in mind when they sought proposals to improve the city’s central market square. The winning project, pioneered by Jürgen Mayer H., is a cloud-shaped canopy known as Metropol Parasol, which spans nearly 500 feet and houses restaurants, gazebos, and hangouts. “They use it for everything from religious processions during Holy Week to gay pride events. It has become the beating heart of the city,” says Mayer H. Evidence that 21st-century architecture has come a long way since it required Corinthian columns and palatial walls, or any wall, to declare its importance. Read on to learn more about these amazing structures and discover other buildings around the world that are eye-catching and shifting vistas.
Dubai United Arab Emirates
Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill
This astonishing supernatural tower rises 2,717 feet above the desert and ranks first as the tallest building in the world. It has 162 floors containing offices, residences, restaurants, Armani Hotel, and an observation deck of 124 floors. The strength of its design comes not only from its impressive verticality but also from its elegant shape. Wrapped in a glass curtain wall with steel rods that capture the sun of Arabia, the building gradually tapers from its Y-shaped base, with setbacks culminating in a 700-foot tower.
Gardens on the bay
Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Grant Associates
Parabolic and tiled glasshouses anchor this sophisticated botanical garden in Singapore’s thriving Marina Bay district. 2012 awarded the Building of the Year by the World Festival of Architecture, the structures designed by Wilkinson Air replicate distinct climates, one dry and the other wet, allowing for various attractions such as a flower meadow and a foggy mountain forest.
Just as important is Grant Associates’ adjacent vertical garden forest. Visitors can stroll along an elevated path that connects to the “giant trees”, some of which are equipped with photovoltaic cells to harness solar energy.
Stephen Hall Architects
Composed of eight connected towers, this mixed-use complex represents a compelling vision of urban development in the 21st century. To combat the isolation often associated with luxury apartment buildings and gated communities, architects laid wide, open walkways at ground level, leading pedestrians to a series of public spaces including parks, shops, restaurants, and schools.
The soaring glass and steel bridges also contain commercial spaces and a cafeteria, providing another avenue for community building confrontations between visitors and neighbors.
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Familiar to spectators at the past Summer Olympics, this 72-story skyscraper, the tallest in Western Europe, has changed the skyline of the British capital, rising strikingly on the southern banks of the Thames. Inspired by the church Spiers, the structure consists of eight angled glass fronts that differently reflect the surrounding city and sky and provide crystal clear views of the interior. Designed by Piano to function as a vertical village, the multifunctional building houses offices, apartments, restaurants, and a hotel, and topped by a recently opened observation deck, it offers stunning views up to 40 miles in all directions.
Beirut Museum of Nature and Science
Pritzker award-winning architect Thom Mayne, the founder of Morphosis, is known for breaking the mold, and his newest building is no exception. Clad with tight concrete slabs, it consists of a five-story cube, broken at a corner and mounted on a broad base planted with Texas herbs. Cut in the outside of the cube is a stunning glass-enclosed escalator, which takes visitors to the upper floor entrance to the galleries.
Parish Museum of Art
Water Mill, New York
Herzog and de Meuron
Covered with a white corrugated metal gable roof, Parrish’s striking, horizontal new home brilliantly blends into its surroundings, nodding in shape to both traditional barns and artist-like studios associated with the eastern end of Long Island.
Inside the cast concrete structure, created by architect Ascan Mergenthaler, the main partner of the Swiss firm, the attractive galleries attached to a central column are heated by natural wood roofs and plentiful skylights.
Guangzhou Opera House
Zaha Hadid Architects
The construction boom in China has spawned some bold projects, and a few are as flashy as the Zaha Hadid Center in the southern industrial city of Guangzhou. The venue is made up of two dynamic interlocking structures, the first featuring an undulating and gilded room for 1,800 seats, and the smaller house a more intimate space for 400 seats.
Both buildings are clad in large areas of granite and glass panels with steel frames, the complexity of which creates challenges during construction and ongoing maintenance. But the Futurist Complex is an emphatic statement about China’s aspirations for the twenty-first century.
Mayer H. Architects
When excavations in a parking lot discovered Roman artifacts in Seville’s Plaza de la Encarnación, city officials chose to commission this cozy landmark.
The wavy wooden pavilion is about 90 feet tall and about 500 feet long and is part of the pergola and part of the urban hall. Observation decks are perched on organic shapes, which also house restaurants and an antique museum.
The Absolute World
These residential skyscrapers have a sensual look in the largest suburb of Toronto. With continuous balconies and elliptical floor plans, the 50- and 56-story skyscrapers seem to vibrate and rotate, each about its axis.
Such a creative design is the approach of a young Beijing firm, whose design was executed in coordination with Burka Architects. Founded by Yansong Ma in 2004, MAD has earned a reputation for innovative buildings such as the Ordos Museum in Inner Mongolia. As a project, Absolute Towers offers a refreshing look for a family building type.
Harpa’s concert hall and conference center
Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríi Architects
Even before its official opening, this gem-like setting has given new life to the once-dreamed port of Iceland’s capital, luring locals and visitors with its multi-colored glass façade. The crystal shell, designed by artist Olafur Eliasson, complements nicely with the structure’s irregular array of geometric volumes. At night, outdoor LED strips are energized, transforming waterfront features into a glowing beacon of beauty.
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