InspirationFeature

25 design landmarks everyone should see before they die

Grandiose and inspiring, these architectural marvels will take your breath away. Come with us on a tour of the imagination, from Dubai to Down Under, New York to New Dehli...

When looking for design inspiration, it’s common to look at other people’s websites, illustrations, or photography. But sometimes it’s good to mix things up a bit.

Have you ever been hit with a bolt of creative inspiration just by walking down the street? Next time you’re out in town, look up, take a big step back (watching out for traffic of course) and look at the bigger picture. We’re talking architecture - design that’s all around us every day, and most of the time we don’t even notice it.

In this article we pay tribute to 25 of the most beautiful, unique, weird and wonderful design-related landmarks around the world. Get ready to be inspired by bricks and mortar...

01. Cubic Houses

The design of the Kubuswoningen might look bizarre, but it has a practical purpose

The Cubic Houses, or Kubuswoningen, are an architectural wonder designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom in the 1970s. By tilting the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees, and resting it upon a hexagon-shaped pylon, Blom create high-density housing with sufficient space on the ground level.

The design is both practical and innovative. Inside, the houses are divided into three levels accessed via a narrow staircase. The lower level is a triangular area used as the living room. The middle level houses the sleeping and bathing area, and the highest level is a spare area used either as a second bedroom or another living area.

According to Blom the triangular top represents a tree and when the houses are placed together they combine to make an abstract manufactured forest. One house, Kijk-Kubus, is a specifically designated a museum where you can see what living in one of these houses is like

  • Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • Accessibility: Easily found in the Centre of Rotterdam. If travelling from further away, use the Tram21(Blaak stop)/Metro Blaak; from there it's five minutes' walk.
  • Cost: €2.50 to visit the inside of Kijk-Kubus
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

02. Waldspirale

The 'forest spiral' complex is designed to accomodate as many trees as people

Designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who is known primarily for his flamboyant art, this residential complex in Germany is designed with the expressed aim of avoiding straight lines.

The Waldspirale ('forest spiral') houses as many trees as people with a large variety of species including beech on the roof. No two windows are the same and Hundertwasser even tiled some of the bathrooms himself.

  • Location: Darmstadt, Germany
  • Accessibility: Located in Germany's Rhineland, you can easily connect to the city by train from Berlin, Frankfurt and many other cities or from Frankfurt airport (the closest airport) you can take a shuttle bus
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

03. Dali's Museum and Torre Galatea

The design of Salvador Dali's museum complex is as impressive as the work inside it

The Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí) and its annexe, (Torre Galatea) in Figueres, Spain has a very striking architecture topped with distinctive egg-shaped sculptures. There used to be an old theatre on the very same spot but it was burned down during the Spanish Civil War. However Dali, who grew up in the small town, wished to resurrect it and displayed his first exhibition in this building.

It's worth a visit just for the building itself, plus it houses the largest collection of Dali’s work and a crypt in which Dali is buried.

  • Location: Figueras, Catalonia, Spain
  • Accessibility: Easily accessible by train
  • Cost: Flights from London to Barcelona cost around £30. It costs €7 to enter but if you’re a fan of Dali’s work it is well worth it.
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

04. The Beijing National Stadium

Long after the Olympics, China's 'Bird's Nest' stadium is still in use for sport and the arts

A unique design produced as a collaborative architectural venture, which included artists like Ai Weiwei, the stadium known as the 'bird's nest' stood at the heart of the 2008 Olympics. With a capacity of 80,000 and an impressive retractable roof, this architectural gem now hosts sporting events, operas and ballet performances. At night it's a feast for the eyes, lighting up the sky above the Chinese capital.

05. Hallmgrimskirkja

The stark lines of the Lutheran church stand in stark contrast to colourful, low-rise Reykjavík

Hallmgrimskirkja is a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. In contrast with the rest of the brightly coloured, low-rise city, it seizes attention with its modern starkness and domineering height. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson is said to have designed it to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland's otherworldly landscape. At 244ft, it's visible throughout the capital and is also used as an observation tower.

06. Grand Lisboa

 The Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino
The Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino: big and fruity

Designed by Hong Kong architects Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man, the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino is probably the largest building in the world that looks like a pineapple.

That might not be something to be particularly proud of, but it has certainly made it one of the most distinctive landmarks in the world. Just to give you an idea of its size, the casino offers 800 mass gaming tables and 1,000 slot machines, while the hotel contains 430 hotel rooms and suites.

  • Location: Macau, China
  • Accessibility: Easily accessible in the heart of Macau by public transport. And being one of the tallest buildings in Macau (and shaped like a pineapple), you can’t miss it.
  • Cost: Free to enter. Playing the casino may cost you, depending on your luck...
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

07. Sydney Opera House

Spying the Opera House on your arrival in Sydney can't fail to evoke a thrill

Sydney Opera House has become synonymous with Australia and is considered one of the best architectural achievements of the 20th century.

The house was actually designed by a Dane called Jorn Utzon who won the competition to build the national opera house in 1957. Although some believe that the unusual shaped roof is designed to resemble the sails of a ship, others argue that the roof is designed to resemble an orange that's been carefully sliced open.

  • Location: Sydney, Australia
  • Accessibility: You can easily access Sydney Opera House via Circle Quay by a short seven minute walk. You can get to Circle Quay via bus, train, or ferry.
  • Cost: It depends what you do: a tour, watch a show, or go for dinner. A Sydney Opera House tour costs around AUS$35.
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

08. Casa Batllo

 Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo: the ‘House of Bones’

Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi has left his distinctive mark all over Barcelona and beyond with his groundbreaking designs. One of his most famous achievements is Casa Batllo, Barcelona, which is a famous landmark in the city and among the most iconic symbols of the Art Nouveau movement.

The unique design is not just external: it’s just as extravagant inside. Locally the building's name can be translated to 'House of Bones' owing to its organic, almost skeletal look.

  • Location: Barcelona, Spain
  • Accessibility: Easily accessible in the centre of Barcelona. Hop on any number of buses, or take the Metro (the L2, L3 or L4 line).
  • Cost: €18.50
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

09. St Vitus Cathedral (Mucha's window)

 St Vitus Cathedral
St Vitus Cathedral: a window onto the world of Art Nouveau

Although St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic, is impressive enough in itself, it's made much more impressive by the stained glass window designed by artist and designer Alphonse Mucha, who was at the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement.

The stained glass window, which was added to the cathedral in 1931, is a perfect reflection (if you’ll excuse the pun) of his other design work.

10. Bauhaus

 Bauhaus
The Bauhaus in Berlin (photo by Oliver Reichardt)

The 'Bauhaus style', associated with a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts and operated from 1919 to 1933, is one of the most influential movements in modern design. The Bauhaus itself might not be the most impressive or interesting of buildings to behold, but it has a history of making significant contributions to design and so is a must-see on any design enthusiast’s list.

  • Location: Klingelhoferstrasse 14, Berlin, Germany
  • Accessibility: Hop on the U-Bahn Nollendorfplatz or Bus 100, M29, 187 und 106 Lützowplatz.
  • Cost: €3-7 depending on when you visit in the week
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

11. 41 Cooper Square

 41 Cooper Square
41 Cooper Square: designed to make you meet others

Architect Thom Mayne is behind the funky looking building in New York, which is part of Cooper Union. Mayne went to some painstaking detail when designing the functionality of the building: in order to move between the sixth and seventh floors, you must use the fire stairs. This is a deliberate move, designed to increase meeting opportunities.

12. La Pyramide Inversee

 La Pyramide Inversee
La Pyramide Inversee: it doubled attendance at the Louvre

The Louvre Museum's most unique feature is the glass pyramid of ‘La Pyramide Inversee’ (meaning ‘The Inverted Pyramid). The Inverted Pyramid and the two smaller pyramids either side of it were designed by architect IM Pei in order to reinvigorate the Louvre Palace, and it seems they have done just that; by 2002, attendance had doubled.

13. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

 Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao: challenges assumptions about architecture

This Spanish museum is internationally renowned as one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture. In the words of its website, it 'continues to challenge assumptions about the connections between art, architecture, and collecting’. It was built by California-based Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, who was chosen via an architectural competition to design the building.

  • Location: Bilbao, Spain
  • Accessibility: You can easily access the museum by metro hopping off at Moyúa Station, or by tram at the Guggenheim stop, or by various different bus routes.
  • Cost: Around €13
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

14. Atomium

 the Atomium
The Atomium: a Brussels landmark

An iconic symbol of Brussels, the Atomium represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times. It was built in 1958 for the World Fair of Brussels and was never intended to make it past 1959, but it soon became a key landmark of the city, and so it remained.

  • Location: Brussels, Belgium
  • Accessibility: The Atomium is located in the Northern part of the city of Brussels, a five-minute walk from the Heysel/Heizel metro station (line 6).
  • Cost: Entrance fee to visit is around €11
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

15. Lotus Temple, India

 the Lotus Temple
The Lotus Temple: house of worship

The Lotus Temple is a house of worship for the Bahá'í religion and earns its name for its flower-like shape (the lotus being a sacred flower for many Indian religions). This tied in nicely with the fact that the building had to be a nine-sided circular shape, which is a specified requirement for a religious building according to Bahá'í scripture.

16. Apple Store Fifth Avenue

 Apple’s flagship store
The Apple Store: a techie pilgrimage

On Fifth Avenue, this is Apple’s flagship store. The Louvre-like structure was opened in 2006 and hailed as a model for innovative design. But it came at a cost; Apple recently spent an estimated $6.6 million renovating the glass cube.

  • Location: New York City, New York, USA
  • Accessibility: It’s in New York City; just whistle your loudest and hop in the next yellow cab
  • Cost: Free to enter, but potentially very expensive unless you can bare to leave without buying lots of Apple goodies
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

17. The Burj al Arab Hotel, Dubai

 The Burj al Arab Hotel
The Burj al Arab Hotel: synonymous with Dubai

This luxury hotel, built on an artificial island, was designed to resemble the sail of a dhow. It was designed by architect Tom Wright, who says: "The client wanted a building that would become an iconic or symbolic statement for Dubai… It needed to be a building that would become synonymous with the name of the country.” And the instantly recognisable, elegant shape of the building has done just that.

  • Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Accessibility: Easy to visit from the outside; access to the higher society as a paying guest is a little more difficult.
  • Cost: Thinking of spending the night? You might need to sell your house first.
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

18. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

 La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia: fabulous but unfinished

Another of Gaudi's quirky and creations. Gaudi sadly never saw this amazing church finished. He died in 1926 when less than a quarter of the project was complete.

The building is in fact still not finished and currently has an estimated completion date of 2026. On the subject of the very long construction Gaudi is reported to have said: 'My client is not in a hurry.'

19. Jay Pritzker Pavilion

 Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Jay Pritzker Pavilion: art not architecture

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago is one of the most unusually designed in the world. Designed by Frank Gehry to function as an outdoor performing arts venue for small events, it is classified by the city as a work of art rather than a building; this is a legal loophole to overcome the historic limitations on the height of the buildings in Grant Park.

  • Location: Chicago, USA
  • Accessibility: Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, you can easily get the CTA or Metro, drive and park, or cycle to the park.
  • Cost: Free to visit, but prices different depending on the event hosted at the Pavilion.
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

20. Cloud Gate

 Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate: inspired by liquid mercury

Cloud Gate is the centrepiece of the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, Chicago, and was designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. The design of Cloud Gate was inspired by liquid mercury. The idea was that as visitors walked around the sculpture, its surface would act as a fun-house mirror and distort their reflections as well as that of the Chicago skyline. Computer modelling was essential in the engineering of its construction even though Kapoor does not draw with computers.

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Accessibility: Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, you can easily get the CTA or Metra, drive and park, or cycle to the park.
  • Cost: Free
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

21. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

 Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall: both a sculpture and a functional building

Frank Gehry and his unusual architectural designs have popped up worldwide. In Los Angeles he is responsible for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The building aims to be a sculpture and a work of art whilst also retaining all the functionality of a concert hall.

  • Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Accessibility: Walt Disney Concert Hall is located closest to the Red Line Civic Center Metro stop at 101 S. Hill St. Alternatively, you can drive and park, and there is even a valet service if you fancy treating yourself.
  • Cost: Cost varies depending on the show.
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

22. N Building Tokyo

 The N Building
The N Building: does what it says on the facade

Situated in the middle of one of Tokyo’s shopping districts, the N Building is a commercial building that is adorned with a QR code as the facade. When scanned, the code leads to a site detailing information about the stores inside.

When scanned with the iPhone, as well as browsing shop information, you can also make reservations and download coupons. The unusual exterior of the building makes a statement at the same time as being functional.

  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
  • Accessibility: Located near Tachikawa station.
  • Cost: Free
  • Further information

23. The Crooked House, Poland

 The Crooked House
The Crooked House: fairytale inspired

The ‘Krzywy Domek’ (Crooked House’ in Polish) is a rather wonky looking building, and therefore aptly named. The source of inspiration for its design was in the fairytale illustrations and drawings by Polish illustrator Jan Marcin Szancer and Swedish painter Per Dahlberg.

24. Experience Music Museum, Seattle

 Experience Music Museum
Experience Music Museum: mixed reviews

This quirky museum dedicated to the history of popular music and science fiction was designed by Frank Gehry, although it definitely wasn’t his proudest moment. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described it as “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died”. He was not alone in his distaste for the museum; Forbes magazine named it one of the world’s 10 ugliest buildings. It is also locally known as ‘The Hemorrhoids’.

  • Location: Seattle, Washington, USA
  • Accessibility: There’s ample parking, and the venue is served by many bus routes, the Monorail, and the Light Rail.
  • Cost: Around $20
  • Further information
  • Find it on Google Maps

25. Kunsthaus Graz

 Kunsthaus Graz
Kunsthaus Graz: blob on the landscape

Continuing along the theme of blobs, this landmark in Austria is dedicated to contemporary art. The facade of the museum comprises of an acrylic glass ‘skin’ on the eastern side of the building representing an oversized urban screen, which is intended to act as an instrument of art communication to the public.

Words: Samantha Cliffe and Alex Williamson

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Did we miss your favourite landmark? Let us know in the comments!

 

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