InspirationFeature

The 20 most famous buildings in the world

From the Colosseum to the Chrysler building, get a dose of inspiration from 20 of the world's most famous buildings.

We've selected the 20 most famous buildings in the world, and explain a bit about why they deserve to be in the list. Whenever we travel to far-flung places, we're attracted to the famous buildings. It's not that most of us have a deep interest in the technicalities of architecture. It's more about how the designs of these buildings reflect the era and culture in which they were built.

Much like a photograph, architectural designs record details of specific moments in time. But unlike an photograph, physical structures go on to have a life of their own, becoming a central and functional part of countless people's lives for hundreds, if not thousands of years after they were built. Here we have picked 20 of the most famous building designs from around the world which you can find inspiration simply by visiting them and discovering their historical background.

01. St Paul's Cathedral, London

famous buildings
British architect Sir Christopher Wren took 10 years to finalise his designs for St Paul's

London's most iconic building St Paul's Cathedral was designed by English architect Sir Christopher Wren. Sitting at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, its famous dome is one of the world's largest, measuring nearly 112 metres high.

The original church on the site was founded in the year 604AD. Work on the present English Baroque church began in the 17th Century by Christopher Wren as part of a major rebuilding program after the Great Fire of London.

Wren started working on St Paul's in 1668, his designs for the cathedral taking a decade to complete and the actual construction taking a further 40 years. St Paul's has played an integral part of London life ever since - as a domineering element in the city's skyline, as a centre for tourism and religious worship, and most recently as a focal point for anticapitalist protests.

Also see our designer's guide to London!

02. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

famous buildings
The Petronas Towers are an iconic landmark in Malaysia's capital city Kuala Lumpur

Standing at 170 metres above ground, the Petronas Towers are twin skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The buildings, which held the titled of tallest in the world between 1998-2004, are an iconic landmark of the capital city.

The distinctive postmodern style was created by architects Cesar Pelli and Achmad Murdijat, engineer Deejay Cerico and designer Dominic Saibo under the consultancy of JC Guinto.

03. The White House, Washington

famous buildings
The White House, designed by Irish architect James Hoban, took eight years to construct. Image © Matt Wade

Irish architect James Hoban was the man behind the design of the White House. In 1972 Hoban submitted a plan for the presidential mansion and subsequently got the commission to build the White House. Constructed began in 1793 through to completion in 1801. The mansion, which has been home to every US leader since the country's second president John Adams, is made from white-painted Aquia sandstone.

04. Leaning Tower of Pisa

famous buildings
Due to restoration work carried out in 2001, the tower currently leans at just under 4 degrees. It is estimated that it will collapse in the next 75-100 years. Image © Alkarex Malin äger

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most remarkable architectural structures in Europe. Most famous for its tilt, the tower began to lean during construction after soft ground on one side was unable to properly support the structure's weight. 

Building work on the tower began in 1173 and went on for over a whopping 300 years. There has been much controversy surrounding the true identity of the architect behind the tower - the design originally attributed to artist Bonnano Pisano but studies have also implicated architect Diotisalvi. 

05. St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

famous buildings
The unique Disney-esque St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow was designed by architect Postnik Yakolev

No, we haven't included a piece of Disneyland architecture on our list, although you'd be forgiven for thinking so. This garish, candy coloured cathedral is in fact Moscow's most visited tourist attraction. The famous landmark, shaped to resemble the flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, is located just outside the Kremlin gates and marks the geometric centre of the city. 

Built between 1554 and 1560, the cathedral was erected during the reign of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible). Little is known about the building's architect Postnik Yakovlev, but he was clearly a fan of onion domes, sharp spikes and polygonal towers. 

06. Empire State Building, NYC

famous buildings
Construction of the world-famous Empire State building was completed in just one year and 45 days

We couldn't put together a list of world-famous buildings without including this grand Art Deco skyscraper. Once the tallest building in the world, construction began on the Empire State building on St Patrick's Day 1930 and was completed just 410 days later.

The building was designed by William F Lamb of architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. It was declared by the American Society of Civil Engineers to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is known around the world as an icon of New York City.

07. Lloyds Building, London

famous buildings
The award-winning Lloyds building was designed by Italian-born architect Richard Rogers. Image © Aurelien Guichard

This futuristic building looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie rather than Lime Street in London. The award-winning Lloyds building (also known as the Inside-Out building) is an iconic architectural landmark and one of the most recognisable constructions on the London skyline.

Architect Richard Rogers was the brains behind the innovative design, which has its services - including water pipes and staircases - on the outside. Built between 1978 and 1986, the building also features 12 outside lifts, which were the first of their kind in the UK. 

08. Colosseum, Rome

famous buildings
The Colosseum is the largest Roman amphitheatre ever built. Image © David Iliff

This elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of Rome is considered as one of the greatest architectural feats achieved by the Ancient Romans. The stadium was capable of seating 50,000 spectators and used mainly for gladiatorial games.

Built from concrete and stone, construction began on the Colosseum began around 72AD and finished in 80AD. The design and shape of the Colosseum has been the inspiration for many modern day stadiums. Today it is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions, attracting thousands of visitors each year. 

09. Taj Mahal, India

famous buildings
The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Image © Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Recognised as 'the jewel of Muslim art in India', the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Often mistaken as a palace, this famous landmark was actually built as a tomb for the Emperor's wife after she died giving birth to their 14th child. 

The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture - an amalgamation of Persian, Turkish and Indian styles. Construction on the mausoleum began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. The surrounding buildings and gardens took a further five years to finish. 

10. Chrysler Building, NYC

famous buildings
The Chrysler building attained the title of world's tallest in building in 1930 for just one year when the Empire State was erected. Image Joris Van Rooden

In the early part of the 20th Century, people everywhere were in a race to build the tallest building. At the time, this gorgeous Art Deco skyscraper was almost outdone by the Bank of Manhattan but its spire (which was constructed in secret) enabled it to take the title of 'tallest building in the world' in 1930. 

It didn't last long though. Just a year later the Empire State Building was erected. Designed by architect William Van Alen, the skyscraper was commissioned by car manufacturer Walter P Chrysler, hence its name.  

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11. Sydney Opera House

famous buildings
Sydney Opera House is the most famous Australian architectural icon

Sydney Opera House is widely regarded as one of the greatest architectural works of the 20th century. The innovative design came from architect Jørn Utzon, who was relatively unknown until January 29, 1957 when his entry to the ‘International competition for a national opera house at Bennelong Point, Sydney’ was announced the winner.

The beautiful building comprises of three groups of interlocking shells, which roof two main performance halls and a restaurant. A masterpiece of modern architecture, the opera house has become an iconic symbol of both Sydney and the Australian nation. 

12. Space Needle, Seattle

famous buildings
40 years after its construction, the Space Needle remains Seattle's best visitor destination. Image © Jordon Kalilich

The futuristic Space Needle in Seattle, Washington was built for the 1962 World's fair. The famous landmark stands at 184m high and 42m wide at its widest point.

The design was a collaborative effort between architects Edward E Carlson and John Graham. Not only is the architecture a marvel to look at but the building's impressive design can survive wind velocities of 200mph and can escape serious structural damage during earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitudes.

13. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

famous buildings
Now a museum, Hagia Sophia is located in Istanbul, Turkey

Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum, Hagia Sophia is a architectural masterpiece. A perfect example of Byzantine architecture, Hagia Sophia is located in Instanbul, Turkey.

The building was built for the first time by the emperor Constantine the Great (306-337). However, due to many factors, including being burned down in riots and earthquakes, the ancient cathedral has been rebuilt many times since. Despite this, Hagia Sophia is widely recognised as one of the great buildings of the world. And if that wasn't cool enough, the building also features in the opening scenes of the latest Bond film, Skyfall. 

14. Buckingham Palace, London

famous buildings
Buckingham Palace is one of London's most popular tourist attractions. Image © David Iliff

Originally known as Buckingham House, George III bought the property in 1735 when the mansion was little more than a red brick house. Since then, various architects have worked on the building to make it what it is today, including John Nash, Edmund Blore and Sir Aston Webb.

The palace also had to undergo extensive work after being bombed no less than nine times during World War II. However, still very much in operation, it's one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today.

15. Fallingwater

famous buildings
Frank Lloyd Wright created this unique design for the Kauffman family in 1934. Image © Sxenko

Designed by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934, Fallingwater is quite possibly the most famous private residence in the world. But why? Well, the unique design makes it look like the house stretches out over a 30ft waterfall, with no solid ground beneath it. 

This isn't the case, obviously, but the innovative design captured everyone's attention when it was finalised in 1939. It became famous instantly and is now a natural historic landmark. It's so cool you can even get a Lego version of the architectural masterpiece!

16. Pantheon

famous buildings
Built approximately 2000 years ago, the Pantheon continues to inspire architects all over the world

Rome is home to many amazing buildings, and the Pantheon is no exception. And, like the city itself, it was not built in a day. Destroyed twice and rebuilt each time, the building started as a rectangular structure, which, over time, evolved into the gorgeous dome building seen today. 

An inspiration to architects all over the world over the last 2,000 years, the Pantheon roof remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. There is much debate between historians over which emperor and architects were responsible for the Pantheon's design although it is known that this 'Temple of the Gods' was built around 126AD.

17. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

famous buildings
Architect Frank Gehry developed the unique concept for the museum after winning an architectural competition to design the building

The Guggenheim museum Bilbao is one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture. California-based Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry created the unique concept after winning an architectural competition to design the building. 

Since the museum doors opened in 1997, it has been hailed one of the most important buildings of the 20th century. Now with over a decade of success, the museum has homed over a hundred exhibitions and has welcomed more than 10 million visitors. 

18. Flatiron building

famous buildings
Chicago architect Daniel Burnham designed the distinctive Flatiron building, which is instantly recognisable in New York's skyline

The eye-catching Flatiron building in Manhattan was designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and built in 1902. The distinctive triangular shape allowed the building to fill the space located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

Another of New York's skyscrapers, it was never the tallest but remains one of the most memorable and has been a source of inspiration for artists and architects for over a century now. 

19. Villa Savoye

famous buildings
Villa Savoye was originally built as a country retreat for the Savoye family in 1928

Designed by Swiss architects Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, Villa Savoye is an early and classic example of the International style - a major architectural style that emerged in the 1920s and 30s. 

The property was built in 1928 and, after surviving several demolition plans, was designated as an official French historical monument in 1965. 

20. Burj Khalifa

famous buildings
Dont look down! The world's tallest building in Dubai over 800 metres high. Image © Nicolas Lannuzel

Last on our list but but very means the least is the world's tallest building Burj Khalifa. The mammoth skyscraper and magnificent centerpiece of Downtown Dubai stands at a whopping 828.9 metres high. 

Construction began on the 160-floor building in 2004 with its doors opening six years later in 2010. The task of creating the world's tallest manmade structure was awarded to the Chicago office of American architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril LLP.

Which of these architectural designs inspires you the most? Have we missed any famous buildings off the list? Tell us in the comments box below...

Words: Kerrie Hughes

Kerrie Hughes is channel editor at Creative Bloq.

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