Given the state of the world right now, travelling to see the wonders of architecture probably isn’t in the picture for any of us, any time soon. It’s on that note that we figured we’d do the next best thing and present what we feel are some of the greatest, most inspiring examples of architectural icons in the world, in picture form. Extremely unsatisfying compared to the real thing we know but it’s the best any of us are going to be getting for awhile. Whether it’s Art Deco or Doric columned, the largest structure in the world or perhaps the oldest building in the world, these are the famous buildings that you’ll never forget.
10. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
Created in the 12th Century over three decades by King of the Khmer Empire, Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat located in Siem Reap (northwestern Cambodia) is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple. It also remains as the best preserved and largest temple in the ruins of the city of Angkor, a massive city that is thought to have supported almost a million people, an even more impressive feat when you consider that around that time in Europe a city with a couple of thousand people in it was considered a pretty happening place. Angkor Wat remains as a massive tourist attraction for Cambodia and a lasting symbol of an empire which spanned a significant part of Asia.
9. Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Despite people in Melbourne insisting that this icon isn’t a big deal and that “it looks like a bunch of nuns hanging out” the Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most iconic modern buildings. I mean, just look at that thing! That’s a place to see the opera! Located on the Bennelong Point peninsula, its pre-cast interlocking shells sit proudly atop an almighty podium, a Harbourside edifice of architectural modernity. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who was the winner of an international design competition in 1957, the building was sixteen years in the making and was actually completed by an Australian architectural team headed up by Peter Hall. The building was formally opened on 20 October 1973 and has maintained its legacy as the number one point any Sydneysider will go to while trying to argue ‘which city is best’ to other Australians.
8. Athenian Acropolis, Athens
The original acropolis was burnt to the ground by Persian invaders, prompting the surviving and later victorious Greeks to decide to leave the ruins on the hill as a reminder of what they had gone through. This all changed in the 5th Century when the then Athenian General Pericles decided that idea was great and all but maybe instead what they could do was build a memorial that wasn’t quite an eyesore? Thus the most famous example of ancient Greek buildings exists.
Designed by architects Ictinus and Callicrates, the acropolis consists of several temples. Perched atop a high outcrop – these immense structures loom above the city of Athens. The greatest of these being the Parthenon, built between 447 and 432 BC, a massive temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The temple held some of the greatest examples of Greek sculpture in the form of the temple frieze and metopes but don’t expect to see any of those in Greece, given that the English went and took them all and aren’t all that keen to give them back.
7. The Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku
The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid in 2007 and opened in 2012. The center’s amazing single continuous folded surface have made it an internationally recognised architectural work and one of the best examples of the Neo-futurism style. The center won the Design Museum’s Design award in 2014 making Zaha Hadid the first woman to win the top prize in that competition. Given its location and unique look the center is number one on our list of ‘places guaranteed to be featured in an upcoming Bond/Mission Impossible film’.
6. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral – perhaps the most iconic example of Gothic architecture. Initially conceived by Bishop Maurice de Sully, the building of the world’s most famous gothic cathedral began in 1163, and was completed almost 200 years later in Paris, France. Architecturally famous for it’s pioneering of the rib vault and flying buttress the Cathedral has survived wars, revolutions and most recently a massive fire which destroyed much of its interior and its iconic spire but left the main structure intact. While reconstruction has been halted because of COVID-19 we have no doubt that Notre Dame will one day be restored to its former glory.
5. Roman Coliseum, Rome
One of Rome’s most iconic structures the Colosseum’s construction begun in 72BC by Emperor Vespasian and was completed by his heir Titus. The largest amphitheatre ever built at the time it could hold up to 80,000 spectators witnessing gladiatorial contests, theatre and public spectacles. The floor could even be flooded to hold mock sea battles. The architects designs for getting the massive audiences in and out quickly are still being used today as the basis for modern stadiums. As one of the most famous ancient Roman structures it’s a must see for fans of ancient Rome and Russell Crowe alike.
4. Hagia Sophia, Instanbul
Designed by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles the Hagia Sophia of Instanbul, Turkey was built in 537AD. Famous for its massive central dome it was the world’s largest building at the time and is said to have ‘changed the history of architecture’. Originally a Greek Orthodox cathedral it later became a mosque under the Ottoman empire and now exists as a museum. The greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture it stood as the largest cathedral in the world for 1000 years until the Spanish, we assume in a fit of jealously a millennium in the making finally built a bigger one.
3. The Guggenheim, New York City
At most art museums horrible people can only say the line “Is this art?” while inside the building but at the Guggenheim that’s also possible while standing outside of it. Located right next to central park in New York City, the building was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and built between 1943 and 1959. The cylindrical building, wider at the top than at the bottom, was conceived as a “temple of the spirit”. The building was controversial even before it opened with some critics complaining that the design was such a work of art in itself, it ran the risk of overshadowing the art work inside, which honestly feels like a pretty good review for Wright’s work.
2. Forbidden City, Beijing
Not so much a single building as a complex that houses almost a thousand buildings, the Forbidden city, located in Beijing, is a city within a city. While most know it by its iconic gates the complex itself, originally commissioned in the early 15th century by an emperor of the Ming Dynasty, spans a full 72 hectares. Despite only taking fourteen years to build, it has stood as the ceremonial and political centre of the Chinese government for over 500 years.
The complex’s religious and philosophical importance is such that symbolism is a deep part of the architecture with features such as the inner and outer halls all being arranged in groups of three to represent the Qian triangle. The statuettes with their heavenly implications on the buildings roofs denote their importance. While the complex was once very much a forbidden city, it is now open to the public, which would be great if we can ever travel again.
1. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
We suppose this one is a bit of a no brainer given that every item on the top 10 reasons architects go to Barcelona list starts with ‘Gaudí built it’ but the Basílica de la Sagrada Família stands above all the rest. Not bad for a building they haven’t even bothered to finish yet. Although construction began in 1882, the plans were partially destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and much time has been spent trying to piece them back together again. The building is hoped to be completed finally by 2026, a full century after Gaudí’s death.
Though not originally intended to be a cathedral with it’s iconic towers and combination of Gothic with the Art Nouveau style, it’s hard to see it as anything else. The building is a testament to the uniqueness of Gaudí’s works and become a major tourist attraction for Barcelona amongst architects and regular flock alike.
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