The World’s Strangest Buildings

June 10, 2013 by

Places to Go, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Architecture is the art we live in. The manipulation of the space that encloses us can inspire awe, terror, joy, and sometimes (as is the case with the buildings in this list) bafflement. If you’re looking for something new – or just plain strange – in your architecture, here are nine buildings around the world that will get your head spinning.

Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, Canada

Ontario College of Art and Design

Ontario College of Art and Design. Photo credit: Carsten Keßler via Flickr.

From a distance, the checkered box that is the Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) appears to be floating above an otherwise unspectacular Toronto neighborhood. As you approach, however, you’ll find that this remarkable ‘table-top’ structure stands 26 meters above the ground on 12 multi-colored legs so angled and skinny that they look barely capable of supporting themselves. This remarkable structure — one of Toronto’s most exciting architectural landmarks — provides two floors of studio and teaching space for the OCAD’s Faculty of Design.

The Sharp Centre was designed by the acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop and was one of six buildings honored with the first-ever Royal Institute of British Architects Worldwide Award (RIBA) in 2004. It was described as “courageous, bold and just a little insane” by the RIBA judges. With 16 large blue-bulbed halide lights illuminating its underside from dusk to midnight, the Sharp Centre is as much of a must-see at night as it is during the day.

Selfridges Department Store, Birmingham, England


Selfridges. Photo credit: Elliott Brown via Flickr.

The Birmingham branch of the Selfridges Department stores looks sort of like an enormous, armored, cycloptic blob with a feeder tube running into its mouth. With a shaped best described as ‘billowy’ and covered with 15,000 shimmery aluminum discs, the Selfridges store was designed by the architectural firm Future Systems to be a tourist landmark and catalyst for the revitalization of Birmingham’s largely uninspiring city center. Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey described the building as  “An ersatz urban cliff, a giant sea anemone, a friendly, blob-like alien, the mother of all magic mushrooms.” The building has been named each year since it opened as one of the 100 stores to visit in the world by industry magazine Retail Week. It is regularly cited, deservedly, as one of the weirdest buildings on the planet.

Kansas City Public Library, MO

Kansas City Public Library

Kansas City Public Library. Photo credit: Caleb Zahnd via Flickr.

The south wall of the public library’s parking garage is downtown Kansas City’s most interesting architectural landmark. The wall is basically a humungous bookshelf, features 25 well-known books, each of which are approximately 25 feet tall, nine feet wide and made of signboard Mylar. The 22 titles were suggested by patrons of the library and then selected by The Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees. They include Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This ‘Community Bookshelf, which runs along 10th Street between Wyandotte Street and Baltimore Avenue, is best appreciated from the outside.

Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg, Germany

Elbe Philharmonic

Elbe Philharmonic. Photo credit: grahamc99 via Flickr.

The most striking feature of Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic is the contrast between the new part of the building (a wavy sail-like glass structure) and the 1960s fortress-like masonry warehouse that serves as its podium. This odd combination is the child of the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron.

The Elbe Philharmonic is located in HafenCity, a 380-acre development (the largest downtown redevelopment project in Europe) on Hamburg’s waterfront. The star attraction of the 1.3 million-square-foot building is a 2,150-seat concert hall for the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra. The building’s other public components include a 550-seat theater and a children’s museum. Additionally, the complex is home to 45 condominium units as well as a hotel, spa, and conference facilities. The 635,000-square-foot base houses a parking garage and other functional elements, while the roof, some 120 feet above water level, will be transformed into a public plaza offering 360-degree views of Hamburg’s skyline. When completed (slated for the summer of 2015 at the earliest) it will be the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro

Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro

Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro. Photo credit: Rodrigo Soldon via Flickr.

Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Contemporary Art looks more like an eery flying saucer (even more so when it’s lit up at night!) than an art museum. Treated with the sort of heat-resistant material used to protect NASA rockets, the three-storey, 50-meter-tall structure is held up by a single 29.5-foot-diameter cylinder, making it seem like it is floating over the reflecting pool that surrounds its base. The building was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, who once described it as a flower emerging from the rock that holds it.

The building, opened in 1996, overlooks the Guanabara Bay in the neighborhood of Boa Viagem. Besides its exhibitions, perhaps the best display in the museum is that of the city and bay that surrounds it, which is constantly visible through the seventy glass plates that offer panoramic views of Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf), Corcovado and the city’s skyline across Guanabara Bay. The price of entrance to the museum is R$6 for adults, R$3 for students and teachers, with free entry for children under seven. Wednesdays are free for everyone.

Cybertecture Egg, Mumbai, India

The Cybertecture Egg, designed by the firm James Law Cybertecture, is built around the concept that buildings shouldn’t just be about concrete, steel and glass, but should also incorporate the new intangible materials of technology, multimedia, intelligence and interactivity. Basically, the egg was constructed to be one of the most forward-thinking workplaces in the world, using less surface area than ‘old style’ buildings and incorporating new technologies like bathrooms that track workers’ weight and blood pressure. The Egg derives its shape from the Earth, a unique form that allows for large, column-free floors and reduces approximately 15% of the construction material that is used in a typical rectangular structure.  The Egg is also embedded with solar panels, harvests rainwater, treats its own sewage, cools its water using an underground reservoir and has a façade that changes according to its orientation to the sun. Office workers in the interior are treated to customizable workspaces that alter their ‘view’ with whatever world locale they choose.

The Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Church of Hallgrimur

The Church of Hallgrimur. Photo credit: Mark Hintsa via Flickr.

Architect Guojon Samuelsson’s design of the Church of Hallgrimur (‘Hallgrímskirkja’ in Icelandic) was meant to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s stunning landscape. Situated in the center of Reykjavík, it is one of the city’s best-known landmarks and can seen from almost anywhere in the city. With a height of 244 feet (74.5 meters), it is the largest church in Iceland. Visitors can take a lift up to the viewing deck for come of the best views in Reykjavik.

The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

The Atomium

The Atomium. Photo credit: O Palsson via Flickr.

One’s first reaction upon viewing the 335-foot (102-meter) Atomium in Brussels is often confusion. Its nine polished, stainless steel spheres are 59 feet in diameter and linked by tubes that enclose escalators and a lift that allows visitors to access to five habitable spheres, with the highest sphere providing panoramic views of the city.

The Atomium was designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. It is basically a gigantic replica of an iron crystal molecule magnified 165 billion times. According to the Atomium website, ‘The completely steel-clad Atomium is a kind of UFO in the cultural history of Humanity, a mirror turned simultaneously towards the past and the future, comparing our Utopias of yesterday with our dreams for tomorrow.’ It was intended to symbolize the peaceful use of atomic energy for scientific purposes. It was named by CNN as Europe’s most bizarre building.

Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland

Floating amid a perpetual cloud of man-made fog, the Blur Building in Yverdon-les-Bains was built on Lake Neuchatel as the centerpiece of the Swiss Expo in 2002. The building enshrouds itself with a fine mist of lake water from 31,500 nozzles, which adjust to changing weather conditions to create the same blurred effect in all seasons. The amorphous fog mass changes from minute to minute, appearing to expand and produces long fog trails in high winds, while rolling outward or moving up and down in cooler temperatures. The inside space is as amorphous as the outside, with one’s visual and acoustical references replaced by a foggy atmosphere and the white noise generated by the mist nozzles. The Blur Building, which was designed by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, can now only be appreciated conceptually as it is currently closed down.

– David Jennings

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