architectural history is embedded in its cities’ skylines like a fingerprint.
While most people flock to the continent for its historical heritage, its
contemporary architecture is also a great reason to visit. Many modern
masterpieces have already made a mark in Europe’s urban landscape, but standing
out among them are these five contemporary structures.
If you’re in Europe to see beautiful architecture, be sure to add these buildings to your list.
1. Opera House, Oslo
The Oslo Opera House sticks out of Norway’s Bjørvika neighborhood like a monumental iceberg. It’s the home to The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and also the country’s national opera theater. The building’s white exterior is made of marble, while the interiors reveal floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The Opera House celebrated its first 10 years of existence last year to much jubilation, as thousands of singers from all over the country converged in the building to make a rendition of Verdi’s Slavekoret. The Opera House Norway’s largest cultural project since the erection of the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim in the Middle Ages.
2. Vitra Design Museum, Weil-am Rhein
A building obviously designed to live up to its name, the Vitra Design Museum has a post-modern, deconstructivist style made out of white plaster and a titanium-zinc alloy. Its disconcerting corners and curves almost morph into indescribable shapes when seen from different angles. DesignCurial notes that the museum is among Frank Gehry’s first forays into deconstructivism. But unlike most deconstructivist works which often have jarring and deliberately disconcerting designs, Vitra has an almost poetic usage of curves and contrast that is easy on the eye.
3. 56 Leonard, New York City
This mind-boggling work by Pritzker Prize–winning firm Herzog & de Meuron looks like it was snatched from a dream. The 821-foot-tall, 57-story skyscraper in Manhattan, New York City was designed to look like houses stacked on top of each other. Construction work on “The Jenga Building,” as it is now called, started in 2007 and was only finished in 2017. Its odd qualities inevitably led to some criticism, and writer Lloyd Alter has raised maintenance and safety concerns because of its jagged design. With strict building codes and regulations in the city though, 56 Leonard is nothing short of structurally sound. In fact, Yoreevo outlines that in New York, Local Law 11 mandates owners of buildings higher than six stories to conduct a structural integrity inspection every five years. This ensures the safety of its occupants, as well as the surrounding area. 56 Leonard’s beauty is only matched by miraculous engineering feats that we have come to expect in contemporary buildings.
4. Dancing House, Prague
One look at this Vlado Milunić-designed masterpiece is enough to make jaws drop in awe. Also designed in a quirky, deconstructivist style, one half of the building looks like a generic Baroque structure. But the other half is curved, making it look like the building is swaying. Its windows have protruding frames to create a three-dimensional effect. According to Architectuul, the stark contrast between the two halves was meant to embody yin and yang as well as the country’s transition from a communist state into a parliamentary democracy.
5. Macquarie Bank Building, Sydney
This commercial building is on Shelley Street King Street Wharf. While dwarfed by other buildings in the area, the Macquarie Bank Building stands out for its web-like exterior railings. This design, however, is not just a gimmick. It is an interpretation of a diagrid, an external structural support system. The design deliberately minimizes internal structures to accommodate more interior space, as well as creates external texture without resorting to decoration.
6. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is widely considered as one of the most important architectural works completed since 1980. The exterior is made of glass, titanium, and limestone, indicating its ambitious yet grounded design ethos. The curves in the building’s exterior attract attention for its apparent randomness.
7. Market Hall, Rotterdam
The Market Hall or Markthal in Rotterdam has a unique horseshoe-like shape and a glass façade. It’s made of grey nature stone and has small glass windows. If the exterior is already quirky, you have to check the building’s interior. On display is an 11,000 sqm artwork by Iris Roskam and Arno Coenen called Hoorn des Overvloeds (Horn of Plenty). Hailed by critics as the largest artwork in the world, it consists of fruits, vegetables, and other goods in exaggerated sizes.
The hope is that more people will appreciate the beauty of these buildings. After all, they do not just beautify the skyline. They also serve as testaments of what human imagination can achieve.
For more Frugal First Class Travel stories, check out Jo’s post about her five favorite buildings in Europe.