The Forbidden City temple in Beijing, China.Wikipedia Commons
Like paintings and sculptures, buildings can be beautiful works of art.
We asked architects to tell us the one building that’s a game-changer for building design, inspired them to become architects, or that they simply find stunning.
Here are 25 of the most breathtaking buildings in the world, according to people who build them for a living.
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
The Parthenon’s architects: Phidias, Callicrates, and IctinusWikimedia Commons
“It’s the quintessential beautiful architectural form,” Tara Imani says. “The Doric order, the use of entasis [a slight curve in columns] to make sure the columns didn’t look spindly from a distance…the siting on a hilltop — it gave us our initial ABCs of architecture that we keep trying to use and improve upon today.”
Imani is the founding architect of Tara Imani Designs.
The National Congress of Brazil in Brasília.
The National Congress of Brazil’s architect: Oscar NiemeyerWikipedia Commons
“In 1974, my father, a scientist took our family to see the new city of Brasília. It captured the imagination of the world,” Julia Donoho says. “Planned in the shape of an airplane, Corbusian [the modern architectural style of Le Corbusier] housing blocks lined the wings like feathers, the body was filled with embassies, government buildings, cultural institutions, and a house of God.”
Donoho is the principal and project lead at Equinox Design and Development.
The São Paulo Museum of Art in São Paulo, Brazil.
The São Paulo Museum of Art’s architect: Lina Bo BardiWikipedia Commons
“It is daring,” Damaris Hollingsworth says. “Designed in 1968, it is made of concrete and glass. The main body is hung from the two beams and it barely touches the columns on the side. I also love the fact that it was designed by a woman.”
Hollingsworth is the project manager for DLR Group.
The Forbidden City temple in Beijing, China.
The Forbidden City’s architects: Nguyễn An, Cai Xin, and Kuai XiangWikipedia Commons
“It has amazing scale and longevity of the design, complex structure, yet simple forms,” Rosa Sheng says. “My grandfather…explained that architecture is meant to last beyond one’s lifetime. It is a living time capsule of the culture for an entire civilization.”
Sheng is a senior architect at the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
The Innovation, Science, and Technology building at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.
The IST building’s architect: Santiago CalatravaMarica McKeel
“When I worked for Santiago Calatrava, I was part of the team that procured the Florida Polytechnic University campus project,” says Marica McKeel. ” Not only to do I love the design of the Innovation, Science and Technology building, but I feel a real connection to this project and to the Lakeland community as my father grew up in Lakeland and I still frequently visit family there.”
McKeel is the principal at Studio MM.
The Hubertus House in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The Hubertus House’s architect: Aldo van EyckAldo van Eyck Archive
“For an institution that took in and protected unmarried mothers on an equal basis, the building is equal parts playful and dignified,” Randy Deutsch says. It is “a colorful contemporary project in steel, glass and concrete that is nonetheless respectful of its more traditional neighbors.”
Deutsch is the principal at Deutsch Insights and an associate professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The Empire State Building in New York, New York.
“I wanted to become an architect since I was six years old in part because of this building,” says William J. Martin. “My parents would put us in the car and drive down River Road and Boulevard East [New Jersey] with expansive views of Manhattan from the back seat of our car. The antenna enhanced the value of the building … by allowing for better reception for millions of people.”
Martin is the founder of WJM Architect.
The Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
MAC’s architect: Oscar NiemeyerWikipedia
The MAC hangs over the water, a simple collection of lines and curves inspired by flowers growing in the landscape of Rio de Janeiro,” Peter Exley says. “A beautiful, sweeping pink line marks the pathway to the entrance of the building. It’s the most charming arrival to any building; Unpretentious, gentle, poetic, and steeped in anticipation.”
Exley is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the founder of Architecture is Fun.
The Church of the Light in Osaka, Japan.
“[Architect] Tadao Ando is able to create beautiful spaces that embody monolithic presence, spacious, simple forms with an intriguing play of light which appears to dance throughout the day,” says Frank Cunha III. “The pushing and tugging of heavy forms and open space create a very unique, magical experience.”
Cunha is the CEO and principal of FC3 Architecture + Design.
The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.
The Enterprise Centre’s architects: ArchitypeBDP
The center is “a mixture of great architecture and sustainable design,” Ben Adam-Smith says. “It also sits on a campus of buildings that in their era have tried to push boundaries.”
Adam-Smith is a UK-based architect and the founder of House Planning Help.
The Ackerberg House in Malibu, California.
“When I was in college I took a course in Microstation,” says Jeremiah Russell, referring to a computer software that allows users to make 3D models of buildings. “What struck me most about the building is it’s absolute adherence to a set proportional structure and how that structure relates so well to the human form and creates spaces that are at the same time grand and magnificent but also respectful of those using the space.”
Russell is the principal architect at Rogue Architecture.
The Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany.
The Jewish Museum’s architect: Daniel LibeskindStudio Libeskind
“I visited [the museum] for the first time last November when in Berlin for an architecture festival. I had very little free time when in the city, but I made sure to visit the museum whose design I was enamored with as an architecture student in the early 1990s,” John Hill says. “I’d seen many photographs of the building as an empty shell … but I hadn’t heard many good things about the way the exhibitions were inserted into the zigzag plan pierced by voids. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the two worked together.”
Hill is a New York City-based architect.
Casa Mila in Barcelona, Spain.
Casa Mila is “exuberant, context-rich, sensual, and imbued with a rich urban residential character,” Clark Manus says.
Manus is the CEO of Heller Manus Architects and a former president of the American Institute of Architects.
The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Kimbell Art Museum’s architect: Louis KahnWikipedia Commons
“Completed in 1974, it redefined how museums and art galleries used natural daylighting and is truly a modernist masterpiece,” Bob Borson says.
Borson is the principal at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects.
Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.
Fallingwater’s architect: Frank Lloyd Wrightvia/flickr
“The rigid planes of the cantilevered balconies are pure modernist forms inserted into the heart of the forest,” says Bruce Turner. “Most importantly however, the thing that solidified this building as my favorite of all time doesn’t show up in any photos: the arrival sequence to the house. You arrive on a small country road, turn into the property, wind you way through the woods, and the house finally appears in the distance.”
Turner is a freelance architect based in New Jersey.
The Barnes Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Barnes Foundation Museum’s architects: Tod Williams and Billie TsienWikipedia Commons
“It is highly publicized and perhaps getting too much play like a song on the radio, but when seen in person, I was truly inspired,” Lee Calisti says.
Calisti is the founder of Calisti Architecture and Design.
Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France.
Notre Dame du Haut’s architect: Le CorbusierWikipedia Commons
“The building stands boldly, innovatively, looking to the future, while also respective its place and the past,” says Jonathan R. Brown.
Brown is a senior associate at JHP Architecture/Urban Design.
The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, France.
The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève’s architect: Henri LabrousteWikipedia Commons
“Completed in 1850, it is a magical jewel box of a building,” Jared Banks says. “The gray stone classical exterior hides a cavernous light-filled reading room composed of two wrought iron barrel vaults.”
Banks is an architect for Shoegnome Architects.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.
The Salk Institute’s architect: Lou KahnWikipedia Commons
The Salk Institute “magically integrates the site while inspiring scientific exploration.”
Manus is the CEO of Heller Manus Architects and a former president of the American Institute of Architects.
The Sheats Goldstein residence in Los Angeles, California.
The Sheats Goldstein residence’s architect: John LautnerLACMA
“Known to many as ‘The Big Lebowski’ house, it’s one of those places that sits you down and makes you say ‘whoa’ because of it’s daring imagination,” Evan Troxel says.
Troxel is a senior project designer at HMC Architects and co-hosts the podcast “Archispeak.”
The TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport in Jamaica, New York.
The TWA Flight Center’s architect: Eero SaarinenJoseph David
The TWA Flight Center was “designed before the age of computers and decades ahead of its time. The building uses concrete and glass to capture all of the excitement, wonder and romance of jet travel,” Joseph E. David says. “At every view and every angle, there is something new to admire. 50 years after it opened, it somehow manages to feel like it’s still from the future.”
David is a New Jersey-based architect.
Casa Malaparte in Capri, Italy.
“Architecture is about a dialogue with its context,” Jurgen van der Ploeg says. Casa Malaparte’s design “is a magnificent combination of nature and architecture and makes the environment even more spectacular.”
Van der Ploeg is the co-founder of Faro Architecture.
The MIT Chapel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The MIT Chapel’s architect: Eero SaarinenWikipedia Commons
“I was introduced to the MIT Chapel early in my architectural education” Laura Thomas says. “But it was in seeing it in person that I understood what architecture could be. The scale, the materials, the light. You just get the power of it. Then I began to understand what architecture was all about.”
Thomas is the president and principal of Melville Thomas Architects.
Sainte Marie de La Tourette in Éveux, France.
La Tourette’s architects: Le Corbusier and Iannis XenakisPinterest
“The building houses a convent, a place for deep contemplative study, so there’s a feeling of calm seriousness that pervades the site,” Kashuo Bennett says. “This impression is further established by the architectural style: brutalist exposed concrete construction of monolithic forms which reject superfluous applied decoration.”
Bennett is a licensed architect and a senior building analyst at WeWork.
The Lloyd’s Building in London.
“It is the most extreme and intricate of the high-tech building’s style, revealing nearly all of its structure, stairs, elevators and mechanicals on the exterior,” Jeffrey Roberts says. “The buildingtakes on the appearance of a giant engine turned vertical and placed in juxtaposition to the neighboring historic buildings. I like the architectural honesty of the building.”