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Mother of All Arts
To some people, architecture is the mother of all arts: a discipline that combines artistic beauty and scientific precision as no other and uniquely defines our surroundings and the space we live in. Sometimes architects, by defying conventional forms of design, have produced some of the most iconic and beloved landmarks. Here are ten examples of amazingly weird, yet stunningly beautiful pieces of architecture from around the world listed in chronological order.
1. Leaning Tower (Pisa, Italy, 1372)
The bell tower of Pisa's cathedral is worldwide renown for its tilt. The lean is, of course, not by design but due to its unstable ground and inadequate foundation works.
The tower was built in diverse stages over a 200-year period and was finally completed in the 14th century. Throughout its long history, the leaning tower withstood numerous earthquakes. Research showed that the soft ground that caused the lean in the first place, paradoxically, also helped to compensate for the impact of tremors.
The tilt once had reached 5.5 degrees but has since been stabilized to 3.97 degrees by remedial work done in the 1990s. The tower has now been declared stable for the next 200 years. You may enjoy your visit safely!
2. Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada, 1967)
Habitat 67 is a housing complex and model community in Montreal, Quebec. The project originally was the master thesis of Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and was built as a pavilion for the world fair in 1967.
The complex consists of some 350 identical prefabricated concrete cells arranged in diverse combinations reaching up to 12 stories in height. The units are joined together to form residences of various sizes, each having at least one private terrace. The central idea of the design was to combine the privileges of suburban living (i.e. private gardens, fresh air, and privacy) with the density and location benefits of an urban apartment building.
The project became a landmark and helped launch Safdie's career, but largely failed in providing affordable alternative urban residences and was not replicated on a larger scale.
3. Dancing House (Prague, Czech Republic, 1996)
Designed by the Croation-Czech architect Vlado Milunic in cooperation with star architect Frank Gehry, the Dancing House is located in the historic district of Prague along the Vlatava river on a site formerly hit by bombings at the end of World War II. The original idea consisted of a building made of two parts, static and dynamic, which were to symbolize the transition of the country from a communist regime to parliamentary democracy.
The Dancing House is considered deconstructivist architecture due to its unusual shape. Its name derives from famous dancers Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers which the structure represents. The building consists of two parts: a glass tower supported by curved pillars is used to represent Ginger, while a tower made of rock is used to represent Fred. This second part made of rock further runs parallel to the river and is characterized by 99 undulating unaligned window panels giving the building its characteristic look.
4. The Crooked House (Sopot, Poland, 2004)
The distorted shape of the Crooked House is inspired by the fairytale illustrations of Jan Marcin Szancer and has been designed by architects Szotyńscy & Zaleski. It is located in the Polish seaside resort of Sopot on the Baltic Sea near Gdansk. Conceived as a multi-purpose building it includes shops, bars, restaurants, health centers as well as office spaces. Krzywy Domek combines business with culture and art. Its clubs and pubs make sure it is a place that never sleeps.
5. Turning Torso (Malmö, Sweden, 2005)
The Turning Torso is a residential skyscraper in Sweden completed in 2005. The project was designed by Spanish architect and artist Santiago Calatrava and was inspired by one of his sculptures: the Twisting Torso. The design consists of nine segments of irregular pentagonal shape that twist relative to each other as the tower rises (the topmost segment is twisted 90 degrees with respect to the ground floor). With its height of 190 m (623 ft), the Turning Torso dominates Malmö's skyline and is the tallest building in all of Scandinavia.
6. Marina Bay Sands (Singapore, 2010)
Marina Bay Sands is a large integrated resort in Singapore owned by the Las Vegas Sands corporation. Its main elements are three 55-story hotel towers with asymmetric legs leaning against each other, overtopped by a large roof terrace: the SkyPark. The terrace bridges al three towers with one segment cantilevered off the north tower. The SkyPark, including the infinity swimming pool, is located 191 m (627 ft) above ground and allows a spectacular view over Marina Bay and Singapore. The construction has been designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and was initially inspired by card decks.
7. Bundeswehr Military History Museum (Dresden, Germany, 2011 (reopened))
No list of bizarre buildings would be complete without a project designed by Daniel Libeskind. The former armory of Saxony had served as a military museum of various kinds before being closed following the political upheaval of 1989. When it was decided it should reopen as the museum of the German Armed Forces with an entirely new concept, the Polish-American architect was called in.
Instead of glorifying armies, the museum focuses on the human aspect of war and tries to present its causes and consequences. To express the new approach architecturally Libeskind added a huge transparent arrowhead to the building interrupting the rigidity of its Neo-Classicist facade, thus representing the openness of democratic society in contrast to the severity and authoritarian past of the existing building.
8. CCTV Headquarters (Beijing, China, 2012)
The China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters (also referred to as China Media Group (CMG) headquarters), is a 234 m (768 ft) tall skyscraper located in Beijing. Rather than a tower in the traditional sense, it is actually a loop, consisting of six horizontal and vertical segments. In departing from the typical high-rise, Architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) had to overcome unique structural and engineering challenges with this design. The CCTV Tower won the 2013 Best Tall Building Worldwide award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
9. The Interlace (Singapore, 2013)
Bored by traditional high-rises German architect Ole Scheeren tried a new approach with this unique residential complex in Singapore: 31 building blocks, each 6 stories high, are stacked upon each other in an irregular hexagonal pattern. Overall the complex consists of 1,040 units with eight courtyards, including various recreational facilities and a lot of greenery. The structure is designed to integrate into its surroundings and to favor social interaction. The arrangement allows for most apartments to have a wide view of the surrounding area. The Interlace has won numerous architectural awards.
10. MahaNakhon (Bangkok, Thailand, 2016)
The MahaNakhon (since 2018 King Power MahaNakhon) is a 314 m (1,031 ft) tall mixed-use skyscraper in Bangkok featuring hotels, retail, and residences. Instead of a seamless, inert skyscraper simply towering over the city, the unconventional design by German architect Ole Scheeren is meant to connect the building with the surrounding urban fabric of the metropolis.
This has been achieved by carving out of the glass curtain walled surface a sort of three-dimensional ribbon, circling upward around the tower. The cuboidal surfaces cut into the tower's side feature balconies and terraces and appear to reveal the building's inner layer, giving it a pixilated appearance. MahaNakhon is a truly bold architectural landmark standing for the openness of Thai society.
© 2019 Marco Pompili