Building design in its most visionary form attracts, stimulates and inspires. It has an almost indescribable quality that embodies design ingenuity, the link with the place and, above all, the imagination.
But today’s architectural monuments are not just meant to be admired from afar. “It’s not about creating an icon, it’s about shaping public space,” says Steven Holl, referring to Linked Hybrid, the eight-tower residential, office and retail complex designed by his company in Beijing.
“You can’t understand it unless you are above, below and around.” The Linked Hybrid is also “ultra-green,” Holl notes, pointing to the 655 geothermal wells under the buildings that provide heating and cooling. Like the best architects of his generation, Holl combines social and environmental responsibility with aesthetic ambition.
Equally fascinating is Reykjavík’s Harpa concert hall and conference center, a collaboration between architectural firms Henning Larsen and Batteríið and artist Olafur Eliasson. Together they imagined an asymmetrical structure clad in a skin of LED-lit steel and glass “bricks”, which every night offers Icelanders a dazzling spectacle like the Northern Lights. It’s the kind of border crossing that can make architecture a force to activate cities and revitalize cultures.
In Seville, Spain, officials didn’t have a clear concept in mind when looking for proposals to improve the city’s central market square. The winning project, conceived by Jürgen Mayer H., is a cloud-shaped lattice canopy known as the Metropol Parasol, which spans nearly 150 meters and includes restaurants, gazebos and meeting places. “They use it for everything from religious processions during Holy Week to gay pride events,” says Mayer H. “It has become the beating heart of the city.” Proof that 21st century architecture has come a long way since it required Corinthian columns and majestic walls, or any wall, to advertise its importance. He reads on to learn more about these extraordinary structures and discover other buildings around the world that are turning heads and transforming horizons.
1. HARPA concert hall and conference center
Even before its official opening, this gem-like place breathed new life into a dream harbor in the Icelandic capital, captivating locals and attracting visitors with its kaleidoscopic facade of multicolored glass. The crystalline shell, designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson, wonderfully completes the whole of the structure’s irregular geometric volumes. At night, the outdoor LED strips are activated, transforming the landmark of the waterfront into a flaming beacon of beauty.
2. Burj Khalifa
Standing 2,717 feet high above the desert, this spectacular super tower reigns as the tallest structure in the world. Its 162 floors contain offices, residences, restaurants, an Armani hotel and an observation deck, 124 floors above. The strength of its design comes not only from its impressive verticality, but also from its elegant silhouette. Wrapped in a curtain wall of glass with steel studs catching the Arabian sun, the building gradually tapers from its Y-shaped base, with setbacks culminating in a 700-foot spire.
3. Gardens on the bay
Side-by-side glass and steel parabolic greenhouses anchor this state-of-the-art botanical garden in Singapore’s thriving Marina Bay district. Named Building of the Year 2012 by the World Architecture Festival, the structures designed by Wilkinson Eyre replicate distinct climates, one dry, the other wet, allowing for various attractions such as a flowery meadow and a misty mountain forest.