Building design at its visionary best engages, exhilarates, and inspires. It possesses a quality—almost indescribable—that embodies design ingenuity, connection to place, and, above all, imagination.
In Seville, Spain, officials didn’t have a clear concept in mind when they sought proposals to improve the city’s central market square. The winning project, conceived by Jürgen Mayer H., is a cloudlike latticework canopy known as the Metropol Parasol, which stretches nearly 500 feet across and incorporates restaurants, overlooks, 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 pulsating heart of the city.” Proof that architecture in the 21st century has come a long way from requiring Corinthian columns and stately walls—or any walls at all—to announce its importance. Read on to learn more about these buzzworthy structures and discover other buildings around the world that are turning heads and transforming skylines.
1. HARPA Concert Hall and Conference Center
Even before its official opening, this gemlike venue breathed new life into the Icelandic capital’s once-sleepy harbor, captivating locals and luring visitors with its kaleidoscopic façade of multicolor glass. The crystalline shell, conceived by artist Olafur Eliasson, wonderfully complements the structure’s aggregate of jagged, geometric volumes. At night, exterior LED strips activate, transforming the waterfront landmark into a shimmering beacon of beauty.
2. Gardens by the Bay
Side-by-side parabolic conservatories of glass and steel anchor this cutting-edge botanical garden in Singapore’s booming Marina Bay district. Named the 2012 building of the year by the World Architecture Festival, the Wilkinson Eyre–designed structures replicate distinct climates—one dry, the other humid—allowing for diverse attractions like a flower meadow and a misty mountain forest.
No less extraordinary is the adjoining grove of vertical gardens by Grant Associates. Visitors can stroll an elevated walkway connecting the “supertrees,” some of which are fitted with photovoltaic cells to harness solar energy.
3. The Shard
Familiar to watchers of last summer’s Olympic Games, this 72-story skyscraper—the tallest in Western Europe—has transformed the British capital’s skyline, rising arrestingly on the southern banks of the Thames. Inspired by church steeples, the structure comprises eight angled glass façades that variously reflect the surrounding city and sky and offer crystal-clear glimpses inside. Intended by Piano to act as a vertical village, the multifunctional building includes offices, apartments, restaurants, and a hotel—all crowned by a recently opened observation platform, which affords stunning views up to 40 miles in every direction.
4. Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Architect Thom Mayne, the Pritzker Prize–winning founder of Morphosis, is famous for breaking the mold, and his latest building is no exception. Sheathed in panels of textured concrete, it consists of a five-story cube, fractured at one corner and set atop a sweeping plinth planted with Texas grasses. Slashed across the cube’s exterior is a dramatic glass-enclosed escalator, which whisks visitors to the top-floor entrance to the exhibits.
5. Parrish Art Museum
Water Mill, New York
Topped by a double-gable roof of white corrugated metal, the Parrish’s strikingly horizontal new home melds brilliantly with its setting, nodding in form to both the traditional barns and the cottagelike artist studios that have long been associated with Long Island’s East End.
Inside the poured-concrete structure—devised by architect Ascan Mergenthaler, a senior partner at the Swiss firm—inviting galleries joined by a central spine are warmed by natural-wood ceilings and abundant skylights.