Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling reinforced concrete is a triumph of modern architecture. But back in the 1950s, his design was so foreign as a use for a museum that it had to be executed by a builder with a background in constructing parking garages. The sleek spirals are the ramps in the museum’s interior that lead visitors from exhibit to exhibit and allow for unique displays of art.
Fifty thousand years of Australian history fit into this colorful museum, which architect Howard Raggatt modeled on the theme of knotted ropes meant to connect the different strands of the country’s people and history.
Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s five pavilions surround a tranquil 1.5-acre reflecting pond. The flat-topped buildings are made of 40-foot-high panes of glass that let in natural light for the exhibits while also providing views of the city and the well-kept grounds.
The official name honors its Brazilian architect (now 95 years old), but it’s more commonly called the Museum of the Eye after its latest addition. Finished in 2002, the glass-encased Annex (“The Eye”) is perched atop a 60-foot-wide yellow pillar and accessed by a long curving ramp.
Shaped like a cross and made of concrete and steel, Eero Saarinen’s abstract, Modernist War Memorial Center seemingly floats on a pedestal. Compare its block form to the Quadracci Pavilion, Santiago Calatrava’s sculptural, white postmodern take on a Gothic cathedral complete with flying buttresses and a vaulted ceiling.
With its attention-grabbing twisted and reflective walls, Frank Gehry’s museum famously put Bilbao on the tourist map when it opened in 1997 (on time and on budget, which doesn’t usually happen with this size project). The building is made of glass, limestone, and titanium panels that look like fish scales. Its organic curves are designed to catch the light, and the 50-foot atrium—a typical Gehry element—is illuminated in part by light streaming from the “metallic flower” of the roof.
The museum’s gem collection inspired Daniel Libeskind’s The museum’s gem collection inspired Daniel Libeskind’s deconstructionist design of
five interlocking prisms made of steel beams, aluminum, and glass. Some were appalled, while others applauded the building’s daring departure from the norm.
While much of this museum is subterranean, its visible steel and glass exterior makes a bold impression, curving skyward up to 170 feet. Award-winning architect César Pelli wanted to mimic bamboo reeds waving in the wind, though his creation also gets compared to a set of wings. The play of the light filtered through into the lobby provides an ever-changing feel to the interior gallery space, which gets hidden support (and waterproofing) from a nearly 10-foot-thick concrete wall.
I. M. Pei toured the Muslim world for inspiration and wound up creating a museum that is beautiful in its simple, dynamic design, which echoes traditional Islamic architecture. The pale sand-colored stone blocks form a five-story tower that casts long shadows once night falls. A row of palm trees and a waterfall feature lead to the entrance of the museum—built on a private, man-made island on the harbor.
The original limestone building, with its Ionic columns and grand, almost temple-like Neoclassical design, dates back to the 1930s. In 2007, the museum got a renovation and a modern extension: a series of five cubes or “lenses” made of clear and translucent glass designed by Steven Holl. The lenses are integrated with the surrounding landscape, following the slope of the lawn, and they’re a dramatic, yet complementary counterpoint.
Architects Neutelings and Riedijk alternated between red sandstone from India and glass panes to give this riverfront museum a distinctive look that’s modern even as it recalls the 16th-century storehouses used in Antwerp’s old port. The connection to the city is in the details as well: if you look closely at the 203-foot-tall building, you’ll see 3,185 silver hands, the symbol of Antwerp.