Think of European architecture and the mind immediately conjures up romantic, sepia-infused images of majestic buildings steeped in history, resplendent centuries-old landmarks that have withstood the test of time and borne witness to a wealth of political, cultural and economical change. And yet, the cities of Europe plays host to an increasing number of inspiring edifices whose awe-inspiring modernist design and visionary architectural genius place them firmly on the tick-box list of must-see sights. We take a look below at five of Europe’s iconic modernist wonders.
Centre Pompidou, Paris
One of the most recognisable buildings in Paris and named after the late French President, the Centre Pompidou was built in 1977 and has received over 150 million visitors in its 35-year history. Part designed by Sir Richard Rogers, he of the Lloyds of London building and Millennium Dome fame, this thoroughly unique piece of architecture is officially classed as structural expressionism, its glass and steel construction encased by colourful pipes and ducts. Home also to a library, concert hall, cinema, theatre and research centre, the Centre Pompidou is perhaps best known as the home of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, boasting one of the world’s finest permanent collections of 20th-century art.
Considered by many the icon of a modern, unified Germany and one of the German capital’s top attractions, Berlin’s Reichstag building plays host to the German Bundestag, the national Parliament of Germany. Partially burnt down in 1933, a catalyst say some for the rise of the Nazi Movement in Germany, the Reichstag was transformed by world-famous British architect, Sir Norman Foster, with the addition of its undisputed centrepiece – its impressive glass cuppola. Today, the dome offers visitors 360-degree views over Berlin’s ever-growing skyline from its walk-around platforms, in addition to a viewing passage that funnels directly down into the parliamentary chambers.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Designed by American architect, Frank Gehry, Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum represents one of the most dazzling and groundbreaking pieces of 20th-century architecture seen across Spain and indeed the European continent. A veritable shot of architectural adrenalin for the once industrial Basque port city when it was unveiled in 1997, this undulating, sculpture-like structure constructed of glass, titanium and limestone is as much as attraction for its exterior beauty – the building featured in the opening scenes of the James Bond film, The World is not Enough – as it is for what is contained inside, namely its impressive collection of contemporary art.
Opera House, Oslo
Rivalling its Sydney compatriot, Oslo’s award-winning opera house was unveiled to the public in 2008 amidst great fanfare and declared Norway’s most important cultural icon since the completion of Nidaros Cathedral in 1300. Anchored against Oslo’s old Bjørvika harbour area, the opera house is a sleek and shiny angular ensemble of marble and glass covered with a stark white sloping roof, so designed to reflect the mountainous peaks of Norway. Indeed during the winter, the roof lends itself perfectly to snowboarders whilst in summer, it is given over to sun worshippers and picnickers. Inside meanwhile, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of opera, theatre and ballet performances.
Agbar Tower, Barcelona
Reminiscent of London’s Gherkin, the 38-storey Torre Agbar stands at the gateway to Barcelona’s technology district and has quickly become an architectural symbol of the city to rival Gaudí’s iconic Sagrada Familia. Unveiled no less by the King of Spain in 2005, this cylindrical tower was inspired by the mountain of Monserrat situated just outside Barcelona and the shape of a geyser as it powers through the air. Defined by its nocturnal lighting display where 40 different colours light the night skies, this striking building comprises concrete and steel behind its steel and glass façades.