Celebrating the architectural genius of Frank Gehry and Richard Rogers (amongst others) across the European continent.
I’ve written a few blogs now about Europe’s most distinctive and unusual buildings and each time I think I must surely have exhausted the subject, I come across another surreal structure. With previous blogs devoted to the unique architecture of Barcelona, Bilbao, Berlin and Brussels, Paris and Prague, Copenhagen, Oslo and Reykjavik, here’s a look at some more bizarre buildings across the European continent.
Set in the German town of Weil am Rhein, a stone’s throw from the Swiss city of Basel and the Franco-Swiss-German border, the Vitra Design Museum ranks amongst the world’s foremost museums of design. Whilst the museum’s interior is devoted to the research and presentation of design, past and present, and explores the relationship between design and architecture, art and everyday culture, its external structure is pretty striking, too.
His first European project, the Vitra Design Museum building was designed by the American architect, Frank Gehry, in 1989. Composing a white plaster facade, zinc roof and a cubic volume comprised of simple geometric forms, Gehry created a dynamic sculpture in which the individual structures appear to break up into fragments and begin to move. Indeed, the aesthetic of the Vitra Design Museum was instrumental in the emergence of the stylistic concept of ‘Deconstructivism’ and marked a new phase in Gehry’s architectural career that he continued to develop over the following years and is particularly apparent in projects such as Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum.
Another, more recent, Gehry creation is the Fondation Louis Vuitton, situated next to the Jardin d’Acclimatisation in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne. Announced in 2006, the project was conceived by the LVMH group as a benchmark to its commitment to the arts, culture and heritage, with a view to becoming part of the Ile de France’s permanent cultural landscape. Opening its doors in October 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton has since become a distinctive landmark not only on the Parisian landscape, but amongst 21st-century architecture.
Inspired by late-19th-century glass and garden architecture, the building comprises 12 glass sails constructed from 3,600 curved glass panels together with 19,000 Ductal (fibre-reinforced concrete) panels. Put together to form what’s known as the ‘iceberg’, this immaculate white building today plays host to a series of artistic exhibitions, in addition to musical recitals and performances, a restaurant and bookshop.
In Cologne meanwhile, the city’s Central Mosque is currently making waves for its bold, almost space-age interpretation of Ottoman architectural style. Commissioned by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, the building, once finished, one of Europe’s largest mosques, is characterized by an interplay of glass, concrete and wood as well as by its transparent dome, boasting large swathes of glass. The mosque is flanked by two lean 55-meter-tall minarets.
Across to the Austrian capital, reminiscent of Gaudí’s flamboyant architectural designs in Barcelona, the thoroughly unique and fanciful Hundertwasserhaus complex of houses contrasts the opulence of Vienna’s palatial monuments and has become one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, despite being a private residence (thus visits to the interior are not possible). Designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, this distinctive building boasts bright colours, undulating lines and fanciful shapes, including bright pillars and a gilded onion dome atop its roof.
Over the border in Slovenia, the Cooperative Business Bank building is one of Ljubljana’s most famous buildings, easily recognisable for its brightly-decorated, geometric façade. Designed and built in 1921 by the architect Ivan Vurnik, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Slovenian national style architecture. Combining the red, white and blue of the Slovenian flag, the building’s exterior walls are interspersed with elements of Slovenian iconography, such as stylized spruce-wooded and cornfield landscapes, vine plants and women in Slovenian national costumes. The glass roof meanwhile comprises squares of blue glass, with additional decoration sourced from coloured bottles.
Last but by no means least is Antwerp’s new Palace of Justice, housing the city’s law courts. Developed by Richard Rogers, the architect responsible for Paris’ Centre Pompidou, this building comprises a glass and steel structure, with a series of wave-like sails atop its roof, the architectural centre point of the project. Indeed, the design, materials and construction methods of these roof sails underwent in-depth testing, including wind tunnel studies needed to determine the most unfavourable wind loads. The central hall’s glass roof meanwhile is said to metaphorically represent the transparency of the judicial system. For additional architectural oddities, you could also check out the city’s Tetris-like MAS, otherwise known as the Museum at the River.