Some of the world’s most compelling works of art come in the form of buildings, from twisting towers rising from white desert sands, to light-filled atriums that serve as places of work. Many of the most fascinating of these structures have emerged in the last 30 years, a period that has seen unbelievable advances in construction techniques.
It’s not merely a matter of size. In fact, some of today’s most remarkable buildings, such as Garden Chapel on Nanjing’s riverfront, are staggering for their architectural humbleness, paying homage to an area’s past while setting the pace for its future.
One thousand of the most compelling designs from this period have been complied in “Destination Architecture,” a new book published by Phaidon that aims to become an unparalleled resource for enjoying these examples of contemporary built culture.
Including works from nations as diverse as Mexico, Sweden, China and the United States, it is a fascinating mix of well-known landmarks and undiscovered gems, from the highest heights of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, to the very smallest places of worship.
Here’s a closer look at some of the world’s most fascinating buildings.
Cayan Tower by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Dubai, UAE)
The Cayan Tower twists out of the architectural mishmash of Dubai waterfront, each floor rotating 1.2 degrees around a cylindrical elevator to create a 90-degree turnaround from top to bottom.
While the official reasoning is wind force reductions, the result is a subtle, swirling skyscraper with views of the marina promenade visible from the first floor, and the white sands of the gulf stretching out from the top.
Parish Church Señor de la Misericordia by Moneo Brock Studio (Monterrey, Mexico)
Best viewed against the backdrop of the mountainous landscape that surrounds it, the church is remarkable for its lack of ornamentation. While the façade is certainly contemporary, the shape is unmistakably church-like, rendering it modern yet familiar, perceptible yet strange.
Emporia shopping center by Wingårdhs (Malmö, Sweden)
Located to the south of Malmö, the Emporia shopping center drags you into its entrance. Its curved, amber glass creates an inviting esplanade.
Using colored atriums to give a strong atmosphere and identity to its retail hubs – organized in a figure eight plan – the building features office and residential spaces, as well as a rooftop park the size of four football pitches.
Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art by SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (Davis, California)
Uniting indoor and outdoor beneath a large steel canopy, the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art acts as an abstract patchwork, tying together galleries for the University of California, Davis, as well as a courtyard, lobby and several study areas. Inspired by the surrounding agricultural landscape – think the flat plains of California’s Central Valley – it is viewed best in the context of the area’s expansive horizon.
Salling Tower by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter (Aarhus, Denmark)
Built to satisfy the construction of a new waterfront neighborhood, Salling Tower serves as both an urban sculpture and a viewing platform. Folded, origami-like, at the edge of the city’s docklands, it hovers over the historic trading port like a portholed nod the area’s maritime past. At night, LED lights illuminate the arrow-shaped tower from the inside.
Suvela Chapel by OOPEAA (Espoo, Finland)
Located in one of the most multicultural districts in the Helsinki metropolitan area, this welcoming chapel was designed to serve the needs of community members regardless of their religious orientation. The hybrid structure was built with wood, concrete and steel, and its durable, recyclable copper cladding will develop a green patina over time.
Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel by AZL Architects (Nanjing, China)
Nestled in Wanjing Garden along Nanjing’s riverfront, this small 200-square-meter (2153-square-foot) chapel is designed with light at its core. Thin wooden pillars form the exterior, allowing natural radiance to flood a space occupied by priests from Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. While the outside retains a natural appearance, the inside features entirely white surfaces and pews.
Kärsämäki Church by OOPEAA (Kärsämäki, Finland)
The rebuilt wooden church of Kärsämäki stands where original was constructed in 1765. Completed using 18th-century techniques, it sees a hand-hewn frame clad in 50,000 tarred, black shingles.
Tainan Tung-Men Holiness Church by MAYU architects+ (Tainan, Taiwan)
A peaceful refuge among the city’s residential buildings, the Tainan Tung-Men Holiness Church incorporates a cafe and a bookshop on the ground level, and a simple sanctuary above. The perforated-aluminum screens on its exterior are oriented in accordance to the Fibonacci sequence.
The Orange Cube by Jakob + Macfarlane (Lyon, France)
A five-story design center in a former docking district of Lyon, the Orange Cube is exactly what it says on the tin. Featuring a light, porous façade of pixelated metal, its huge atrium is created by a deep conical hole in the top corner, generating space and creating a singular presence upon the industrial landscape.
UN City by 3XN (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Housing 11 United Nations departments, this structure reaches out over the surrounding harbor from its burnished steel base, creating a building that feels authoritative, yet open. Containing a large, daylight filled atrium, it was built with a considered environmental agenda and is one of the most energy efficient structures in Denmark.
World Trade Center Transportation Hub by Santiago Calatrava (New York)
Known as the Oculus, this state-of-the-art transportation hub quietly opened following a $4-billion construction. It was designed to resemble a white dove (a symbol of peace) taking flight with a skylight that retracts annually to commemorate the 9/11 attacks.
“Destination Architecture,” published by Phaidon, is out now.