Inspiration and Ideas brings you a select guide to the Best Architects Of All Time and their iconic creations. Architecture has always distinguished itself from other art forms because it plays a functional as well as an aesthetic role, offering shelter, of course, but also shaping our daily experiences.
Gaudí spent his entire career in Barcelona, where he built all of his projects, the most iconic creation being the 1883 cathedral known as La Sagrada Familia, still under construction today. Gaudí’s work would go on to have a tremendous impact on subsequent generations of modernists.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Wright revolutionized 20th-century architect, and his midwestern upbringing played a crucial role in shaping his sensibility and becoming a staple as one of the best architects of modern times. Inspired by the low-lying building that dotted the American plains, Wright created the Prairie House style as a reaction to the prevailing Victorian aesthetic, which emphasized dark decor, and busy embellishments both inside and out. In its stead, Wright employed clean geometries with an emphasis on horizontal planes. Later in his career, Wright would embrace curvilinear elements, a shift that found its most celebrated expression in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Mies Van der Rohe
Famously holding to the proposition that “less is more,” German architect Mies Van der Rohe stripped architecture to elemental geometric forms, pointing the way to Minimalism. He banished all traces of ornamentation, using the innate qualities of materials such as steel and plate glass to define the look of his buildings. One of his most iconic creations is the Seagram’s tower in New York.
When the Pompidou Center first opened in 1977, it was considered the epitome of a trend at the time known variously as High Tech and Structural Expressionism. British architect Richard Rogers was a leading proponent of the style. This building, designed as Paris’s central institution for Modern and contemporary art, suggests a structure turning inside out, with its heating and plumbing systems worn as the facade—which also features a glass-enclosed outdoor escalator climbing the height of the building.
This West Coast architect is undoubtedly one of the best architects in the world right now, thanks to his 1997 design for the Guggenheim Museum branch in Bilbao, Spain. Though Gehry was already well-established in his field as the auteur billowing forms that seem to defy gravity and the logic of conventional construction methods, The Guggenheim Bilbao remains the finest example of his iconic work.
A fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier, British architect Norman Foster worked early in career as an associate of Buckminster Fuller, the noted visionary and inventor of the geodesic dome. The latter’s tessellated pattern of triangular forms must have made an impression on the young Foster since his most iconic creations feature similar surface treatments for their facades, The Gherkin, a commercial skyscraper in London’s financial district that opened in 2004.
The work of this Spanish architect has been described as Neofuturist, although sci-fi baroque might be closer to describing it. His buildings often resemble the ribcages of extinct robotic dinosaurs, if such things existed. His projects definitely attracted worldwide attention—and garnered a reputation for massive cost overruns. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that Calatrava is one of the best architects working today, as his most iconic creation—the Transit Hub for the World Trade Center—attests.
One of the few women to have risen to the level of starchitect—and the first ever to win architecture’s version of the Oscar, the Pritzker Prize—Zaha Hadid was known for futuristic designs that employed curving, swooping lines more suitable for UFOs than buildings. Though she built extensively around the world, she has only one completed project—a luxury condo in Chelsea—in New York City.
The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer was one of the key figures in the development of the midcentury modernist design. Anticipating the work of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, Niemeyer employed bold curvilinear forms at a time when the boxy International Style reigned and Mies Van der Rohe’s proposition that “less is more” was the mantra of the architectural field. Niemeyer was part of the design team behind the U.N. Building in New York City, but his most famous creation was undoubtedly the civic buildings for Brasília, the planned city that has served as Brazil’s capital since 1960.
Born in Rotterdam in 1945, Rem Koolhaas is one of the best architects of his generation, not only as a building designer but also as an architectural theorist. He is best known for the massive Central China Television Headquarters in Beijing, China, a 44-story möbius-strip of a structure that appears to loop in on itself (the locals refer to it as “big boxer shorts”).