100 of the World’s Most Important Buildings

by | Architecture, Books


100 Years 100 Buildings is the first of its kind: a global survey of the most important buildings year by year from 1916 to 2015. Among the criteria for selection – each structure must still be standing and accessible to the public. Of course it’s all about ‘lists’ and expert ‘curations’ these days. What makes this list and curation unique however, is both its original concept and its unexpected list. Many standout icons are of course inevitably included: whether it’s Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, John Utzon’s Sydney Opera House and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. But this very personal list – compiled by noted architecture pundit John Hill – also includes a number of lesser known and also somewhat controversial buildings. Among these are Mendelsohn and Chermayeff’s De la Warr Pavilion, Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel and Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67.

In telling the story of (admittedly mostly Western) architecture over the past 100 years, the traditional practice is to do so through the accepted narrative of a succession of styles. There are the huge umbrella styles of Modernism, Postmodernism, Deconstructivism and then Pluralism. These are then sub-divided into the smaller style chunks of Expressionism, International Style, Brutalism, Critical Regionalism, High-Tech, Blobitecture and Parametricism – among many others. By departing from this traditional and rather lazy temptation to tell the story of architecture through a succession of styles – often labelled by historians retrospectively – what instead emerges in John Hill’s survey is a very different perspective: one that focuses on the architect’s handling of context, technology, material and concept. Breaking out of the style oriented straight-jacket has proven to be both liberating and enlightening.

Main Image: Salk Institute (photo: Courtesy of Salk Institute)


Barcelona Pavilion, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona, Spain

Photo: Ximo Michavila

The now omnipresent Barcelona Chair was the only survivor of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition – until 1986 when the Pavilion was rebuilt based on old photographs. This building remains as important now as it was then. “Moving through it provided an experience unlike any other building at the time, with no direct route through the pavilion and the blurring of distinctions between inside and outside.”


Glass House, Philip Johnson, New Canaan, Connecticut, United States

Photo: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Its no coincidence that Johnson’s Glass House seems strikingly similar to van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. He built it after he saw a rough sketch of the latter in 1947. “Yet what appears to be almost duplicate designs – glass and steel boxes with open plans designed for individuals on large properties – are highly dissimilar, arising from different clients, sites and architects. One characteristic that sets apart Johnson’s Glass House from just about any residential project of the twentieth century is that it is one of many buildings that Johnson built on his New Canaan estate, each reflecting the trends of their respective times.”


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright, United States

Photo: David Heald © SRGF, NY

Remarkably Lloyd Wright’s first drawings in 1943 already had the basic design of what would eventually be built fifteen years later. “The Guggenheim can be seen as the culmination of Wright’s exploration of organic architecture and freely flowing space, but it is also the realization of his desire to build a spiraling, nautilus-shaped building – a dream that had been waiting for the right client, location, and technology.” With this trailblazing building – museums had an exciting alternative to the traditional Neo-Classical model.


Salk Institute, Louis I. Kahn, SAN Diego, California, United States

Photo: Courtesy of Salk Institute

It was after a trip in 1950 to see the ancient buildings of Greece, Rome and Egypt that Kahn’s work radically changed “with a newfound appreciation of mass, monumentality, and order…” the lush green space that the architect had originally planned for the now iconic plaza, was transformed to it present design after some helpful hints by Luis Barragan.


Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie, Montreal, Canada

Photo: James Brittain

This modular megastructure was originally conceived as a student project, although at 160 units it is considerably smaller than the original design of 950 units. “The award winning ‘A Three-Dimensional Modular Building System’ developed into a preoccupation for Safdie even as he worked for other architects: Sandy van Ginkel in Montreal, and Louis I. Kahn in Philadelphia.”


Phillips Exeter Academy Library, Louis I. Kahn, Exeter, New Hampshire, United States

Photo: Brian F. Crowley

Surrounded by early twentieth century Georgian-style buildings, this unprepossessing brick box does not prepare you for the phenomenal interior. In fact Kahn intended the exterior to serve the functional requirements of the interior. A pattern of circles and squares dramatically dominates the interior. “Libraries have been about books traditionally, and this one expresses that in a way no other library has before or since.”


Stadelhofen Station, Santiago Calatrava, Zurich, Switzerland

Photo: John Hill

Architect, artist and engineer Santiago Calatrava shot to fame initially for his elegant suspension and cable bridges. Calatrava “eventually became known for large, skeletal, and birdlike buildings with enormous budgets and extensive timelines, whose white surfaces stand in high relief from their urban contexts.” Unusually for Calatrava, his Zurich station project – with its sculptural concrete and steel structure – seamlessly integrates itself into the context.


Bloch Building, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Steven Holl Architects, Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Photo: © Andy Ryan

“Any 165,000 square-foot (15,300 sq m) building is bound to make a statement through size alone. But in the post-Bilbao age when form equals flourish, New York architect Steven Holl (1947-) took a different approach and broke down the scale of his large addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art by merging landscape and architecture and burying the galleries underground.” The five glass boxes (or “lenses”) magically glow at night and bring natural light down to the galleries by day.


Fundação Iberê Camargo, Alvaro Siza, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Photo: © Fernando Guerra / VIEW

This building was commissioned to house the huge collection of work by Brazilian painter Ibere Camargo. “An initial impression of the museum – the first building designed by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza (1933-) for Brazil – is ‘architecture as statement’, a readymade post-Bilbao icon that is striking yet a bit of a departure from Siza’s typically quiet buildings. Yet what looks like an icon for icon’s sake is in this case a thoughtful response to the place, the program, and the Expressionist painter’s work.”


The Broad, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Los Angeles, California, United States

Photo: Iwan Baan

The New York firm designed The Broad as an art museum for Eli and Edythe Broad, billionaire philanthropists and art collectors. The facade – which the architects have named ‘the veil’ – gives nothing away. “A product of twenty-first century digital design and fabrication, the facade looks repetitive but is highly variable- a bespoke cover for a bespoke art collection.”


by John Hill
published by Prestel
RRP £24.99

Photography supplied courtesy of Prestel


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