12 Architects that Changed the World
From time to time, there is a great artist that changes the way we perceive masterpieces and other people and gives us new emotions. Still, humanity gives birth to visionaries in other domains as well. And architecture is yet another great field where these bright minds create marvels and change perspectives.
Some architects are even responsible for creating masterpieces with an emotional impact on people and can change the way we perceive cities and countries. Artists or not, these farsighted architects, were and many continue to be, the masters in redesigning our future. Here are 12 great builders that through their innovation spirit and devotion changed our world.
1. Oscar Niemeyer (b. December 15, 1907)
Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho is considered to be a pioneer in creating new possibilities for using the reinforced concrete just for aesthetical reasons. He started with designing the first state-sponsored skyscraper in the world, for the Brazilian government. It was completed in 1943 and after decades it was recognized as the first example of Brazilian modernism.
He was part of the international team that designed the UN headquarters in New York and his conceptual plan was the main source of inspiration for the constructors. His membership in the Brazilian Communist Party limited his chances of working in the United States and got him exiled up until 1985. By the time the exile ended, he designed the main administration buildings in Brasilia, the country’s new capital city.
While in Europe, he created several buildings, including the headquarters of the French Communist Party and the Mondadori Publishing House office near Milan. After returning to his home-country, Niemeyer continued to design impressive structures around Brazil such as: Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, the Catedral Militar Igreja de N. S. da Paz, the Memorial dos Povos Indigenas and many others. At his age (103), he continues to work at his office in Rio de Janiero.
Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói
Museu Oscar Niemeyer
2. Antoni Gaudí (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926)
Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect that although worked during the Art Nouveau times, several other influences can be noticed in his works. Those made him famous for their unique design that went beyond the limitations of Modernism. The Gaudi’s signature city is Barcelona, but his early works include several other projects around Spain.
As a devoted Catholic, he designed a structure that will become one of the most populous churches in the world – Sagrada Familia. He designed it to have 18 towers – 12 for the 12 apostles, 4 for the 4 evangelists, one for Mary and one for Jesus. The work on Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026.
Gaudí’s masterpiece is a combination of three styles – Spanish Late Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau. The plan of the building is truly unique, characterized by a remarkable complexity: there are double aisles, three portals and three façades. The whole structure is 90 meters long, 60 meters wide and it will be 170 meters high when the last tower will be finished.
Park Güel is one more of his works and another landmark in Barcelona. It is considered a municipal garden and the entrance is free. The park features a terrace and a long bench in the form of a sea serpent, roadways with built in bird nests and colonnaded footpaths and many more. Other brilliant works of Gaudi include Casa Cavalet, Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and Casa Millà.
La Sagrada Familia
3. Louis Sullivan (3 September 1856 – 14 April 1924)
Louis Henri Sullivan is definitely the father of modern architecture. His particular style is characterized by a simplification of form, while the ornamental details are given by the structure and the theme of the building. Sullivan is considered the creator of the modern skyscraper, due to its participation to the construction boom in Chicago that followed the Great Fire of 1871.
Louis Sullivan was one of the first architects at his time to embrace the column-frame construction technique, which allowed taller buildings with larger windows to be erected. This method used steel girders, suspended from the walls, floors and ceilings in order to carry all the weight of the building. He was hired by Dankmar Adler in 1879, with whom he designed famous structures like: The Auditorium Building in Chicago, Wainwright Building in St. Louis and Prudential Building in Buffalo, New York.
The Auditorium Building is one of his best-known designs and it was first the home for the Chicago Civic Opera and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Nowadays it stands a national historic landmark. His individual works include The Sullivan Center (formerly known as Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building) in Chicago, the Bayard-Condict Building in New York City and the Krause Music Store in Chicago. All of his personal structures were enriched with Art Nouveau details. Through Louis Sullivan, the Art Nouveau style originally emerged in Belgium crossed not only borders, but oceans too.
The Prudential Building
Krause Music Store
4. Frank Gehry (b. 28 February 1929)
Awarded with “the most important architect of our age” by Vanity Fair, Frank Gehry has an amazing portfolio, whose works are said to be the masterpieces of contemporary architecture. Even if this statement might be arguable, one thing is clear: Gehry’s buildings (including his private residence) are world’s hottest tourist attractions. He was the only major architect of our times that became famous through his private residence in Santa Monica, California.
Frank Gehry is definitely an advocate of the Deconstructivism. This style, also called DeCon architecture, is a development of postmodern architecture characterized by ideas of fragmentation by manipulating the surfaces. Unlike the most styles in use, the main belief in DeCon is that forms do not follow function. Although many specialists are criticizing this type of buildings, they always manage to catch a passerby’s eye.
Gehry designed tens of buildings all over the world and currently another 23 projects are in construction or on hold. Some of his most prominent works include: The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Der Neue Zollhof in Düsseldorf and the Marqués de Riscal Vineyard Hotel in Elciego.
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Der Neue Zollhof
Marqués de Riscal Vineyard Hotel
5. Ieoh Ming Pei (b. 26 April 1917)
Pei was born in China and at the age of 17 he came in United States of America to study architecture. 76 years later, he is deservingly called one of the greatest masters of modern architecture. He is well-known for his large, abstract geometrical forms and for incorporating the traditional Chinese style in his work.
Pei started his career in 1950 with the design of quite a regular corporate building in Atlanta, Georgia. After establishing his own company, in 1955 he focused on urban projects such as the Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan, New York City or the Society Hill Towers. He started to make a real difference with the Mesa Laboratory, located just outside Boulder, Colorado. The new laboratory fitted amazingly well in the local landscape and years later became an award-winning masterpiece due to its aesthetic features, its functionality and the durability in time.
His following projects included new buildings for some American universities, airport terminals, public libraries and even city halls. He soon started designing buildings all over the world for governments, international banks and prestigious cultural institutions.
Pei’s most popular works are: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Le Grand Louvre (The Pyramid) in Paris, The Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
Le Grand Louvre
The Bank of China Tower
Museum of Islamic Art
6. Alvar Aalto (3 February 1898 – 11 May 1976)
Aalto was contemporary with the economic boom and with the industrialization of Finland, therefore many of his clients were major Scandinavian industrialists. No less than four architectural styles are reflected in his work he has done throughout the years, that is why in our times Aalto remains one of the most versatile architects of the world.
In the 1920s, Aalto was and adept of the Nordic Classicism style and he expressed himself through a series of single family houses. Functionalism is the second style he tried and his best work in this period is the library of Viipuri, in present called Vyborg, Russia. This structure is particularly famous for its wave-shaped ceiling in the main auditorium, while the exterior has a typical modernist structure.
His mid career was marked by experimentation, a time of redbrick buildings that started with the Baker House of the MIT and reached its apogee with the design of the Helsinki’s University of Technology. Monumentalism is unfortunately his last career stage. Two of his greatest projects are the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki and the Aalto Theater Opera House in Essen, completed after his death.
University of Technology
Aalto Theater Opera House
7. Le Corbusier (6 October 1887 – 27 August 1965)
Charles-Édouard Janneret, known under the pseudonym Le Corbusier (French for “the raven-like one”), was not only an architect and a pioneer of the International Style, but also a designer, urbanist, writer and painter. He was one of the first in his branch that was concerned by the quality of life in big, crowded cities.
Le Corbusier started his five decade career with designing villas through the use of modern techniques. He designed Villa Savoye near Paris, a construction that is said to be a milestone for modern architecture. This was Le Corbusier’s idea of a machine a habiter (“a machine for living in”), a remarkable project that proved to be as beautiful and functional as a machine.
Le Corbusier thought that his austere and unornamented buildings will help to build cleaner and brighter cities in the future. This concept lead to two developments: The German Bauhaus style, concerned on the social aspects of designing buildings and America’s International Style – a symbol of the Capitalism, a prevailing style among the office builders and upper-class people. Le Corbusier’s major buildings include Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp and The Centre Le Corbusier in Zürich.
The Centre Le Corbusier
Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut
8. Santiago Calatrava (b. 28 July 1951)
Calatrava was born in Valencia and is one of the greatest architects, sculptors and structural engineers Spain has seen in the last century. The early world-wide recognition led to offices opening in Valencia, Zürich, Paris and New York City.
He started his career running numerous civil engineering projects, such as bridges and train stations. The bridge Puente del Alamillo in Seville is the most prominent work as a civil engineer and it rapidly became a landmark of the city. The Montjuic Communications Tower in Barcelona and the Allen Lambert Galleria were his first works as an architect. The 54-story twisting tower in Malmö, Sweden (HSB Turning Torso) was also designed by Calatrava and is the second tallest residential buildings in Europe.
Calatrava has less than two decades of designing amazing buildings, but he holds an impressive portfolio that will open more record-breaking opportunities in the future. He is currently designing the future station at World Trade Center Transportation Hub and it is planning numerous other projects.
Puente del Alamillo
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències
9. Walter Burley Griffin (24 November 1876 – 11 February 1937)
Walter Burley Griffin is an American architect and landscape architect that designed Canberra, Australia’s capital city. He developed the L-shaped floor plan and the carport and it was the first user of reinforced concrete.
In 1911 the Australian Government held an international competition to build the country’s new capital city. Griffin also participated in the contest and his plan was selected as a winner in the next year. World War I broke out in 1914, so the funds for the new capital were considerably diminished. Griffin confronted himself with slower progress of working than he expected.
The creation of a Federal Committee to supervise his work in 1920 made Griffin to resign from the project and completely withdraw from any further activity in Canberra. All of his buildings plans for Australia’s new capital were never built. Afterwards, he opened offices in Melbourne and Sydney. One of the first major projects after leaving Canberra was the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne.
In America, his work consisted of building family houses in the states of Illinois and Iowa. He also got the chance of designing Newman College at the University of Melbourne, Palais de Danse in St. Kilda (later destroyed by a fire) and Castlecrag, a suburb of Sydney.
Canberra city plan
10. Norman Foster (b. 1 June 1935)
Foster is Britain’s greatest builder of landmark office buildings. After earning his Masters degree at the Yale School of Architecture, Foster created his own company – Foster and Partners.
The firm’s breakthrough was The Willis Building in Ipswich, designed with open-plan office floors, roof gardens, a 25m pool and gymnasium – a true revelation for its time (1974). Through his work, Foster managed to transpose in architecture, the effect of globalization upon the major cities of the world.
During his four decade career, he obtained more than 190 awards and citations and won 50 national and international contests. In the latest years of his activity, a major part of his work is based on environmentally responsible technologies that help lower the buildings’ carbon footprint. Norman’s work cannot be defined otherw than exceptional and truly remarkable.
His structures are setting new standards for the interaction between building, the environment and people. There are dozens of grand works signed by Norman, including the following: the Millennium Bridge in London, 30 St Mary Axe or the Gherkin in London, Hearst Tower in New York City, Wembley Stadium in London and Torre Caja in Madrid.
30 St Mary Axe – The Gherkin
11. Zaha Hadid (b. 31 October 1950)
Zaha Hadid was born in Iraq and was the first woman to win a Pritzker Architecture Prize (often called the Nobel Prize in architecture). She completed her studies in London, where she started working at the architecture company of her former teachers. In 1980, she opened her own practice in London – Zaha Hadid Architects.
Although she is a winner of numerous international contests, she had the misfortune of never seeing many of her projects built. Forbes ranked Hadid the 69th most powerful women in the world in 2008, while New Statesman ranked her the 42nd most influential figure on the planet in 2010.
Her work is generally daring, unconventional and artistic and her structures are often characterized by a Deconstruvist approach. MAXXI – the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts is considered to be her finest work, but the subsequent structures are also highly acclaimed: the Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck, Phaeno Science Center and the Opera House in Guangzhou.
12. Rem Koolhaas (b. 17 November 1944)
Koolhaas is probably the most influential architect and urban planner Netherlands ever had. He first studied scriptwriting in Amsterdam and only came to write two movies: a horror and a soft-porn. Next, he studied architecture in London and at the Cornell University. In 1975 he founded The Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam and his first major project was the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague, in 1987.
He became famous before completing his first building, due to its special talent in writing. Koolhaas’s first book was Delirious New York, written while he was traveling in the United States. He got eventually acclaimed for its practical abilities as well. Specialists say that his work is a perfect bond between the Modern and the Deconstructivist styles, but there are some that consider that his structures are rather part of the Humanist style.
The most populous buildings designed by Koolhaas are: the Central Library in Seattle, Casa da Mùsica in Porto, Museum of Art at the Seoul National University and China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing.
China Central Television Headquarters
Seattle Central Library
Casa da Mùsica