Modern architecture is now pushing the boundaries of science and creativity – Not only do they become a focal point in a city, but also challenge physics with innovative shapes and designs. Moreover, they are functional, eco-friendly, and disaster-resistant.
So I invited some of my fellow travel bloggers to share their experience with Europe’s new modern architecture that isn’t Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou, or Guggenheim Bilbao. I will kick off with the City of Arts and Science, and then my pick the Black Diamond, and more!
City of Arts and Science (1998)
Or from My Path in the World
Containing six different structures and covering 350,000 square meters, the City of Arts and Sciences is an astonishing cultural complex in Valencia, Spain. It was designed by the architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela and cost about €1 billion to build.
Amongst the complex’s buildings, you can visit the Oceanographic which is Europe’s biggest aquarium, the Principe Felipe Science Museum, and the Hemispheric which is a planetarium and an IMAX cinema. Two other buildings are the Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofia which is a performing arts center and the Agora which hosts different events. The last one is the Umbracle, an open structure of arches covering a beautiful garden.
Apart from its impressive size, what makes the City of Arts and Sciences so unique is its undeniably stunning futuristic architecture. Exploring the complex, it feels like you’ve been transported into another world. So, if you’re looking for the perfect place to start your morning or spend an afternoon, this is it. Thanks to its unique appearance, it’s also an amazing photography location, but if you want to capture it without the crowds, be sure to get there early in the morning.
Entrance fees vary from museum to museum, and you can purchase a combined card or wander around the complex for free.
Black Diamond (1999)
The Black Diamond is an extension of the Royal Danish Library‘s old building on Copenhagen’s waterfront. The building was designed by Danish architect Schmidt Hammer Lassen and completed in 1999. It has a shiny exterior covered by black facet mirrors that reflect the sea and sky on a clear sunny day; the dark color gives it a mysterious and cool look that goes exceptionally well with its surroundings. In the center of the rectangular-box-shaped building is a large incision that separates the black into two, allowing light to enter the atrium and the long escalator.
The extension functions more than just a library, with a sitting area, cafe, gift shop on the ground floor, reading rooms, multi-media labs, and function rooms that are available for private events. The building also features an auditorium, the Queen’s Hall, that can house 600 audience. As a visitor, enjoy a cup of coffee at the cafe (and sit outside by the water during summer) and go up to the 6th floor. From there, you can have a majestic view of the entire building and a great view of the water through the giant window.
Finally, take a walk on the Link, a connecting walkway between the foyer and the old main building. The area features a couple of artworks like Kirkeby fresco, created by Danish artist Per Kirkeby.
Kunsthaus Graz (2003)
Kunsthaus Graz is an art museum located in Graz, Austria. It was completed in 2003 as part of the celebration of being the European Capital of Culture that year.
The museum has been dedicated to contemporary art for the last four decades. Designed by Colin Fournier, the roof of the museum is like a giant jelly-like sea cucumber (the official description is “Friendly Alien“) that fell from the sky and landed perfectly amongst the historic houses in the city’s center. The provocative and innovative design was the designer’s intention to go beyond the institutional approach. new materials and manufacturing techniques were used; whether you like it or not, this is an eye-catching architecture that demands attention and provokes discussion.
The museum hosts all sorts of art exhibitions that include architecture, design, new media, film, and photography, with a focus on modern art disciplines from the 1960s to now. The museum does not have a permanent collection but a venue for various productions. Previously featured exhibitions include works from Dejan Marković, Herbert Brandl, Bill Fontana, Oliver Ressler, Johann Lurf, Haegue Yang, Josef Schützenhöfer, and so on.
Oslo Opera House (2007)
Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, the Oslo Opera House is one of the most modern buildings in Scandinavia. Located in the Bjørvika neighborhood in Central Oslo, Norway, the opera house allows guests to walk on the roof of the building. The unique design was inspired by the natural mountainous landscape of Norway. The roof covered ay white Carrara marble of the structure slants upward, almost as if it is rising out of the water of the Oslofjord.
Completed in 2008, the Oslo Opera House is a great place to visit in Oslo with kids, even if you do not plan to attend a performance. On a nice day, locals and tourists alike congregate at the Oslo Opera House to sit on the slanted roof and enjoy the weather, as children run about and play. Order lunch or a coffee from one of the cafes inside the opera house, and sit and appreciate the views of the fjord and cityscape.
While the building hosts opera, ballet, and orchestra performances inside, it also hosts a large number of outdoor events and concerts on the roof. Designed by award-winning architects at Snøhetta Architecture Firm, the building is as much a sculpture as it is a structure.
Metropol Parasol (2011)
Jiayi from The Dairy of a Nomad
Metropol Parasol (a.k.a. Las Setas de Sevilla) in Seville, Spain is one of the most striking pieces of modern architecture worldwide. Completed in 2011 by German architect Jürgen Mayer, this structure was the winning design in a contest to revitalize the square it stands in today.
Metropol Parasol is also known as “Las Setas de la Encarnación”, which translates to “Seville’s mushrooms”, and it’s not hard to see why — the design of the structures completely resembles six gigantic, wooden mushrooms, and it’s super unique sight.
Standing 26 meters tall and measuring 150 x 70 meters, Metropol Parasol is the largest wooden structure in the whole world and is a must-visit on any Seville itinerary. Having been there personally, I can attest that it looks even more interesting and majestic in real life than it does in pictures.
There are plenty of things to do at the Metropol Parasol. Inside the structures, there’s a tapas restaurant as well as a lively market with other restaurants and cafes around. Once you’re done relaxing with a drink, be sure to visit the archaeological museum located in the basement of the structure.
Do not leave Metropol Parasol without taking the elevator to the top of the structure — a spectacular view of the city awaits you there, and it’s a unique perspective that’s hard to get from anywhere else.
Harpa Concert Hall (2011)
Suzanne from Meandering Wild
The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is located on the waterfront in the center of Reykjavík in Iceland. The building was designed by Henning Larsen Architects in collaboration with Olafur Eliasson and is part of the redevelopment of the Austurhöfn area of the city. This area of the city was abandoned when the financial crisis hit in 2008 but is slowly being developed.
The 43-meter-high building is a steel framework clad with a mix of colored glass panels in a geometric design. These glass panels were inspired by the basalt columns that are seen around the country from the numerous volcanic eruptions as well as the fantastic northern lights that dance above the building in the winter months. In sunlight, these glass panels reflect the light in every shade of blue and lilac possible. From the inside, the design is equally impressive and at night the shapes and colors shine on the water below. In 2013 the building won the EU’s Mies van der Rohe award for its contemporary architecture.
Harpa is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and the Reykjavík Big Band and has the capacity to seat 1,800 people in the main hall.
While it is an amazing sight from the outside and can be seen at any time as you wander the waterfront it is possible to explore the more hidden parts of the building. Guided tours will take you behind the scenes allowing you to see more of the technology and acoustics that are not normally seen by normal visitors to the building.
Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart (2011)
Diana from The Elusive Family
The Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart is located in the city of Stuttgart in southern Germany. Designed by Eun Young Yi, the building was constructed in 2011 after being moved to Mailander Platz. The minimalist-style building is constructed as a cube design and looks like building blocks on top of one another. The white and gray cubes are made of glass and provide a level of depth when looking at them. In the evening the building emits a faint glow to passerby’s providing for a pleasant atmosphere.
The building’s interior is of the most modern and minimalist design with white lines, specifically placed geometric stairs, and flow from level to level. Books aligned along the wall and the small white cube seats create a picture-perfect and organized library. The center of the room extends from the floor to the top of the 9-story building with a skylight overhead, providing a great view down from every floor.
The library has children’s rooms, a music library an event space on the ground floor, and a café with a Skydeck at the very top where visitors can enjoy coffee over the beautiful views of the city.
The central location of Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart provides plenty of daily visitors, due to its location right next to Milano Mall, a newly designed and modern mall that contains hundreds of stores and draws thousands of visitors every day. Along the outside of the library are several fountains and sitting areas where visitors play ball, splash around, and enjoy desserts from the nearby cafes or ice cream in the summer.
The Shard (2013)
Greta from Greta’s Travels
If you’re looking for the most beautiful and interesting modern architecture around the world, the Shard in London has to feature on your bucket list. Located minutes away from Tower Bridge, with its 309.7 meters in height the Shard is the tallest building in the UK and in the European Union.
The Shard was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and can be easily spotted from any corner of London. There is a viewing deck on the 70th floor which you can access for £24 – 32 (depending on how early you book the tickets) and enjoy the stunning views over London.
There are also a number of bars and restaurants on the high floors of the Shard, while they might be slightly lower than the viewing deck these are free to access and you can still enjoy a killer view over London. While the food and drinks are a bit pricey (£15 – 20 for a cocktail) these aren’t unreasonable considering the location and London prices more generally. The bars and restaurants all have different styles and cuisines, ranging from afternoon tea to fine Chinese dining.
Musée des Confluences (2014)
Leyla from Offbeat France
The Musée des Confluences in Lyon, which opened in 2014, sits at the confluence of two mighty French rivers: the Rhône and the Saône.
Designed by the Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, this science and anthropology museum is eclectic and hard to define, as it deals with humanity in its broadest sense. The exhibits are all fascinating, ranging from the origins of humanity, our varying cultures, and what to expect in the future.
It is hard to describe its shape, although some have likened it to a spaceship, not that anyone has an inkling of what that might look like. What we do know is that it is built in two parts: the Cloud, which is where all the exhibitions are located, and the Crystal, a glass tower that gives the entrance hall its ethereal feeling.
The museum was designed as part of the redevelopment of the entire neighborhood, also called Confluence, which was once a major industrial area and is now filled with eco-friendly and sustainable housing and office space.
While much effort is put into retaining French culture and civilization, experimenting with new designs and approaches is also becoming more common in the tradition-steeped country.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Zoe from Together in Transit
For modern architecture in the Netherlands, the city of Rotterdam is the place to be. In the heart of the city center, you can find the beautifully designed building The Markthal. This unique horseshoe-shaped building was designed by architectural firm MVRDV, with construction started in 2009 and completed in October 2014.
The building is special for having all these facilities below on the ground floor, as well as a supermarket on the basement level. However, it is more special that there are apartments in the outer section of the building, with many apartments looking down into the Markthal. The inside roof area has colorful artwork by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam which is a must-see. Everything is also located inside, with each end of the Markthal having the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe. So it’s great for shopping during the rainy days.
As a local living in Rotterdam when the Markthal opened, I often visited the restaurants and local market stands inside. For the restaurants, there are quite a few choices as a delicious Greek restaurant, an Italian restaurant, and a tapas bar. For the market stands, you can buy a bit of everything, such as spices, sweets, Rotterdam cheese, fruits, and vegetables. There are also many permanent stands inside that sell food that you can eat as you go, such as ice cream, fried snacks, sushi, and bubble tea.
An interesting fact, is the building has 4 stories in the basement for parking. However, when the land was being excavated to start construction, builders discovered a buried village. This dates back to the fourteenth century and items found, such as farming tools and bowls are exhibited within the Markthal next to the supermarket.
Sky Garden (2015)
Joanna from The World in My Pocket
Sky Garden is one of the staple skyscrapers of London, often referred to by the name “Walkie-Talkie” by the locals, due to its shape. Anyone can visit the Sky Garden and enjoy the tropical environment from the top floors, have a drink with a view, or simply watch the sunset from above. The SkyGarden, located at 20 Fenchurch Street, in the City of London, is one of the popular places for both locals and tourists to go in the evenings. The entrance is free, but you do need to book a time slot in advance on their website. From the Sky Garden, you do get one of the best views in London.
The Sky Garden However has quite a story. During its construction phase, because of its curved shape, the £200 million building designed by Rafael Viñoly, reflected the intense sun rays towards the pavement, causing damage to several cars parked below but also to shops. The bright light reflected has melted car parts, caused doormats to catch fire, smashed tiles, and even fried eggs in an experiment conducted by a local. Needless to say, the local business owners were not happy. The council even had to close the parking spots underneath the building, to prevent further damages.
This has caused the developer to fit the building with sunshades that deflect the rays of the sun, to prevent the glare from damaging anything on the ground. A few years later, the building has been involved in another controversy, some people stating that because of it tunnels of wind have been created inside the town.
Vanda from The Yogi Wanderer
The MAAT, one of Lisbon’s newest museums and modern projects of architecture, isn’t just another art space. Designed by British architect Amanda Levete, this futuristic building is home to a museum of art, architecture, and technology. And a work of art itself. Located in the district of Belém, one of the most beautiful Lisbon neighborhoods, the MAAT offers also great views of the Tagus River and the city on its back.
This is actually one of my favorite things about the building: the way it connects with the river without losing sight of the city. Besides having a walk by the river and admiring the MAAT from the outside, you can also go inside and visit national and international exhibitions by contemporary artists, architects, and thinkers.
The MAAT is part of a bigger campus that includes also the old Tagus Power Station, one of the most visited museums in Portugal, and a landscape project by Lebanese architect Vladimir Djurovic. Entrance for both the MAAT and the Tagus Power Station is free of charge on the first Sunday of every month.
Popular with locals and visitors alike, the MAAT brought new life to Belém’s riverfront and it’s already an iconic symbol of Lisbon in the 21st century.
Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (2017)
The iconic building in Hamburg is a concert hall, located on the Grasbrook peninsula of the Elbe River. Completed in 2017, the concert hall is not entirely new, it’s an add-on of quartz crystal resting on top of an old brick warehouse that was built in 1963. Architect Herzog & de Meuron worked their magic to rejuvenate an old building, making it the tallest inhabited building in the city, with a height of 108 meters.
The project began as a private initiative, the City of Hamburg eventually took over and completed the project.
While it’s categorized as a concert hall, it is a cultural and residential complex with 45 luxury apartments and a hotel. The top of the building has 26 floors, with 18,000 tons of steel, and 16,000 square meters of glass used for the building (just to put it in perspective, the Eiffel Tower used 7,000 tons of steel). Over 1,000 pieces of curved glass cover the top exterior.
Upon completion, it is one of the largest concert halls in the world with a capacity of 2,100 seats. The Great Hall also contains a pipe organ with 69 registers built by Klais Orgelbau, among the 4,765 organ pipes in the Elphi.
While it would be a wonderful experience to simply admire the striking architecture from the water or surrounding areas in Hamburg; it would be a special moment to enjoy a concert in the vineyard concert hall. Note that the concerts are very popular and sell out really fast. Go online to book your tickets before visiting.
V&A Dundee (2018)
Gillian from Scotland Bucket List
You’ve probably heard of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London but did you know that Scotland has its very own V&A? This design museum, located next to the River Tay in Dundee, opened its doors in September 2018 and is a wonderful architectural addition to the town’s waterfront. It’s the first building in the UK to have been designed by Kengo Kuma, an award-winning Japanese architect and it has certainly put Dundee firmly on the tourist map!
We visited last December and fell in love with the exterior of the building – clean, sharp, modern, minimalist lines. The museum really stands out on the waterfront, an area that has been heavily redeveloped and provides the perfect backdrop to some fun Instagram shots. It can easily be reached on foot from the town center or by train as it’s located a stone’s throw from Dundee’s train station. You can also combine a visit to the Discovery (tall ship) which is right next to the museum.
The inside of the building has had mixed reviews from visitors, however, we enjoyed the paid “Ocean & Liners” exhibition as well as the free gallery that showcases some of the best Scottish designs including some of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work. Our kids had fun following the treasure trail and getting their booklet stamped as they made their way around the gallery not to mention, the yummy cake in the café. There is also an exterior viewing platform that provides stunning views across the river and the bridge. If you’re a fan of architecture, the Dundee V&A is definitely a must on your Scottish itinerary!