14 Stunning Buildings in the 21st Century outside Europe That Redefine Architecture

Find out more about the impressive buildings in Europe

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. More, they have functional, eco-friendly, and disaster-resistant.

So I invited some of my fellow travel bloggers to share their experience with some of the World’s new modern architecture all over the world. Let’s start with the new buildings outside Europe – I will kick off with my pick: the National Museum of Qatar, and more.

1 National Museum of Qatar

National Museum of Qatar (2019)

Doha, Qatar


Qatar is a wealthy small country in the Middle East, and Doha, the capital city, is a busy transiting hub between Europe and Asia with its outstanding, world-class Qatar Airways. The Museum of Islamic Art is a landmark of the city’s waterfront, opened in 2008; and the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) is the latest addition to the city’s dramatic skyline, opening on March 28, 2019.

The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
The Museum of Islamic Art. Find out what to see in a 6-Hour City layover in Doha.

The museum building, shaped like a “desert rose”, was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, and took 10 years to build. Jean’s previous work includes the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and NMoQ quickly becomes a new hit in his work portfolio. He took inspiration from “desert rose” – it is not exactly a flower, it is a colloquial name given to rose-like formations of crystal clusters of gypsum or baryte which include abundant sand grains. The museum was designed based on its unique shape, and it looks like a stack of rose petals on the ground from above. The building consists of 11 exhibition halls and it takes the audience through the journey of the nation’s history, from the establishment of Qatar to the people’s lives and culture.

The exhibits include video, arts, and music; and the “Pearl Carpet of Baroda” is definitely a highlight. This is a Syrian and Iraqi national treasure and the most incredible carpet ever created by human hand, embedded with over 1.5 million seed pearls, and diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphire.

Nearby, The Museum of Islamic Art also has quite a collection, and access is free. It houses a respectable collection of arts in different aspects regionwide, including historical exhibits from Iran, Egypt, India, Turkey – and most interested me – to Iraq and Syria. The showroom gave me a good introductory preview of art and history in these countries and I would love to visit there again.

Museum of Pop Culture (2000)

Seattle, USA


Cortney

The Museum of Pop Culture (Originally, Experience Music Project, and later, the EMP Museum until 2016) is an interactive music museum that opened in 2000. It was founded by Paul Allen, who donated the entire project to the city of Seattle. The EMP Museum has been a great addition to Seattle Center and has increased tourism and economic development in the area. There are over 12 exhibits inside which show off different aspects of music history. This includes famous guitars, Jimi Hendrix’s stage clothes, rare recordings from Nirvana’s first recording session, and many more!

This stunning piece of architecture was created by Frank O. Gehry, which makes it a must-see for any architecture lover! Frank O. Gehry is best known for his design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Seattle was very lucky to welcome this creation by Gehry. Since its opening in 2000, Seattle Center’s visitation has increased by over 700,000 visitors and it has been a major contributor to the development of Seattle’s economy.

The Museum of Pop Culture is an amazing slice of pop culture history that should not be missed! The building is super unique and colorful and it is the only building in the United States that is a living museum.

It is free and open to the public! It hosts many events throughout the year, as well as great exhibits like the one about Nirvana that should not be missed! Such an iconic piece of rock history deserves to be seen by everyone who has ever dreamed about making it big in music. Be sure to visit this iconic piece of history and architecture if you ever find yourself traveling in this beautiful part of Washington.

Cortney’s Blog link 

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (2002)

Alexandria, Egypt


Milijana

Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria in Egypt is one of the most fascinating architectural masterpieces of the 21st century.

Today modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina is one of the famous landmarks in Egypt everyone wants to see on their trip to Egypt. Spectacular Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria represents the revival of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. The famous Great Library of Alexandria was the largest library of the ancient world. The Ancient Library of Alexandria was the main center of knowledge of the ancient world. The library kept an impressive collection of estimated 400.000 – 700.000 parchment scrolls from the 4th century BC until the 3rd century AD.

To learn more about how to make a one day trip to Alexandria from Cairo

Contemporary Bibliotheca Alexandrina stands almost at the same place where once the ancient Great Library of Alexandria stood. Oceanfront modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina was created by a Norwegian architectural firm, Snøhetta, and it was opened in Alexandria in 2002. The aim of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is to become the center of knowledge and learning in modern times, like the Great Library of Alexandria was in ancient times. Actually, Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria aims to be the world’s leading institution of the digital age. Books to Bibliotheca Alexandrina have been donated from all around the world. Modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina has the capacity to keep about 8 million books. But in accordance with the digital era, the library is not only about physical books and shelves, but also about data and digital infrastructure. The architecture of the modern library is sensational as much the architecture of the ancient library was. The reading area of the main library of Bibliotheca Alexandrina has 11 levels and it covers impressive 5 acres (2 ha) in total. The Bibliotheca holds along with the main library, six smaller specialized libraries, a planetarium, four museums, and a number of exhibition areas. In line with the modern are, the Bibliotheca has an Internet Archive and CULTURAMA Hall, and a digital library.

So, if you are interested in the most stunning modern architecture in the world of the 21st century, put the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria in Egypt on your bucket list!

Milijana’s Instagram @world_travel_connector/

Baiterek (2002)

Nursultan, Kazakhstan


Ellis

Nursultan is a relatively young city and therefore full of modern architecture. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Nursultan became the new capital of independent Kazakhstan. What was a small town in the steppes had to become a city of the future where every building had to symbolize the new country. One of these projects was the Bayterek tower.

The Bayterek tower is located in the center of Nursultan on the newly built Nurjol boulevard. Lead by Akmurza Rustembekov, construction was finished in 2002 and it soon became the symbol of the city. Although its design looks very futuristic it actually embodies an ancient Kazakh folktale.

Bayterek represents the tree of life. According to the legends the roots of this tree are situated in the underworld where a dragon lives. Every year the sacred bird Samruk would lay her golden egg in the crown of the tree, but the dragon would eat it and thus the cycle repeats itself.

The Bayterek tower looks impressive from the outside. It is 105 meters tall and inside the egg is an observation deck with beautiful views over the Nurjol boulevard and beyond. From here you can see other futuristic buildings like the President’s residence and the Khan Shatyr shopping complex shaped like a Kazakh tent.

There is also a gilded handprint of the first president of Kazakhstan. You can join the locals in placing your own hand in the imprint while making a wish.

Ellis’ Instagram @ellis.veen

Oscar Niemeyer Museum (2002)

Curitiba, Brazil


Wendy

The Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba is affectionately known by the locals as the “Eye Museum” or “Niemeyer’s Eye”. This is because of the unusual shape of one of its buildings, which does, in fact, look like a human eyeball. The main building of the museum first opened in 2002, and at that time it was known simply as the New Museum.

The eye-shaped annex was constructed the following year, and this is when it was renamed to honor its designer, Oscar Niemeyer, who completed the project when he was 95 years old. The eye building is connected to the rest of the museum by an underground walkway and is surrounded by a shimmering pool of water.

Niemeyer is Brazil’s most famous architect and is best known for designing the city of Brasília, the purpose-built capital of Brazil. Brasília is filled with some of the best examples of modernist architecture in the world. When viewed from above, the layout of the city streets themselves resembles an airplane or a bird in flight.

The Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba is one of the largest museums in South America. It hosts various exhibits that rotate throughout the year, with a focus on design, architecture, and the visual arts. If you’re here around lunchtime, head across the street to enjoy the large buffet of vegetarian and vegan Brazilian food at Sorella. And be sure to also visit the Bosque do Papa (Papal Forest), which is just next door to the museum.

Wendy’s Instagram @nomadic_vegan

Los Angeles Downtown Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003)

Los Angeles, USA


Los Angeles Downtown Disney Concert Hall
To learn more about what to see and do in Los Angeles downtown.

Walt Disney Concert Hall is a modern architectural landmark in Los Angeles downtown that no one should miss, literally, because the venue is located within the bounds of Grand Avenue, Hope Street, 1st and 2nd streets, with the entire city’s skyline right behind the hall’s dramatic curves and shiny exterior.

The Concert Hall was commissioned by Lilian Disney in 1987, with the purpose of offering the locals a performance venue and paying tribute to Walt Disney, for his contribution to Los Angeles.

Designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, the concert hall was completed in 2003. It was the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center, and it has a capacity of 2,265 people. A great way to explore the concert hall is to sign up for a guided tour or a self-guided audio tour to learn all about the fun facts of this building; or catch a show on its roster from the concert, live performance, to the orchestra, and more. If time is limited, simply take a walk around the hall, and admire the stainless-steel exterior and design.

Not only the concert hall hosts various music shows, but it is also predominantly featured in many TV shows, movies, and even video games – like Iron Man (2008), Get Smart (2008), Furious 7 (2015), just to name a few.

Burj Khalifa (2009)

Dubai, UAE


Helen

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is both the world’s tallest building and the world’s tallest structure. Extending almost half a mile into the sky, the Burj Khalifa’s 829.8 m is an incredible sight that can be seen from all over Dubai.

Construction of the Burj Khalifa began in 2004, and the building was completed in 2010. It’s next to the Dubai Mall, with the famous Dubai Fountain at the base. It was designed by architect Adrian Smith, who has also designed the Jeddah Tower, the skyscraper which is due to become the new tallest building in the world when it is finally completed.

The 163 floors of the Burj Khalifa are mostly made up of the Armani Hotel, luxury apartments and corporate suites, but on the 124th and 148th floors you’ll find a pair of superb observation decks, appropriately named At The Top. Visitors to At The Top are whisked up in a lift so fast it’ll make your ears pop. There’s an open-air section with great views over Sheikh Zayed Road and the Dubai Fountain, while the large indoor viewing deck has views towards the Palm and Dubai Marina.

The most popular time to visit At The Top is at sunset, but it can be crowded and ticket prices are more expensive than at other times of day. As an alternative, why not try visiting the Burj Khalifa at sunrise? If you can stomach the early start, you’ll be able to see views of Dubai at night, before the sun gradually starts breaking through, and it’s much quieter (and a bit cheaper) than other times. It’s a magical experience and definitely the best way to visit the Burj Khalifa.

Helen’s Instagram @helenrapp

3 Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands (2010)

Singapore


James

Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands is one of the world’s most instantly recognizable buildings. Famed as one of the most exclusive (and expensive) hotels in the world, Marina Bay Sands is much more than a hotel. An iconic symbol of modern Singapore, Marina Bay Sands has become a tourist destination in its own right.  

Find out more about the wonderful things to see and do in Marina Bay.

Built entirely on reclaimed land, Marina Bay Sands is designed by Moshe Safdie, a marvel of design and engineering. One of the tallest buildings in Singapore, the unique building consists of three enormous concave towers connected by a huge cantilevered roof that resembles a giant surfboard.

The curved roof hangs over the edge of the north tower and is also home to the resort’s world-famous infinity pool. At 150 meters in length, Marina Bay Sands infinity pool is the longest elevated pool in the world. Though the pool is only open to guests of the hotel, the observation deck at the northern end of the roof is open to the public. The views from the observation deck are sensational, offering a 360-degree view across all of Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands towers over Singapore’s Downtown and Central Business District and sits alongside one of Singapore’s other star attractions, Gardens by the Bay. The hotel may be the crown jewel but there is much more to Marina Bay Sands. The huge resort is also home to casinos, two theatres, a shopping mall, and a museum.

James’s Instagram @whereyrbetween

F&F Tower (2011)

Panama City, Panama


Joseph

The F&F Tower, colloquially known as El Tornillo tower, is the most iconic building in Panama. Located in Panama’s capital, Panama City, the stunning skyscraper impresses any passerby with its peculiar helical design, which some describe as a glass tornado falling from the sky.

This Panamanian architectural feat was designed by the Panamanian firm Pinzón Lozano & Associates, and it hits 242 meters and has 52 office floors. When it was completed in 2011, the German real estate firm Emporis selected the building as one of the best skyscrapers of 2011.

The locals are very happy with the unique, helical structure. Quickly after it was built, the locals called it “El Tornillo” (which means “screw” in Spanish) due to the way that the building resembles the metal device used to pierce materials with a screwdriver.

The skyscraper is located in Panama’s busy main street, Calle 50 or 50th Street in English. Definitely, checking out the skyscraper is one of the best things you can do while visiting Panama, and the surrounding area of the building offers added perks for you to enjoy as well. Directly in front of the skyscraper, you’ll find Central America’s most luxurious mall, named Soho Mall and one of the best sushi restaurants in Panama called Nación Sushi. Additionally, just a little bit further from the building you’ll find one of the best Mexican nachos ever, in a restaurant named Orale.

Indeed, this Panamanian helical skyscraper is beautiful and is one of the best examples of modern architecture of the world in the 21st century. You’ll be hard-pressed to find such an astonishing skyscraper design anywhere else in the world. If you’re an architecture fan, you’ll definitely want to add this to your bucket list of stunning buildings to check out in the world.

Joseph’s Instagram @thecultureportrait

The Heydar Aliyev Center (2012)

Baku, Azerbaijan


Emily

When planning a trip to Azerbaijan, it’s not a bad idea to set aside a full day to explore Baku’s curious modern architecture. One of the capital’s most recognizable buildings is the Heydar Aliyev Center – a modern marvel and a must-see.

Designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and completed in May 2012, the Center is a gallery, museum, and auditorium space that takes its name from Azerbaijan’s first president. Created as a cultural and intellectual central point for the city, the space stages events, and exhibitions – but it’s the building itself, rather than what goes on inside, that draws visitors.

The design resembles pleated or folded tissue that rises and falls in soft peaks. The white polyester covering that envelopes the building continues into flat plains on every edge, creating a wide plaza and making the structure blend seamlessly into its surroundings.

Roving the plaza and taking steps onto the curved building edge, you feel as if you’re walking on a sand dune or perhaps through an arctic tundra. Every angle affords a different perspective thus you must take your time walking around the perimeter to appreciate all the small details. The fluid design continues inside, where angled windows and a central hall lined with twirling ramps give you the impression of walking inside a seashell.

This building is a full sensory experience – it’s not hard to see why it won the Design Museum’s ‘Design of the Year’ award in 2014, making Zaha Hadid the first woman in history to take out the prize.

Emily’s Instagram @emily_lush

DDP, Seoul, South Korea

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (2014)

Seoul, South Korea


Emma

The ultra-modern Dongdaemun Design Plaza is an architectural feature of the city of Seoul in South Korea. Construction on the building commenced in 2009 and in 2014 the building was finally opened, making it one of Seoul’s most famous modern landmarks.

The building replaced the Dongdaemun Stadium in the fashion and cultural district of Seoul and has really put the city on the map in terms of design – with the city being designated a World Design Capital.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (or DDP as the locals call it) is a strolling distance from public transport, markets, and one of the city’s historical walled areas, so it is a great place to wander around, grab a bite to eat, and get some retail therapy in.

Check out the wonderful modern art places and Instagram spots in Seoul.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza is easily recognizable by its silver chromatic waved exterior. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the first woman ever to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the building feels futuristic and is even more impressive lit up at night.

Inside, the building features five halls comprised of the Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. The History and Culture Park is definitely the most awe-inspiring as it actually winds its way onto the roof of the DDP. The Design Market is also open 24 hours a day to compete with the hustle and bustle of the nearby shopping precincts.

Walking around and through the Dongdaemun Design Plaza is completely free, so it is a great way to explore one of the most iconic sights in Seoul without spending a dollar.

Emma’s Instagram @emmajaneexplores

Shanghai Tower (2014)

Shanghai, China


Erin & Ryan

4 The Shanghai Tower

The Shanghai Tower is the world’s current second-largest tower, designed by  American architectural firm Gensler. At 632m tall everything around it looks minuscule by comparison – even the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center building (the bottle-opener as it’s known by locals) at 492m tall! The Shanghai Tower is known to locals as “the dancing lady”. The tower’s circular, asymmetric and tapered shape is, in fact, a deliberate design feature to withstand the occasional typhoon winds that batter Shanghai as well as saving $58 million in structural materials as compared with a traditionally square-shaped tower.

Visiting the Shanghai tower you can see an excellent exhibition on worldwide tall towers on its ground floor, covering the criteria necessary to make it a top tall tower, current tall towers compared for height, and future tall towers to come. At the top of “the dancing lady,” you can see Shanghai spread out to the horizon in all directions including the nearby tall buildings of its modern financial district of Lujiazui below. A visit to this tower really puts into perspective just how large Shanghai, a city of 24 million, is. You really can’t see the end of it!

Erin & Ryan’s Instagram @downbubbletravels

King Power Mahanakhon (2016)

Bangkok, Thailand


Martina & Jürgen

Learn more about Bangkok with the ultimate What-to-do travel guide for your first visit!

The King Power Mahanakhon in Bangkok is easily one of the coolest examples of the most stunning modern architecture in the world in the 21st century. With a height of 313 meters, it is now the 2nd tallest building in the city and in whole Thailand. It was designed as a multifunctional building and the name means the “Great City”. The entire complex consists of the skyscraper and a seven-story, cube-shaped annex called the Cube. Inside you will find hotels, restaurants, shops and on its top, there is an amazing skywalk.

Also visually, this skyscraper is a real highlight in Bangkok! Architect Ole Scheeren‘s glittering stacked cubes, balconies, and projections give the impression of a digital pixel curved in a helix. Built between 2011-2016 and opened just in 2016, the King Power Mahanakhon is a landmark for modern architecture and urban design.

But the Skybar with its viewing platform and the glass Skywalk, which offer visitors a breathtaking panoramic view and a bird’s eye view, is also unique. A fast lift takes visitors up to the 74th floor to the observation deck in just 50 seconds for an entrance fee of around 25 euros. A cool experience that you won’t forget soon!

Matina & Jürgen’s blog link

Vessel at Hudson Yards (2017)

New York City, USA


Talek

11 Vessel at Hudson Yards
Check out more memorable classics of New York’s architecture.

In March of 2019, Vessel became New York City’s newest addition to its storied landscape. Vessel, is a 16-story structure in the midst of the new buildings of Hudson Yards on the city’s westernmost coast.

The vessel is the brainchild of London architect Thomas Heatherwick. It was designed in conjunction with the 5-acre Hudson Yards Public Square, designed by Thomas Woltz.  The structure has 2,500 steps, 154 flights, and 80 landings that stretch from its base to its apex. The total length of stairs exceeds one mile (1.6km).

The jungle-gym-like copper-clad steps resemble an Escher design with staircases going up that actually look like they are going down. They are designed to hold up to 1,000 people at a time. The architect said that he intended for visitors to climb and explore the structure as if it were an actual jungle gym. Once you reach the top of the structure, the views of the Hudson River and surrounding areas are stunning. Beautiful views do not come cheap. The structure ended up costing almost 200 million, more than half of the original estimate.

On the day of the official opening of Hudson Yards, the lines to climb the structure snaked around the block and had a waiting time of over one hour.

Talek’s Instagram@travelswithtalek

28 comments

  1. Some fabulous buildings on this list. I love having a look at architercture when I’m away on vacation. It’s amazing what works of art you can find.

  2. These architectural designs are totally awesome. I wish I could see all of them in person. The one in Panama, the El Tornillo tower is so unique! Also that tower in Thailand, the King Power Mahanakhon is just wow.

    1. Seems you like skyscrapers and now they are getting creative~ any great buildings that you love near where you live?

  3. This is a great list of buildings, I’ve seen a couple but would love to see some of Zaha Hadids buildings in person.

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