10 Modern Buildings with Facades That Keep Us Staring

Long gone are the days when skyscrapers, offices, hotels, and residences had to be plain and boring on the outside just to fit into the neighborhood. These days, architects are taking risks by thinking outside the basic square box and designing exteriors that are literally works of art. When that happens, these structures can change the neighborhood, and sometimes the skyline, making passersby stop and take notice. Take a peek at 10 buildings with unique facades that have us pause and take a second, and sometimes third, look.

03.30.17 | By
10 Modern Buildings with Facades That Keep Us Staring

Part retail, part residential, the VM Houses in Copenhagen were designed by JDS Architects and BIG in the shapes of a V and an M with balconies that jut out like bird beaks.

Photo by Darren Bradley

It’s no surprise that Adjaye Associates won the competition to design the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. with its stunning, highly detailed bronze filigree exterior that wraps the building.

Photo by Nacasa & Partners Inc.

If only every bank looked as bright and colorful as the Sugamo Shinkin Bank Shimura Branch that was designed by emmanuelle moureaux architecture + design. A stack of rainbow layers extend out from the facade to welcome visitors into its equally colorful interior.

Photo by Hedrich Blessing

It’s hard not to stop and pause when the Aqua Tower comes into view when you’re walking the streets of Chicago. The Studio Gang designed multi-use building’s undulating, white facade is quite mesmerizing against blue skies.

Courtesy of Henning Larsen Architects

Sitting right on the water in Reykjavik, Iceland, the Harpa Concert Hall by Henning Larsen Architects looks like carved gemstone with sunlight reflecting off the unique glass paneled windows.

Photo by Nic Lehoux

BIG, or Bjarke Ingels Group, is responsible for VIA 57 WEST, a massive, triangular structure on New York City’s West Side that houses 600 apartments. Just over a year old, the twisting form was designed to give as many apartments as possible views of the Hudson River.

Photo by Helene Binet

The Antwerp Port House might be one of the most unusual buildings ever. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the project entailed repurposing an old fire station and building an additional modern structure on the top to house the Port of Antwerp’s growing staff.

Photo by Mathieu Ducros

Located in Cap d’Agde, France, the Nakâra Residential Hotel, designed by Jacques Ferrier Architecture, features a crisp, all-white exterior that’s perfect for its Mediterranean coast location. Instead of a boring exterior, the hotel is clad in an open geometric pattern giving it a light and airy feel.

Photo by Maxim Schulz

Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg is a cultural center and concert hall constructed atop an old warehouse building on the water. The top looks like the rippling water from the river below and its glass facade incorporates curved cutouts that break up the iridescent glass.

Photo by Luc Boegly

How could you not be happy staying in this short and long term residence hotel? The Hipark Hotel in Paris was designed by Manuelle Gautrand Architecture on a triangular site with its base looking as if it’s been squeezed to fit the lot. The angular building with its colorful facade of greens and blues definitely stands out in its neighborhood.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.