Some are brutal, some are quirky, some took a lifetime, and some you might wish the architect hadn’t bothered
Sometimes, you just have to step back and say “wow”. Sometimes, a building seems so perfect, so right for its surroundings that you can’t imagine a time when it wasn’t there. And sometimes, not quite so much.
Luckily, we have a selection of each of those here. Some are practical, some are whimsical. Some are brutal, some are quirky, some took a lifetime, and some you might wish the architect hadn’t bothered. What do you think of these amazing buildings?
Kansas City Library Community Bookshelf — Kansas City, Missouri
Libraries are wonderful, I think we can all agree on that, and they also seem to inspire architects into creating some wonderful designs. The gigantic books that you can see run along the south wall of the multi-storey car park that belongs to the library’s central branch.
Measuring around 7.6 m by 2.7 m (25 feet by 9 feet), the 22 titles span “a wide variety of reading interests as suggested by Kansas City readers”, according to the blurb on the library’s website, and include classic editions of such books as The Lord of the Rings, Catch-22, Lewis and Clark’s Journals of the Expedition, Charlotte’s Web and more.
This really is a creative way of beautifying a necessary structure with something inspiring, don’t you think?
Casa do Penedo (the Stone House) — Guimarães, Portugal
When pictures first emerged of the Stone House, immediately an internet conspiracy sprang up doubting whether it really existed (because internet, of course). The crux of the argument was that photos only appeared to have been taken from two angles, and parts of the photos looked slightly unreal. Because no one managed to emerge from their basements to actually go and check if it was real, the debate raged on.
Anyway, it certainly exists. It’s a tourist attraction (so much so that the owner has had to build a small wire fence around the property to keep well-meaning but slightly annoying gawpers at bay), and has featured on Portuguese TV and in a film.
A lot of people have commented on the fact it looks like something from the Flintstones, which indeed it does. This extends to the inside because, despite being located on a wind farm, the building has no electricity supply!
Dr Evermor’s Forevertron — Wisconsin, USA
How would you like to see the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world? Of course you would. Housed in Dr Evermor’s Art Park in Sumpter, Wisconsin, the Forevertron was built by the eponymous doctor (real name Tom Every), a former demolitions expert who turned his hand to building wild things instead.
It’s made from an incredible number of scrap parts, some of which have a remarkable history. There are two Edison dynamos from the 1880s, parts of a 1920s power station and the decontamination chamber from the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
The idea was not to take the different components used to build the sculptures apart, but to use their original structure to become part of a bigger whole. The park includes many other sculptures which conform to this idea, and Dr Evermor himself will happily take visitors around the park explaining, in his Victoriana manner, precisely what on earth they are and what they mean.
Temple of All Religions — Kazan, Russia
Kazan is an interesting city full stop. Its residents take pride in the fact it’s a historically diverse city, both in terms of race, religion and culture, and Islamic Tatars, Orthodox Russians and more live side by side in this centuries-old city in south-west Russia.
Ildar Khanov, a local artist, had the Temple of All Religions built as both his own residence, and as a cultural centre and treatment centre for those suffering from alcoholism and other addictions. It’s not actually a religious building in any way, but the idea was to combine architectural styles and religious elements to reflect society in Kazan.
Described by Khanov as a “temple to culture and truth”, it’s a popular site for tourists, as well as those seeking shelter or help with various afflictions.
Habitat 67 — Montreal, Canada
There are 146 apartments spread over the 354 concrete forms of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, and although it might look like some kind of dystopian nightmare at first glance, it’s one of Canada’s most loved buildings.
Built in time for the 1967 Montreal Expo, it wowed festival-goers and gained acclaim as a “fantastic experiment” and an “architectural wonder”. The idea was to add the benefits of suburban housing — privacy, a garden, fresh air — to the traditional problems of high-density living: those of space, economics and so forth. To this end, each apartment has a private terrace or garden, and views from one or both sides of the building.
Other concrete housing projects of around the same time did not fare so well (London’s Trellick Tower springs to mind), so the residents of the building — of which Safdie is one, having bought one of the penthouses — remain incredibly proud of living in one of the most unusual buildings in the world; an experiment in concrete that was, ultimately, a success.
Longaberger HQ (the Basket Building) — Newark, Ohio, USA
What do you think the Longaberger company made? If you said baskets, well, you’d be absolutely spot on.
Taking their most famous product — the Medium Market Basket, handmade from maple wood — they supersized it to 180,000 square feet and it became the headquarters of the company. Sadly, Longaberger went into decline and the building was closed in 2016, with the company clinging on ’til May 2018 when it ceased operations. The building is now owned by Steve Coon, a developer that specialises in historic restorations.
The most unusual features of the building (other than that it’s in the shape of a massive basket) are the handles. Each weighing 150 tons, they can be heated in the winter to protect against ice and to stop snow forming on them. A huge pile of snow dropping on the roof from handle height would have made a hell of a bang.
Le Palais Idéal — Hauterives, France
This building, as with many of the most unusual things in life, begins with one person and a story. As it goes, it’s the story of French postman Ferdinand Cheval who in 1879, it is said, tripped on a rock while delivering the post. He picked it up and studied its shape. So fascinated was he, he decided to build this whimsical Angkor Wat-meets-Brighton Pavilion palace.
After the incident with the rock, Cheval taught himself about architecture while still working his postal route. He expanded the route to 42 km, pushing a wheelbarrow as he went in order to collect the stones from the roadside he would use to construct his palace. For 34 years this continued, as he continually added to the building, changing what had been incredulity, disbelief and general scoffage into widespread acclaim.
When Cheval died, he was buried in a nearby cemetery in a vault he himself designed. If you go to the palace today, you may see, inscribed in the wall, the words “I was not a builder, I had never handled a mason’s trowel, I was not a sculptor (…) Everything you can see, passer-by, is the work of one peasant, who, out of a dream, created the queen of the world…”
Waldspirale — Darmstadt, Germany
In a similar vein to Habitat 67, the Waldspirale (Forest Spiral) aimed to make concrete beautiful as well as giving the residents of the building some outdoor space and, in this case, quite a lot of greenery.
The landscaped courtyard in the centre, although difficult to see from the outside, is almost park-like with trees, paths, benches and even a stream running through it. If the quirky, wobbly colour scheme and overall shapes remind you of a more famous building, that’s not a surprise: the architect was none other than Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose eponymous house is a Vienna landmark.
Everything about the building is bespoke and unusual: no two windows of the thousand or so in the building are the same, and each apartment has different handles on its doors and windows. Some (but not all) of the apartments even got Hundertwasser’s personal touch, with the architect even individually designing some of the bathrooms and living spaces to his own, personal “gegen die gerade Linie” (“against the straight line”) philosophy.
The Chemosphere — Los Angeles, California
“Hi, I’m Troy McClure! You may remember me from Simpsons episodes such as “A Fish Called Selma!” In that season 7 episode, we get a glimpse into Troy’s homelife, and his house is a bizarrely futuristic affair. What many people didn’t know is that it was based on an actual building, and here it is.
Located in the hills above LA, it was constructed in 1960 on a site deemed “practically unbuildable”. Architect John Lautner, a one-time apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, took this as a challenge and the giant concrete poles jutting out of the hillside on which the structure is supported solved this problem in a dramatic way. They’re buried so far into the hill that it has happily survived both earthquakes and heavy rain bringing mudslides and subsidence.
In 2004, the property was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. It’s now home to German publishing mogul Benedikt Taschen, head of the publishing house that bears his name. The only problem, he says, is the high cost of maintenance.