Not all architectural structures are made equal.
At times, they need to be practical, functional and a little banal to serve their purpose. At others, a visionary architect and innovative engineering firm will create something to engage, inspire and embody man’s ingenuity and imagination.
Featuring smooth lines, reflective surfaces, complicated construction and unexpected influences, creating a monument to elevate a city’s skyline and leave a lasting impression for generations to come is no easy feat.
Here, The National rounds up other visionary structures, which seemed impossible to execute at first but today are part of the elite architectural wonders of the world.
Linked Hybrid, Beijing
Architects: Steven Holl Architects
Location: Beijing, China
Known as an “open city within a city” the Linked Hybrid was constructed adjacent to the site of the old city wall of Beijing. The stunning visual structure aims to recreate the idea of urban living.
The complex is a 3D space, where structures underground, on the ground and above ground are connected and fused together. Eight towers are linked by wide, open passages connecting pedestrians to a number of spaces both public and private which include gardens, shops, schools and dining.
The Linked Hybrid, one of the largest green residential projects in the world thanks to the cleverly designed geothermal wells, was created to cool the development in the summer and provide heating in winter.
Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Architects: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Location: Dubai, UAE
A beacon in the desert, 162 floors, 828 metres high — Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.
However, it is more than just a record-breaking tower. The stunning visual has become a landmark, not only in the UAE but around the globe.
Constructed from reinforced concrete and clad in glass, its sleek design, both futuristic and timeless, is accentuated thanks to the illusion of glass wrapping around the structure.
The design of the building drew its inspiration from the geometry of the hymenocallis spider lily, a regional desert flower, along with the intricate patterning systems of Islamic architecture.
As the tower pierces the sky, setbacks create an upward spiral. This not only decreases the structure's mass but creates an impressive aesthetic impression.
Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou
Architects: Zaha Hadid Architects
Location: Guangzhou, China
The eye-catching opera house consists of two fluid-form structures designed to sit perfectly in harmony against the riverside.
The larger 1,800-seat auditorium was constructed with the best acoustic technology of the time, while the smaller 400-seat multi-function auditorium was designed for performance art, opera and concerts.
Dramatic exterior and interior lines define different areas and sections in the building while also allowing for natural light to penetrate deep into the interior spaces. The fluidity and sleek exterior design is extended in the interior through the use of custom-made glass fibre reinforced gypsum units.
The Guangzhou Opera House was also influenced by how the river valleys are transformed over time by erosion.
Metropol Parasol, Seville
Location: Seville, Spain
Architects: Jurgen Mayer
Located in the old quarter of Seville, Spain, the Metropol Parasol is currently the largest wooden structure in the world, as well being the biggest to be held together primarily by glue.
Measuring up to 150 metres long, 70 metres wide and 26 metres high, the structure consists of six parasols in the shape of a giant mushroom. It's constructed using a square waffle-grid system of interlocking timber fastened with steel connectors and high-strength glue.
This design was inspired by the vaults of the Cathedral of Seville and the ficus trees situated in the nearby Plaza del Cristo de Burgos.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, Reykjavik
Architects: Henning Larsen Architects and Batteriio Architects
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
The stunning concert hall and arts centre set on the Icelandic capital’s harbour is a mesmerising feat. The exterior was constructed using a steel framework clad with geometric-shaped glass panels of different colours, giving the impression of a gem-like moving exterior.
Conceived by large-scale installation artist Olafur Eliasson, the kaleidoscope exterior of multicolour glass reflects light from the surface of the water and the sky is also a prominent feature at night.
Harpa, which houses the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the offices of the Icelandic Opera, was the setting of an episode of the Netflix series Sense8 and appeared in the Black Mirror episode Crocodile.
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Architects: Grant Associates
Reminiscent of a scene from a utopian sci-fi film, glass and steel are intertwined with nature in Gardens by the Bay, the botanical garden in the Marina Bay district in Singapore.
One of the largest garden projects in the world, the site stretches across 101 hectares encompassing three gardens, Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden, which fuse nature and technology.
There are 18 “supertrees”, ranging between 25 to 30 meters in height, which act as vertical gardens. Constructed to harness solar energy and innovative water technologies, the trees have multiple functions including working as environmental engines for the gardens. They also help mediate the temperature in the Cooled Conservatories, the world’s largest climate-controlled conservatory, situated in the Bay South Garden.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas
Location: Dallas, USA
Bold and striking, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science consists of a five-storey cube, constructed of 700 individually moulded panels of textured concrete. The cube sits on a sweeping plinth and piercing through it is a glass-enclosed escalator.
A daring design, Morphosis’s aim was to break the traditional notion of a museum being a neutral space for exhibitions and learning, but instead encompass the idea of science and the future to entice visitors before they walk into the space.
Absolute World, Ontario
Location: Ontario, Canada
Architects: MAD Architects
Known as the Marilyn Monroe towers by local residents, the Absolute Towers’ voluptuous, twisting forms have made them a unique part of Toronto’s largest suburb.
Creators MAD Architects overlooked traditional vertical edges and lines in favour of the fluidity found in nature. They emphasised horizontal, winding, smooth lines accentuated by unbroken wraparound balconies.
The 50 and 56-storey skyscrapers appear to move on their own axis while giving residents unique views of the city.
Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi
Architects: Jean Nouvel
Location: Abu Dhabi
Designed to be a "museum city" in the sea, Louvre Abu Dhabi has a calm, almost serene presence despite its beautifully complex design and structure.
A safe haven for art from the region and collections from across the world, the museum's design was influenced by traditional Arabic architectural culture.
The double dome is 180 metres in diameter, offering a horizontal geometric shape created from perforated woven material, which provides both shade as well as bursts of light.
In total, 55 individual buildings, including 23 galleries, make up Louvre Abu Dhabi with the facades made of 3,900 panels of ultra-high performance fibre concrete.
National Museum of Qatar, Doha
Architects: Jean Nouvel
The National Museum of Qatar’s design was inspired by the desert rose crystal, a unique rock consisting of interlocking disks formed when minerals crystallise in soil just below the surface of a shallow salt basin.
While the influence of the "desert rose" was taken quite literally, the result is breathtaking.
The building is composed of 539 large spherical interlocking disks, in varying diameters and vertical and horizontal curvatures. The interior also twists and turns, seamlessly echoing the aesthetic, with a colour palate of neutrals where walls are coated in stuc pierre, or stone stucco, traditional gypsum and lime-blended plaster to give a continuous stone look.
Scroll the gallery below to see renderings of Saudi Arabia's plans for a record-setting 120km-long skyscraper called the Mirror Line.