Five pieces of architecture that have been inspired by other things, from Van Gogh's art to Balenciaga gowns

This is what happens when architects let their imaginations fly

From left: Luma Arles, V&A East and Capital Gate. AFP, O'Donnell + Tuomey, Hyatt Corporation
From left: Luma Arles, V&A East and Capital Gate. AFP, O'Donnell + Tuomey, Hyatt Corporation

There are many amazing buildings around the world, created by talented architects and engineers. Sometimes, the designer takes inspiration from passing fads – such as the 1930s buildings made to resemble Art Deco ocean liners – or perhaps the architect alights on historical ideas and adapts them for a new audience.

Occasionally, however, the architect finds an object so perfect and beautiful in itself, she or he is moved to immortalise it in a more permanent form. Welcome to the wonderful world of buildings shaped like other things. This is a list of a few of the most interesting ...

'Starry Night' meets Luma Arles

'Starry night over the Rhone', by Vincent Van Gogh, shown next to Luma Arles arts complex by Frank Gehry. Courtesy Musee d'Orsay and Frank Gehry  
'Starry Night Over the Rhone' by Vincent van Gogh, shown next to Luma Arles arts complex by Frank Gehry. Courtesy Musee d'Orsay and Frank Gehry

The storied architect Frank Gehry – who designed the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi – most recently designed a new arts centre, within the French city of Arles, that will open in June this year.

Called Luma Arles, it is located in a city that has enjoyed a long and varied history. The once-Roman enclave, between 1888 and 1889, was home to Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. There, he created many works now hailed as masterpieces, including Starry Night Over the Rhone, which is a painting of the river just outside the city.

For his building, Gehry clearly had van Gogh’s painting in mind. While the Roman heritage gets a nod through the circular base, as Arles is still home to a 2,000-year-old amphitheatre, the rest of it is covered in rectangular facets and jutting blocks, all placed at angles to one another.

Like the urgent dashes of paint, 11,000 stainless steel panels – each placed on a slightly different plane – keep the eye of the viewer moving, as light shifts and bounces across the surface.

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect has said of the project: “We wanted to evoke the local, from van Gogh’s Starry Night to the soaring rock clusters you find in the region. Its central drum echoes the plan of the Roman amphitheatre.”

Balenciaga meets V&A East

A dress by Cristobal Balenciaga, shown next to the new V&A East building. Courtesy Balenciaga and the V&A. 
A dress by Cristobal Balenciaga, shown next to the new V&A East building. Courtesy Balenciaga and the V&A

In 2023, the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK will open a new outpost in east London, fittingly called V&A East. An arts centre and museum extension, the building's architecture takes its inspiration from the work of influential Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, with architects O'Donnell + Tuomey looking at the fluid forms of Balenciaga’s dresses, as well as the Japanese concept of "ma", meaning "the space in between".

The exact construction of Balenciaga gowns are often a mystery, with some techniques only coming to light by accident. Case in point, prior to the 2017 show Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, the V&A team X-rayed one dress and discovered a previously unknown support structure underneath the fabric. Considering he was known for his almost architectural use of fabric, it seems fitting that the building is now being based on his gowns.

Rippling water meets Louis Vuitton's flagship store

The sea at sunset, shown next to the new Louis Vuitton building in Tokyo, that is inspired by water. Courtesy Unsplash and Louis Vuitton
The sea at sunset, shown next to the new Louis Vuitton building in Tokyo that is inspired by water. Unsplash, Louis Vuitton

In the Ginza district of Tokyo, Japan, the French luxury fashion house of Louis Vuitton has just reopened its flagship store, after an extensive renovation by architect Jun Aoki.

After tearing down the old building and starting over from scratch, Aoki's new structure is a work of art, with the seven-storey building now resembling what Vuitton calls a "pillar of water".

It was designed to represent "the shimmering fluidity of water ripples" and Aoki achieved the effect by wrapping the building in two layers of glass, each shaped to echo undulating waves. The ripples that now flow horizontally around the store are enhanced by the entire structure being covered in dichroic film – a thin sheet that filters out certain colours, creating an endless iridescence.

Vuitton has occupied this address in Ginza since 1981, and so the area's vibe was also incorporated into the final result. The brand has explained that, at street level, "the building reflects the dynamism of Ginza", and higher up the surrounding towers become "wavy apparitions, while a skyscape sweeps across the glass, marking the passage of each day".

Guitar meets Seminole Hard Rock Hotel

A Spanish guitar, shown next to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel, that is shaped like a guitar. Courtesy Unsplash and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel
A Spanish guitar, shown next to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which is shaped like the instrument. Unsplash, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel

When Hard Rock International decided to build a new hotel in Florida, a passing comment by chairman Jim Allen sealed the outcome. Allen had suggested that perhaps the building should be shaped like a guitar, and so architect Steve Peck, from Klai Juba Wald Architecture + Interiors, set to work, designing a 137-metre guitar now called the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The building officially opened in 2019, but it had been extremely demanding to construct. It required 30,582 cubic metres of concrete and the engineers had to figure out how to make the distinctive curves on each side, as these arc through 40 degrees. Thanks to height restrictions imposed by a nearby airport, even the thickness of the reinforced floor slabs had to be reconfigured.

The facade is also covered in neon lights, which today provide a light show every evening.

The tornado meets Abu Dhabi's Capital Gate

A tornado shown next to the Capital gate Building in Abu Dhabi.  Courtesy Unsplash and Capital Gate Building
A tornado shown next to the Capital Gate building in Abu Dhabi. Unsplash, Capital Gate

Residents in Abu Dhabi will already be familiar with the Hyatt Andaz Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi Building, the soaring edifice of twisting glass that looks like a tornado.

Finished in 2011 by RMJM architects, the structure follows a standard shape until the 12th floor, after which it begins to shift to one side. This was created by horizontally staggering each floor over the one below, by between 300 millimetres and 1,400mm, with the final effect producing a building that leans an astonishing 18 degrees westward.

If that does not sound impressive, it is worth noting the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy sits at an angle of 3.99 degrees.

Thanks to this design choice, the Capital Gate, which is affectionately dubbed the "tornado", has earned a Guinness World Record for World’s Furthest Leaning Manmade Tower.

Thankfully there is no need to worry about whether or not the building would withstand the real-life weather phenomenon in the UAE.

Updated: March 28, 2021 02:26 PM

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