World's Strangest Buildings

  • Selfridges, Birmingham by Future Systems

    Photo: Jeremy Pardoe/Alamy

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    These odd, eye-popping structures—in England, China, and elsewhere—are worth a detour.

    From April 2010 By ,

    If the Eiffel Tower were done up with giant dime-store Christmas ornaments—shiny, glowing spheres—it might rival the Oriental Pearl Television Tower for eccentricity. Eleven habitable disco balls bulge out of Shanghai’s 1,535-foot-tall needle, which also includes a “space hotel” and a (perhaps inevitable) revolving restaurant. When it comes to weird buildings, this landmark is in a class by itself.

    Between all the bubbly novelties that went up in pre-Olympics Beijing, and Dubai’s feverish invention over the past decade, nothing should surprise us. Except that some buildings still do. And these eccentric edifices, breathtaking in their strangeness, are worth a detour—if only to ginger up your worldview a bit.

    Still, how can any building be considered strange anymore? Sure, we’ve had time to digest the CCTV headquarters in Beijing, the one that looks like a huge Möbius strip, and we’ve acclimated to the implausible height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. And yeah, we’ve shrugged off our share of goofball novelties, like the Pyramid Arena of Memphis or the Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas.

    Sometimes strangeness is a function of amazing architecture where we least expect it, like the Selfridges Department Store in dowdy, downtown Birmingham, England, that effectively out-Bilbaoed Bilbao. “The mother of all magic mushrooms” is how Jonathan Glancey, architecture critic of the Guardian described it, perfectly capturing its hallucinatory character.

    More often, the truly strange buildings are the outgrowth of an obsession: the stranger the obsession, the stranger the building. Take Korean politician Sim Jae-Duck, for example. He has spent his life campaigning for clean and beautiful toilets in his home country and around the world. A few years ago, he tore down his own home in the town of Suwon and replaced it with a new house shaped like a giant toilet. The house, a showplace of toilet wonder, is named Haewoojae, which means “a place where one can solve one’s worries,” Korean for sans souci.

    And then there are the projects by architectural visionaries, like the Austrian free spirit Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who attract clients and major commissions despite the fact—or perhaps because—their approaches to design are completely outside anyone’s frame of reference. You stare at their buildings and marvel that they ever got built.

    Whatever the variety of strangeness, we’re truly grateful for these buildings. We think that it’s an honor to make this list and that it’s an extraordinary building that can shake jaded observers like ourselves out of our complacency.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Ontario College of Art and Design, Sharp Center by Will Alsop

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    Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, Canada

    This crossword puzzle checked box appears, at a distance, to be hovering Close Encounters–style above an otherwise mundane Toronto neighborhood. As you approach, its improbability only increases. British architect Will Alsop planted this collection of galleries and studio spaces on brightly colored columns so insouciantly angled and skinny that they barely look like they can support themselves.

    Nearby Oddity: There goes the neighborhood: Daniel Libeskind’s bizarre 2007 crystalline addition to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum is just a mile away.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • The Bar Code Building, St. Petersburg

    Photo: Anton Chmelev

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    The Bar Code Building, St. Petersburg, Russia

    Near the banks of the Neva River, this trade complex by Vitruvius & Sons transforms the world’s most ubiquitous symbol of commerce—the bar code—into a powerful architectural motif. It can be read as an update of American-style roadside classics like the giant Dixie Cup water tower of Lexington, KY, or Detroit’s giant Uniroyal Tire. The rust-red steel building brightens an otherwise bleak urban setting.

    Strange Trend: There’s also a Barcode House by the Dutch architecture firm MVRDV on the outskirts of Munich, but it’s much more subtle.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Selfridges, Birmingham by Future Systems

    Photo: Jeremy Pardoe/Alamy

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    Selfridges Department Store, Birmingham, England

    The Birmingham branch of Selfridges is a billowy mattress of a building, clad in 15,000 shimmery aluminum discs like that famous Paco Rabanne dress. It was designed by Future Systems—the name tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the firm—to be a landmark and a catalyst for the revitalization of a largely moribund city center. “An ersatz urban cliff, a giant sea anemone, a friendly, blob-like alien, the mother of all magic mushrooms,” wrote Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey. “This is the department store as unalloyed architectural entertainment.”

    Step Inside: The interior, with floaty white escalators crisscrossing in an open atrium, looks like a scene from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Zvi Hecker's Ramot Housing, Jerusalem

    Photo: Israel images/Alamy

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    Ramot Polin Apartments, Jerusalem, Israel

    Polish-born architect Zvi Hecker’s experiment in multi-unit residential construction is not as well known as the Habitat housing Moshe Safdie designed for Expo 67 in Montreal, but at 720 units is much larger. It was also an exercise in using prefabricated components, at least in the first two of its five phases. With its crazy pentagonal design, the Ramot Polin Apartments resemble a housing project for honeybees.

    Behind the Scenes: This highly unorthodox complex was commissioned by the Israeli ministry of housing specifically for highly orthodox Jewish families.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Faro a Colon (Columbus Lighthouse) Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Photo: M. Timothy O'Keefe/Alamy

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    Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Under construction for some 40 years, and inaugurated in time for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s initial landing in the New World (which was not on Hispaniola, but in the Bahamas), this monstrously spooky concrete monument, ten stories high and 688 feet long, reputedly cost the impoverished nation some $70 million to build. The lighthouse contains what are purported to be the explorer’s bones.

    Weird Wiring: When the lighthouse projects a cross-shaped beam into the night sky, it’s so bright that not only can it be seen for some 40 miles, but it drains electrical power from surrounding neighborhoods. It’s not turned on very often.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Bioscleave House, East Hampton, New York

    Photo: Eric Striffler/The New York Times/Redux

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    Bioscleave House, East Hampton, NY

    Husband and wife artists Arakawa and Madeline Gins designed this intentionally unsettling house in 2008. With its bumpy, hilly floors and a wildly asymmetrical plan—even the electrical outlets are at weird angles—it’s supposed to stimulate the immune systems of its occupants by keeping them from ever becoming comfortable. This relentless “tentativeness,” the artists believe, is the key to immortality.

    Embrace the Strange: This house can be yours. It’s currently offered by Sotheby’s Realty for $4 million.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai

    Photo: iStock

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    Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai, China

    Nothing else on earth quite looks like the Oriental Pearl. It was once the tallest structure on the Pudong side of Shanghai’s Huangpu River until it was overshadowed by the Shanghai World Financial Center in 2007. Designed by Jiang Huan Cheng of the Shanghai Modern Architectural Design Co. and completed in 1995, it stands 1,535 feet tall and is easily the world’s greatest assemblage of habitable disco balls (11!), housing several sightseeing observatories, a revolving restaurant, and a “space hotel.”

    Tall Tale: Both Shanghai towers have recently been dwarfed by the 2,001-foot-tall Guangzhou TV and Sightseeing Tower.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Mullverbrennungsanlage Spittelau, Vienna

    Photo: imagebroker/Alamy

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    Spittelau District Heating Plant, Vienna, Austria

    Highly eccentric painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, fond of bright colors, crooked lines, and overall visual cacophony, designed this garbage-burning heating plant on the Donau Canal to look like Vienna’s answer to the Magic Kingdom. With its crazy quilt façade, decorative columns topped with gold balls, and a pollution-scrubbing smokestack, it suggests a mirage rather than a working piece of urban infrastructure.

    Odd Couple: There are two of these oddities. The Maishima Incineration Plant in Osaka, Japan, is an exact replica.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Herzog & DeMeuron's Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg, Germany

    Photo: Herzog & de Meuron

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    Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg, Germany

    What’s really freakish here is the contrast between the new building—a liquidy-looking glass thingamajig—and the old building it uses for its podium: a stolid, workaday 1960s waterfront warehouse. This odd couple, united by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and scheduled for completion in 2012, will be a new cultural complex for Hamburg’s harbor, featuring a public plaza on the old warehouse roof, a hotel, some apartments, and a wildly biomorphic philharmonic hall.

    Odd Trend: This new building atop old building thing is a bona fide trend. See: New York’s Hearst Tower by Foster + Partners.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

    Photo: nagelestock.com/Alamy

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    The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

    A 1958 World’s Fair leftover, the Atomium is far more eccentric than the 1964 Unisphere in New York or the 1962 Space Needle in Seattle. Conceived by an engineer, André Waterkeyn, it is a gigantic replica of an iron crystal molecule and was intended to symbolize “the peaceful use of atomic energy for scientific purposes.” Five of its nine spheres are accessible to visitors, as is its maze of interconnecting tubes.

    Quirky Quote: According to the Atomium website: “The completely steel-clad Atomium is a kind of UFO in the cultural history of Humanity, a mirror turned simultaneously towards the past and the future, comparing our Utopias of yesterday with our dreams for tomorrow.”
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, USA)

    Photo: Courtesy of The Kansas City Public Library

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    Kansas City Public Library, MO

    The south wall of the library’s parking garage resembles a bookshelf that would dwarf anything lining the walls of the 50-Foot-Tall Woman’s house: each book is around 25 feet tall and nine feet wide. It was constructed as an homage to 22 favorite literary titles, chosen by patrons of the library (then, of course, approved by the board of trustees).
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Container City (London, UK)

    Photo: Photofusion Picture Library/Alamy

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    Container City II, London

    There have since been many copycats, but this colorful addition to the original “container city” (the first modular live/work structure of its kind when it was built in 2001) at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London’s Docklands stands out as an example of sustainable architecture (80 percent of the combined building is created from recycled shipping containers and other materials). Completed in 2002, its ziggurat shape and brightly colored exteriors, not surprisingly, have attracted many artists, who live and work here today.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Erwin Wurm: House Attack (Viena, Austria)

    Photo: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters/Corbis

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    House Attack, Vienna

    At first glance, the base of the MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst) is an unimpressive-looking stone slab, but look up and you’ll see the strange factor. Designed by artist Erwin Wurm, the installation piece is a sculpture of a one-family house that symbolizes “the everyday, privacy, as well as small-mindedness.”
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Fuji television building (Tokyo, Japan)

    Photo: Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy

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    Fuji Television Building, Tokyo

    It resembles something created with an Erector Set, but this building—which took three years to complete and serves as the head office for Fuji TV—isn’t child’s play. It was designed to be sturdy enough to call itself earthquake-proof. Studio tours—there are 10 studios in this office—are offered for about $5 (for adults) and grant visitors access to the 1,200-ton sphere on top, which houses an observation deck.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Edificio Mirador (Madrid, Spain)

    Photo: Maria Galan/Alamy

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    Edificio Mirador, Madrid

    Designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV—known for its unusual and striking construction—this residential building, set in the northeast part of Madrid, was designed as a frame for the distant landscape, but more resembles a Borg spaceship. Oh, and that open middle section? It also serves as an outdoor meeting area for residents to take in the unobstructed views.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Museum of Contemporary Art (Niteroi, Brazil)

    Photo: David Oates Photography/Alamy

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    Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro

    Fret not! Even though this building strongly resembles a flying saucer—even more eerily true when it’s lit up at night—Rio has not been occupied by aliens, but rather by the design prowess of Oscar Niemeyer. After making their way up the winding red path to the entrance, visitors can enjoy views of Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the surrounding cityscape—along with museum exhibitions.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Druzhba Holiday Center (Yalta, Ukraine)

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    Druzhba Holiday Center, Yalta, Ukraine

    Overlooking a popular beach in the faded Soviet resort town of Yalta, this hotel—built in 1984 by Ukrainian architect Igor Vasilevsky—may lack an imaginative name, but its hulking cylindrical mass is unmissable. Guests enter the property via a catwalk bridge surrounded by glass; inside the complex, which is supported by giant cement legs, a series of staircases and elevators connect public spaces and accommodations—many of which have panoramic views of the Black Sea.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Solar Furnace (Odeillo, France)

    Photo: iStock

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    Solar Furnace, Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, France

    The ancient Egyptians and Greeks may have figured out how to harness the power of the sun using glass, but the solar scientists working in this sun-bathed town in the Pyrenees Mountains have perfected the process. The world’s largest solar furnace, on the exterior of this curious undulating building, uses some 10,000 mirrors to focus the rays and then bounce them off a gigantic concave mirror to produce temperatures above 5,430 degrees Fahrenheit.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Cubic Houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

    Photo: iStock

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    Cube Houses, Rotterdam, Netherlands

    Known locally as Kubuswoningen, these attached Piet Blom–designed residences on Overblaak Street were unveiled in 1984 to oohs and ahhhs. The architect tilted the traditional house structure, a cube, some 45 degrees, placing it on a hexagon-shaped pylon; all the walls and windows are angled at 54.7 degrees, and each apartment is about 900 square feet, but only 225 square feet of that is usable space.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Lloyd's building (London, UK)

    Photo: iStock

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    Lloyd’s Building, London

    Also called the Inside-Out Building, the controversial headquarters of venerable Lloyd’s insurance at One Lime Street has doubled as a tourist attraction since its completion in 1986 (it even has a gift shop). The towering steel-and-glass-framed building was conceived by Richard Rogers (of Pompidou Centre fame), who wanted to place all mechanicals, elevators, etc. on the building’s exterior—much to the amusement of passersby.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Kunsthaus (Graz, Austria)

    Photo: Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis

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    Kunsthaus, Graz, Austria

    London architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier created this avant-garde celluloid building—sometimes called the “friendly alien.” Hoping to create a “black box of hidden tricks” to inspire curators, the architects dotted the building’s sleek skin with adjustable lights to create external images belying the art museum’s interior collection. The valvelike nodes on the roof let in natural light—making this bio-inspired building eco-friendly too.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Office center  1000 3 a.k.a. Banknote (Kaunas, Lithuania)

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    Office Center 1000 3 a.k.a. Banknote, Kaunas, Lithuania

    Form certainly meets function at this bill-wrapped building in Lithuania’s second-largest city. Housing international bank offices and Lithuanian businesses within its capitalist walls, the structure fancies itself as “one of the Baltic region’s most daring and original construction projects.” The 10-story façade is hung with 4,500 painted enamel squares to create an image of the 1925 1000-litas banknote.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Blur Building (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland)

    Photo: VIEW Pictures Ltd / Alamy

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    Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland

    Ensconced in a perpetual swath of man-made fog, the Blur Building, designed by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, was built for the Swiss Expo in 2002 on Lake Neuchatel. The 31,500 nozzles spray a fine mist that adjusts to changing weather conditions to create the same “blur” effect in all seasons. The inside space is as amorphous as the outside “walls,” and downstairs you’ll find a water bar to purchase artisanal water.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Agbar Tower (Barcelona, Spain)

    Photo: imagebroker / Alamy

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    Agbar Tower, Barcelona

    This 474-foot-tall tower may look like London’s Gherkin building, but its visionary, Jean Nouvel, says he was inspired not by Sir Norman Foster but by Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí. The Agbar’s more than 4,500 windows give it a geyser-like glimmer, while the structure is supposed to evoke the mountains around Barcelona (though many locals have more off-color ideas about what it evokes).
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Cybertecture Egg (Mumbai, India)

    Photo: James Law Cybertecture

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    Cybertecture Egg, Mumbai, India

    Architecture is so 20th century. Welcome to the age of cybertecture, which, according to the firm James Law Cybertecture International, is not just about “concrete, steel and glass, but also the new intangible materials of technology, multimedia, intelligence and interactivity.” The egg—which will house offices and is slated for completion in late 2010—uses less surface area than “old style” buildings and incorporates new technologies, like bathrooms that track workers’ weight and blood pressure. Can anyone say Big Brother?
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • The Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Photo: iStock

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    The Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

    In the land of fire and ice, it makes sense that even the holiest places resemble natural phenomena. And when architect Guojon Samuelsson began this church in 1937, Icelandic basalt lava flows were what he had in mind. It’s hard to miss this imposing structure, located in the center of town, and you won’t want to miss the views from its observation tower.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Nakagin Capsule Tower (Tokyo, Japan)

    Photo: Peter Tsai / Alamy

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    Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo

    Remember the tales of Japanese bachelor salarymen living in pods? That was the idea behind these 140 cubes from architect Kisho Kurokawa, finished in 1972. It kicked off the capsule architecture movement, with cozy spaces 8 x 12 x 7 feet that were designed for minimalist living at its most minimal, with a bed, a wall of appliances, a tiny bathroom, and a small circular window. While the building has fallen into disrepair as of late, it still stands, says the New York Times, as a “powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.”
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Montreal Biosphere (Canada)

    Photo: iStock

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    Montreal Biosphere, Montreal

    There’s nothing like a World’s Fair to inspire odd architecture. That’s exactly what happened for the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal, when architect Buckminster Fuller designed this geodesic dome. His structure bubbles up from the trees on Saint Helen’s Island to 200 feet high and 250 feet in diameter. It was an enclosed structure until a fire in 1976 destroyed the outer layer. Today, the thin-shell structure is owned and run by Environment Canada as a museum, with interactive exhibits on biodiversity and climate change.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Wonderworks (Pigeon Forge, TN, USA)

    Photo: Courtesy of WonderWorks

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    Wonderworks, Pigeon Forge, TN, and Orlando, FL

    Who doesn’t love an upside-down building? No, it’s not a cutting-edge design from some wunderkind architect—it’s just an amusement park, complete with a slightly terrifying “Hoot N’ Holler Dinner Show” (Tennessee) and the “Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show” (Orlando). Look for two more of these wrong-side-up buildings to open in Panama City, FL (this summer), and Myrtle Beach, SC (in 2011).
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Toilet Shaped House, Korea

    Photo: Ho New/Reuters

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    Haewoojae, Suwon, South Korea

    Better known as the toilet-shaped house, this showcase of superior plumbing was built by Korean Assembly Representative Sim Jae-Duck—a.k.a. Mr. Toilet—and his World Toilet Organization. It’s intended to celebrate the cultural centrality of the toilet and raise awareness of the plight of the world’s toilet-less. “We should learn to go beyond seeing toilets as just a place for defecation,” the late Mr. Sim once said, “but also as a place of culture where people can rest, meditate and be happy.” And who can argue?

    Wacky Washroom: The house has four toilets, including a spectacular central restroom with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that turn opaque when the facilities are in use, and a sound system that supplies a soothing classical soundtrack.
    —Karrie Jacobs

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  • Selfridges, Birmingham by Future Systems

    If the Eiffel Tower were done up with giant dime-store Christmas ornaments—shiny, glowing spheres—it might rival the Oriental Pearl Television Tower for eccentricity. Eleven habitable disco balls bulge out of Shanghai’s 1,535-foot-tall needle, which also includes a “space hotel” and a (perhaps inevitable) revolving restaurant. When it comes to weird buildings, this landmark is in a class by itself.

    Between all the bubbly novelties that went up in pre-Olympics Beijing, and Dubai’s feverish invention over the past decade, nothing should surprise us. Except that some buildings still do. And these eccentric edifices, breathtaking in their strangeness, are worth a detour—if only to ginger up your worldview a bit.

    Still, how can any building be considered strange anymore? Sure, we’ve had time to digest the CCTV headquarters in Beijing, the one that looks like a huge Möbius strip, and we’ve acclimated to the implausible height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. And yeah, we’ve shrugged off our share of goofball novelties, like the Pyramid Arena of Memphis or the Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas.

    Sometimes strangeness is a function of amazing architecture where we least expect it, like the Selfridges Department Store in dowdy, downtown Birmingham, England, that effectively out-Bilbaoed Bilbao. “The mother of all magic mushrooms” is how Jonathan Glancey, architecture critic of the Guardian described it, perfectly capturing its hallucinatory character.

    More often, the truly strange buildings are the outgrowth of an obsession: the stranger the obsession, the stranger the building. Take Korean politician Sim Jae-Duck, for example. He has spent his life campaigning for clean and beautiful toilets in his home country and around the world. A few years ago, he tore down his own home in the town of Suwon and replaced it with a new house shaped like a giant toilet. The house, a showplace of toilet wonder, is named Haewoojae, which means “a place where one can solve one’s worries,” Korean for sans souci.

    And then there are the projects by architectural visionaries, like the Austrian free spirit Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who attract clients and major commissions despite the fact—or perhaps because—their approaches to design are completely outside anyone’s frame of reference. You stare at their buildings and marvel that they ever got built.

    Whatever the variety of strangeness, we’re truly grateful for these buildings. We think that it’s an honor to make this list and that it’s an extraordinary building that can shake jaded observers like ourselves out of our complacency.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Ontario College of Art and Design, Sharp Center by Will Alsop

    Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, Canada

    This crossword puzzle checked box appears, at a distance, to be hovering Close Encounters–style above an otherwise mundane Toronto neighborhood. As you approach, its improbability only increases. British architect Will Alsop planted this collection of galleries and studio spaces on brightly colored columns so insouciantly angled and skinny that they barely look like they can support themselves.

    Nearby Oddity: There goes the neighborhood: Daniel Libeskind’s bizarre 2007 crystalline addition to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum is just a mile away.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • The Bar Code Building, St. Petersburg

    The Bar Code Building, St. Petersburg, Russia

    Near the banks of the Neva River, this trade complex by Vitruvius & Sons transforms the world’s most ubiquitous symbol of commerce—the bar code—into a powerful architectural motif. It can be read as an update of American-style roadside classics like the giant Dixie Cup water tower of Lexington, KY, or Detroit’s giant Uniroyal Tire. The rust-red steel building brightens an otherwise bleak urban setting.

    Strange Trend: There’s also a Barcode House by the Dutch architecture firm MVRDV on the outskirts of Munich, but it’s much more subtle.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Selfridges, Birmingham by Future Systems

    Selfridges Department Store, Birmingham, England

    The Birmingham branch of Selfridges is a billowy mattress of a building, clad in 15,000 shimmery aluminum discs like that famous Paco Rabanne dress. It was designed by Future Systems—the name tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the firm—to be a landmark and a catalyst for the revitalization of a largely moribund city center. “An ersatz urban cliff, a giant sea anemone, a friendly, blob-like alien, the mother of all magic mushrooms,” wrote Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey. “This is the department store as unalloyed architectural entertainment.”

    Step Inside: The interior, with floaty white escalators crisscrossing in an open atrium, looks like a scene from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Zvi Hecker's Ramot Housing, Jerusalem

    Ramot Polin Apartments, Jerusalem, Israel

    Polish-born architect Zvi Hecker’s experiment in multi-unit residential construction is not as well known as the Habitat housing Moshe Safdie designed for Expo 67 in Montreal, but at 720 units is much larger. It was also an exercise in using prefabricated components, at least in the first two of its five phases. With its crazy pentagonal design, the Ramot Polin Apartments resemble a housing project for honeybees.

    Behind the Scenes: This highly unorthodox complex was commissioned by the Israeli ministry of housing specifically for highly orthodox Jewish families.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Faro a Colon (Columbus Lighthouse) Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Under construction for some 40 years, and inaugurated in time for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s initial landing in the New World (which was not on Hispaniola, but in the Bahamas), this monstrously spooky concrete monument, ten stories high and 688 feet long, reputedly cost the impoverished nation some $70 million to build. The lighthouse contains what are purported to be the explorer’s bones.

    Weird Wiring: When the lighthouse projects a cross-shaped beam into the night sky, it’s so bright that not only can it be seen for some 40 miles, but it drains electrical power from surrounding neighborhoods. It’s not turned on very often.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Bioscleave House, East Hampton, New York

    Bioscleave House, East Hampton, NY

    Husband and wife artists Arakawa and Madeline Gins designed this intentionally unsettling house in 2008. With its bumpy, hilly floors and a wildly asymmetrical plan—even the electrical outlets are at weird angles—it’s supposed to stimulate the immune systems of its occupants by keeping them from ever becoming comfortable. This relentless “tentativeness,” the artists believe, is the key to immortality.

    Embrace the Strange: This house can be yours. It’s currently offered by Sotheby’s Realty for $4 million.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai

    Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai, China

    Nothing else on earth quite looks like the Oriental Pearl. It was once the tallest structure on the Pudong side of Shanghai’s Huangpu River until it was overshadowed by the Shanghai World Financial Center in 2007. Designed by Jiang Huan Cheng of the Shanghai Modern Architectural Design Co. and completed in 1995, it stands 1,535 feet tall and is easily the world’s greatest assemblage of habitable disco balls (11!), housing several sightseeing observatories, a revolving restaurant, and a “space hotel.”

    Tall Tale: Both Shanghai towers have recently been dwarfed by the 2,001-foot-tall Guangzhou TV and Sightseeing Tower.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Mullverbrennungsanlage Spittelau, Vienna

    Spittelau District Heating Plant, Vienna, Austria

    Highly eccentric painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, fond of bright colors, crooked lines, and overall visual cacophony, designed this garbage-burning heating plant on the Donau Canal to look like Vienna’s answer to the Magic Kingdom. With its crazy quilt façade, decorative columns topped with gold balls, and a pollution-scrubbing smokestack, it suggests a mirage rather than a working piece of urban infrastructure.

    Odd Couple: There are two of these oddities. The Maishima Incineration Plant in Osaka, Japan, is an exact replica.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Herzog & DeMeuron's Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg, Germany

    Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg, Germany

    What’s really freakish here is the contrast between the new building—a liquidy-looking glass thingamajig—and the old building it uses for its podium: a stolid, workaday 1960s waterfront warehouse. This odd couple, united by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and scheduled for completion in 2012, will be a new cultural complex for Hamburg’s harbor, featuring a public plaza on the old warehouse roof, a hotel, some apartments, and a wildly biomorphic philharmonic hall.

    Odd Trend: This new building atop old building thing is a bona fide trend. See: New York’s Hearst Tower by Foster + Partners.
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

    The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

    A 1958 World’s Fair leftover, the Atomium is far more eccentric than the 1964 Unisphere in New York or the 1962 Space Needle in Seattle. Conceived by an engineer, André Waterkeyn, it is a gigantic replica of an iron crystal molecule and was intended to symbolize “the peaceful use of atomic energy for scientific purposes.” Five of its nine spheres are accessible to visitors, as is its maze of interconnecting tubes.

    Quirky Quote: According to the Atomium website: “The completely steel-clad Atomium is a kind of UFO in the cultural history of Humanity, a mirror turned simultaneously towards the past and the future, comparing our Utopias of yesterday with our dreams for tomorrow.”
    —Karrie Jacobs

  • Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, USA)

    Kansas City Public Library, MO

    The south wall of the library’s parking garage resembles a bookshelf that would dwarf anything lining the walls of the 50-Foot-Tall Woman’s house: each book is around 25 feet tall and nine feet wide. It was constructed as an homage to 22 favorite literary titles, chosen by patrons of the library (then, of course, approved by the board of trustees).
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Container City (London, UK)

    Container City II, London

    There have since been many copycats, but this colorful addition to the original “container city” (the first modular live/work structure of its kind when it was built in 2001) at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London’s Docklands stands out as an example of sustainable architecture (80 percent of the combined building is created from recycled shipping containers and other materials). Completed in 2002, its ziggurat shape and brightly colored exteriors, not surprisingly, have attracted many artists, who live and work here today.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Erwin Wurm: House Attack (Viena, Austria)

    House Attack, Vienna

    At first glance, the base of the MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst) is an unimpressive-looking stone slab, but look up and you’ll see the strange factor. Designed by artist Erwin Wurm, the installation piece is a sculpture of a one-family house that symbolizes “the everyday, privacy, as well as small-mindedness.”
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Fuji television building (Tokyo, Japan)

    Fuji Television Building, Tokyo

    It resembles something created with an Erector Set, but this building—which took three years to complete and serves as the head office for Fuji TV—isn’t child’s play. It was designed to be sturdy enough to call itself earthquake-proof. Studio tours—there are 10 studios in this office—are offered for about $5 (for adults) and grant visitors access to the 1,200-ton sphere on top, which houses an observation deck.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Edificio Mirador (Madrid, Spain)

    Edificio Mirador, Madrid

    Designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV—known for its unusual and striking construction—this residential building, set in the northeast part of Madrid, was designed as a frame for the distant landscape, but more resembles a Borg spaceship. Oh, and that open middle section? It also serves as an outdoor meeting area for residents to take in the unobstructed views.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Museum of Contemporary Art (Niteroi, Brazil)

    Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro

    Fret not! Even though this building strongly resembles a flying saucer—even more eerily true when it’s lit up at night—Rio has not been occupied by aliens, but rather by the design prowess of Oscar Niemeyer. After making their way up the winding red path to the entrance, visitors can enjoy views of Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the surrounding cityscape—along with museum exhibitions.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Druzhba Holiday Center (Yalta, Ukraine)

    Druzhba Holiday Center, Yalta, Ukraine

    Overlooking a popular beach in the faded Soviet resort town of Yalta, this hotel—built in 1984 by Ukrainian architect Igor Vasilevsky—may lack an imaginative name, but its hulking cylindrical mass is unmissable. Guests enter the property via a catwalk bridge surrounded by glass; inside the complex, which is supported by giant cement legs, a series of staircases and elevators connect public spaces and accommodations—many of which have panoramic views of the Black Sea.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Solar Furnace (Odeillo, France)

    Solar Furnace, Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, France

    The ancient Egyptians and Greeks may have figured out how to harness the power of the sun using glass, but the solar scientists working in this sun-bathed town in the Pyrenees Mountains have perfected the process. The world’s largest solar furnace, on the exterior of this curious undulating building, uses some 10,000 mirrors to focus the rays and then bounce them off a gigantic concave mirror to produce temperatures above 5,430 degrees Fahrenheit.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Cubic Houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

    Cube Houses, Rotterdam, Netherlands

    Known locally as Kubuswoningen, these attached Piet Blom–designed residences on Overblaak Street were unveiled in 1984 to oohs and ahhhs. The architect tilted the traditional house structure, a cube, some 45 degrees, placing it on a hexagon-shaped pylon; all the walls and windows are angled at 54.7 degrees, and each apartment is about 900 square feet, but only 225 square feet of that is usable space.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Lloyd's building (London, UK)

    Lloyd’s Building, London

    Also called the Inside-Out Building, the controversial headquarters of venerable Lloyd’s insurance at One Lime Street has doubled as a tourist attraction since its completion in 1986 (it even has a gift shop). The towering steel-and-glass-framed building was conceived by Richard Rogers (of Pompidou Centre fame), who wanted to place all mechanicals, elevators, etc. on the building’s exterior—much to the amusement of passersby.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Kunsthaus (Graz, Austria)

    Kunsthaus, Graz, Austria

    London architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier created this avant-garde celluloid building—sometimes called the “friendly alien.” Hoping to create a “black box of hidden tricks” to inspire curators, the architects dotted the building’s sleek skin with adjustable lights to create external images belying the art museum’s interior collection. The valvelike nodes on the roof let in natural light—making this bio-inspired building eco-friendly too.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Office center  1000 3 a.k.a. Banknote (Kaunas, Lithuania)

    Office Center 1000 3 a.k.a. Banknote, Kaunas, Lithuania

    Form certainly meets function at this bill-wrapped building in Lithuania’s second-largest city. Housing international bank offices and Lithuanian businesses within its capitalist walls, the structure fancies itself as “one of the Baltic region’s most daring and original construction projects.” The 10-story façade is hung with 4,500 painted enamel squares to create an image of the 1925 1000-litas banknote.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Blur Building (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland)

    Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland

    Ensconced in a perpetual swath of man-made fog, the Blur Building, designed by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, was built for the Swiss Expo in 2002 on Lake Neuchatel. The 31,500 nozzles spray a fine mist that adjusts to changing weather conditions to create the same “blur” effect in all seasons. The inside space is as amorphous as the outside “walls,” and downstairs you’ll find a water bar to purchase artisanal water.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Agbar Tower (Barcelona, Spain)

    Agbar Tower, Barcelona

    This 474-foot-tall tower may look like London’s Gherkin building, but its visionary, Jean Nouvel, says he was inspired not by Sir Norman Foster but by Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí. The Agbar’s more than 4,500 windows give it a geyser-like glimmer, while the structure is supposed to evoke the mountains around Barcelona (though many locals have more off-color ideas about what it evokes).
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Cybertecture Egg (Mumbai, India)

    Cybertecture Egg, Mumbai, India

    Architecture is so 20th century. Welcome to the age of cybertecture, which, according to the firm James Law Cybertecture International, is not just about “concrete, steel and glass, but also the new intangible materials of technology, multimedia, intelligence and interactivity.” The egg—which will house offices and is slated for completion in late 2010—uses less surface area than “old style” buildings and incorporates new technologies, like bathrooms that track workers’ weight and blood pressure. Can anyone say Big Brother?
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • The Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

    The Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

    In the land of fire and ice, it makes sense that even the holiest places resemble natural phenomena. And when architect Guojon Samuelsson began this church in 1937, Icelandic basalt lava flows were what he had in mind. It’s hard to miss this imposing structure, located in the center of town, and you won’t want to miss the views from its observation tower.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Nakagin Capsule Tower (Tokyo, Japan)

    Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo

    Remember the tales of Japanese bachelor salarymen living in pods? That was the idea behind these 140 cubes from architect Kisho Kurokawa, finished in 1972. It kicked off the capsule architecture movement, with cozy spaces 8 x 12 x 7 feet that were designed for minimalist living at its most minimal, with a bed, a wall of appliances, a tiny bathroom, and a small circular window. While the building has fallen into disrepair as of late, it still stands, says the New York Times, as a “powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.”
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Montreal Biosphere (Canada)

    Montreal Biosphere, Montreal

    There’s nothing like a World’s Fair to inspire odd architecture. That’s exactly what happened for the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal, when architect Buckminster Fuller designed this geodesic dome. His structure bubbles up from the trees on Saint Helen’s Island to 200 feet high and 250 feet in diameter. It was an enclosed structure until a fire in 1976 destroyed the outer layer. Today, the thin-shell structure is owned and run by Environment Canada as a museum, with interactive exhibits on biodiversity and climate change.
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Wonderworks (Pigeon Forge, TN, USA)

    Wonderworks, Pigeon Forge, TN, and Orlando, FL

    Who doesn’t love an upside-down building? No, it’s not a cutting-edge design from some wunderkind architect—it’s just an amusement park, complete with a slightly terrifying “Hoot N’ Holler Dinner Show” (Tennessee) and the “Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show” (Orlando). Look for two more of these wrong-side-up buildings to open in Panama City, FL (this summer), and Myrtle Beach, SC (in 2011).
    Travel + Leisure Staff

  • Toilet Shaped House, Korea

    Haewoojae, Suwon, South Korea

    Better known as the toilet-shaped house, this showcase of superior plumbing was built by Korean Assembly Representative Sim Jae-Duck—a.k.a. Mr. Toilet—and his World Toilet Organization. It’s intended to celebrate the cultural centrality of the toilet and raise awareness of the plight of the world’s toilet-less. “We should learn to go beyond seeing toilets as just a place for defecation,” the late Mr. Sim once said, “but also as a place of culture where people can rest, meditate and be happy.” And who can argue?

    Wacky Washroom: The house has four toilets, including a spectacular central restroom with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that turn opaque when the facilities are in use, and a sound system that supplies a soothing classical soundtrack.
    —Karrie Jacobs

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