Courtesy of Auditório Ibirapuera
Architect: Oscar Niemeyer
Why It’s Cool: The United Nations co-designer conceived the Auditório Ibirapuera in 1951 for Sao Paolo’s 400th anniversary, but it wasn’t completed until 2005, after $12.8 million in funding materialized. (Fortunately, Niemeyer lived to see it—he’s now 101 years old.) Still, modernity hasn’t tempered the building’s offbeat, utopian spirit. With a doorstop shape and a wiggling tongue of a red-metal marquee, the venue also features a 60-foot-wide backstage panel that can open to allow for free outdoor concerts.
How to Visit: Enjoy the exterior from a blanket in the park, or buy a ticket to get a peek inside.
Taipei 101, Taipei, Taiwan
Architect: C.Y. Lee and Partners Architects
Why It’s Cool: For years, Taiwan, like much of eastern Asia, shunned skyscrapers over worries that earthquakes or typhoons might topple them. But new, high-grade mineral-flecked concrete that allows buildings to grow tall without sacrificing strength was put to ample use in this 2004 dart. At 1,667 feet, Taipei 101 is the planet’s tallest building—and will stay that way until Burj Dubai debuts later in 2009.
How to Visit: Shops fill the lower levels, but the views are the reason to come. Take the elevators—the world’s fastest—to the 89th floor to see a Volkswagen Beetle-size pendulum that keeps the building from shaking.
Architect: Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/Sanaa
Why It’s Cool: Before the current bust, New York’s building binge was perhaps unequaled among Western cities. Breaking a tradition of using local talent, the city also signed up architects from overseas to freshen its look, such as this Japanese team, whose metallic 174-foot stack of six off-center boxes has no obvious peer. Inside the New Museum, tiny galleries eschew windows to maximize wall space, allowing for more art. And the brick-and-terracotta neighborhood visible from a seventh-floor terrace emphasizes the building’s fish-out-of-water status.
How to Visit: Tickets are $12; lolling in the lobby is free.
Turning Torso, Malmo, Sweden
Architect: Santiago Calatrava
Why It’s Cool: Frank Lloyd Wright used some guesswork to make sure Fallingwater didn’t fall; today, computers do the heavy lifting. They also permit farfetched forms that may have once worked only on paper, such as this 2005 building, which makes a genre-defying 90-degree clockwise rotation as it rises. Like many recent horizon-altering structures, Turning Torso combines a mix of uses, which has been a sure way for development to get funded; in fact, the 656-foot high-rise, which is Scandinavia’s tallest, tucks offices on floors one through 10, and apartments above them, allowing in-house commutes.
How to Visit: There no tours, but 30-person talks take place on the 7th floor (free, with reservations). The next-door shopping mall has an interactive exhibit on the tower, plus restaurants.
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Architect: I.M. Pei
Why It’s Cool: Packed with 1,200 years of sextants, silk carpets, and elaborately detailed pitchers, the Museum of Islamic Art dedicates only 10 percent of its space to galleries. Much else is left open, like a soaring 164-foot central atrium topped with a tiny round skylight that evokes the Cairo mosque on which the stone building was modeled. Alongside Doha’s partly built high-rises in a development-crazed region, the museum’s clean, elemental masses—which evoke an earlier Middle East—can seem quaint.
How to Visit: Open daily at 10:30. Tickets are free.
Jewish Museum Berlin/Jens Ziehe
Architect: Daniel Libeskind
Why It’s Cool: Despite an understandably grim Holocaust focus, the Jewish Museum Berlin’s 2001 addition has the logic of a carnival fun house. There are twisting halls, angled floors, and rooms whose windows are diagonal slits. Outside in the “Garden of Exile,” 49 olive-tree-topped columns tilt 12 degrees sideways by the addition’s sharply pointed walls, which from above suggest pieces of a Star of David. Disorientation is the desired effect, according to Libeskind, to echo what World War II–era Jews felt before being shipped to death camps.
How to Visit: Open daily at 10 a.m.; admission is $6 for adults.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Why It’s Cool: Some architects try metal cladding, but these two nail it. At the four-year-old de Young, they skip traditional glass and steel for 950,000 pounds of perforated copper, which fog hasn’t yet turned green. The brown hue of the chunky nine-story tower, which rises from palms in Golden Gate Park, suggests a Mayan temple. Rooms, too, buck convention, with plenty of non-linear surfaces for Hudson River School landscapes. And ferns brush courtyard windows, which underscores the lush setting.
How to Visit: Open Tuesday through Sunday; tickets are $10.
Architect: Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
Why It’s Cool: No two layouts of its 55 floors are the same. Only the Pentagon is a larger office building. Even in a country pushing architectural boundaries, this squared-off doughnut seems dizzyingly unique. And next fall, visitors could stand on glass discs in a cantilevered floor and stare down 500 unencumbered feet to the street (though a February fire at the Mandarin Oriental hotel next door could push back the already-delayed opening). “Amidst all the skyscrapers there, it’s relatively low,” said Koolhaas in 2006. “It will feel accessible.”
How to Visit: 11 Fuxing Road; under construction, but much to see from the streets. Tours may kick off when it opens.
VIEW Pictures Ltd / Alamy
BMW Central Building, Leipzig, Germany
Architect: Zaha Hadid
Why It’s Cool: Modernism is a trend that shows no sign of ebbing—what else are those ubiquitous glass-walled apartments but takes on Philip Johnson’s 1949 Glass House?Current designers also still seem keen on creating factories like the BMW Central Building, whose mass-produced goods embody Modernism’s underlying aesthetic. But Hadid’s confection, which knits together three outlying workshops, seems less mechanical than organic. Grooves ridge the skin along smoothly contoured edges. Tear-shaped concrete piers below resemble bones. And the overhead conveyor belts hurriedly hauling car frames could be blood vessels.
How to Visit: By appointment, Mon.–Fri., and occasionally Sat.; $154 for a 30-person group.
Architect: Frank Gehry
Why It’s Cool: The first glimpse of Guggenheim Bilbao’s rippling titanium walls in 1997 was a game-changer. Never again would paintings be displayed in humdrum hallways. Indeed, museums from Denver to Davenport, Iowa, have tried to whip up a “Bilbao effect” so their own retooled buildings might become instant landmarks. Bilbao also spawned the term “star-chitect,” as Gehry became an overnight object of hero worship. Ever since, developers of condos, offices and power plants have rushed to hire star-chitects, so their high-wattage imprimatur could sell products.
How to Visit: Open Tuesday to Sunday; tickets are $10.