It’s a Jonah-and-the-whale kind of moment. You wake up, and your guest room appears normal. But as you get your bearings, you realize that you’re in the belly of a reptile—otherwise known as Australia’s Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn.
The curious trend of zoomorphic architecture—that is, buildings that look like animals—has been around for millennia (ever heard of the Sphinx?). And new species of animal-like buildings continue to turn up in concrete jungles like Bangkok, along roadsides, or in national parks.
Even serious tastemakers like Pritzker Prize–winning architect Frank Gehry have been inspired to inject a playful animalistic motif into their building plans. For the Vila Olímpica in the seaside city of Barcelona, Gehry managed to capture the sleek, muscular movement of a fish in motion in a way that is utterly sublime.
Award-winning London design firm Foster + Partners, meanwhile, looked to the skies for its upcoming Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi, which is subtly modeled after the graceful arc of a falcon’s wing. Other less heralded architects, like those behind Florida’s “Chicken Church,” created a building that resembles an animal quite by accident.
It seems no creature is immune from being immortalized in architecture. While it makes sense to pay architectural homage to impressive and noble creatures like the mighty elephant, as more than one of the buildings we found does, other less celebrated critters also get their due.
Take the humble earthworm. In Victoria, Australia, a museum comprising a series of sheds meanders across the fields in an attempt to replicate this most overlooked organism. In truth, the building bears closer resemblance to a train wreck. But that’s the wonderful thing about zoomorphic architecture: when it’s done well it can be sublime, and when it’s done badly it can have the brutal beauty of outsider art.
Read on for more strange buildings that—beastly or beautiful, by design or by accident—pay tribute to the animal kingdom. Long may these crazy critters stand.