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.