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Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder and when it comes to building design it’s fair to say that aesthetic appeal is a purely subjective quality: one architect’s futuristic masterpiece is another prince’s carbuncle. And yet when pressed to name the most beautifully designed buildings in the world, it’s interesting to note that there are a number of contemporary buildings that have worldwide aesthetic appeal, each attracting more admiration than condemnation.

These are the latter day equivalents of the Taj Mahal, Agra  and the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona; buildings whose design have captured the hearts and minds of the ordinary man and which have made a lasting impression on the world. These, then, are some of the buildings that we have deemed the most beautifully designed buildings in the world.

1. Bibliotecha Alexandrina, Egypt

A modern-day attempt to recreate the legendary original Alexandria Library, a centre of learning founded in 288BC and frequented by the great thinkers and philosophers of the day, the Bibliotecha Alexandrina looks out onto the Mediterranean from its shoreline position in the modern Egyptian city. Designed by Norwegian architects and opened in 2002, the building is a vast angled disc reminiscent of a sundial, its glass panelled roof gently sloping down towards the sea.

The spectacular grey granite walls of the Bibliotecha are engraved with giant characters from more than one hundred different world languages. A large artificial lake reflects the azure sky above, complementing the beauty of this momentous building.

2. Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil

Oscar Niemeyer was the genius behind the futuristic design of the buildings that make Brasilia, Brazil’s capital city, so mesmerising and memorable. His museum, in Curitaba, is equally stunning and was completed in 2002 when Niemeyer was 95 years old. The museum is popularly known as the ‘museum of the eye’ – Niemeyer playfully designed the annex to resemble an open human eye, entirely fronted by a reflective glass, atop a tower and reached by a long ramp of sweeping curves.

3. Burj al Arab Luxury Hotel, Dubai

Accessible via a private bridge, the Burj al Arab occupies its own artificially created island just beyond the popular Jumeirah beach and is the fourth tallest luxury hotel in the world (and is rated ‘five-star deluxe’). Designed by British architect Tom Wright, and opened in December 1999 to coincide with the Milennium, the Burj al Arab’s shape is intended to resemble the sail of a traditional Arabian sailing ship. According to Wright, the brief from the client was to create a landmark for Dubai comparable to Sydney’s Opera House, or Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

4. El Museo Guggenheim, Spain

Innovative and unconventional, Californian architect Frank Gehry’s design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain has accorded the building the status of a modern day icon. Opened in 1997 and constructed using materials including glass, limestone and titanium, the Guggenheim Museum was hailed as “the greatest building of our time” by fellow architect Philip Johnson. Gehry’s unique curved design lends the building the effect of billowing silver ribbon, its highly reflective silver exterior fully intended to maximise the radiance of the Spanish sun.

5. Bahá’í House of Worship, India

Unsurprisingly, the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi has won numerous awards for its striking and beautiful design which resembles an opening lotus flower.  Created by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba, the Lotus Temple, as it is popularly known, was completed in 1986 and adheres to the architectural requirements for places of worship laid down in Bahá’í scripture; the principle rule being that the building must be circular and nine-sided.

The Lotus Temple is therefore composed of twenty-seven free-standing ‘petals’ clad in white marble to create nine sides and nine entrances to the temple. Attracting around four million visitors each year, the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Dehli has become one of the world’s most popular buildings.

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Posted by John McElborough

John researches & writes about design. He’s based in the UK and consults for Just Displays – a design company in London specialising in exhibition graphics.

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