The Reichstag Building is a symbol.

At first blush, this classic structure seems like many others across the globe. But the Reichstag is a symbol of the German nation for reasons beyond the fact that it is the current seat of the German Federal Parliament. A devastating fire in 1933, which was believed to have been started by Communists, had the effect of solidifying Hitler’s dictatorial position. The building suffered further damage during WWII and was captured by the Soviet army. In divided Berlin, the partially reconstructed but much battered Reischtag was situated just to the west of the Berlin Wall.


After the unification of Germany, it was decided that the building’s singular history should be accentuated, not covered up. With this in mind, architect Norman Foster oversaw a complete reconstruction of the building. Its signature piece is Foster’s spectacular glass dome. The dome’s transparency, and the use of a reflective mirrored cylinder within, signal the return to German democracy.

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Inspired by classical temples, the small memorial tomb situated within the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio is a study in ideal proportions. The concentric circles of the building plan are easily read in its three-dimensional form. A colonnade, balustrade and hemispherical dome supplement the circular theme.


Together, these compositional elements seem to radiate outward from the building’s center while at the same time they define its boundaries.

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Getty Center

Arranged like an outcropping of rock along the mountainside, the six separate structures of this museum complex also respond to the lines of the freeway and Los Angeles’ city grid below. Curvilinear walls and balconies appear to continue the contours of the topography. Fossilized Italian travertine echoes the natural rock of the surrounding hills, but is cut into square panels to respond to the geometries of the manmade environment.


The predominance of the travertine -- 1.2 million square feet of it were used – is in keeping with the historic use of stone to create monumental architecture. This massive public facility was commissioned in 1984 to house an eclectic cross-section of the world’s art.

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Renzo Piano at Potsdamer Platz

The energy of the current ‘village square’ defies the site’s difficult past. In the early 1990s, the former Berlin city center stood desolate and empty, still burdened by its recent history as the dividing line between east and west Berlin. The Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) was charged with master-planning a large portion of the area and returning it to its former vibrancy. Eight of the 18 buildings provided for in the master plan were designed by RPBW, including the Debis tower.


The fragmented massing of this structure –- vaguely ship-like in its overall shape -- adds dynamic form to the new streetscape. To anchor the building to a more traditional past, terra cotta cladding is used in addition to the more familiar modern glass curtain wall.

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Central St. Giles Court

Recent interest in urban revitalization has made successful mixed use projects the Holy Grail of developers and architects alike. Renzo Piano Building Workshop approached the challenge by creating a colorful collection of volumes that can be seen for miles across central London. Central St. Giles Court replaces an undistinguished block of former government offices and is nestled in a historic neighborhood, so the building’s massing was proportioned accordingly.


But glazed ceramic tiles in tropical, energizing hues are applied to building facades to create monochromatic planes of color, making the building anything but subordinate to its environment. Once visitors have been drawn to the location by the enticing color scheme, pedestrian spaces and transparent glazed walls invite involvement and interaction.

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NEO Bankside

The famed Tate Modern museum sets the tone for this neighborhood, and architects for the residential complex of NEO Bankside responded by positioning six buildings in an orderly, gem-like arrangement along the edges of the site. Building massings are ‘cut’ to maximize the number of angled surfaces.


The theme of angles appears throughout the site in repeating patterns, as if the entire composition were a product of crystalline fracture. The structures’ materials also contribute to the theme: reflectivity and hardness are provided by glass and steel; an external steel bracing system continues the pattern of angles.

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James R. Thompson Center

Housing offices for the State of Illinois, this building takes up an entire city block but is only 17 stories tall. Its roughly conical shape is cropped at the top and capped with a skylight to accommodate an internal organization of office floors overlooking a central atrium.


Glass elevators and stairways that protrude into the atrium make it a dynamic circulation space. The building’s sloping exterior walls are clad in glass. A bold use of color both along the ground level exterior and throughout the interior further sets this structure apart from typical government buildings.


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Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

Each successive floor level of this 33 story building cantilevers over the tip of its triangular footprint, causing the roofline to culminate in a dramatic apex. The building’s angled edges are complemented by a pattern of irregular window openings; white glass cladding is interspersed with the transparent glazing. In contrast to the sharp geometry of the building’s upper stories, at ground level, a curved appendage embraces a plaza, making for a welcoming pedestrian space.


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5 Aldermanbury Square

The 18 story building at 5 Aldermanbury Square in London sports two features that hold appeal for modern consumers of architecture: it uses state-of-the-art, high tech cladding material and it blends public spaces with private, commercial property. A pedestrian thoroughfare connects Wood Street and Aldermanbury Square to the upper level of the Barbican High Walk – an area rich with history since Roman times and celebrated especially as part of the post-war London Wall Plan.


The building is organized around a central atrium, on either side of which a wing of office space projects forward. The architect eschewed symmetry in the building massing by positioning one office wing farther forward than the other. Regularity is further rejected in the façades, where sturdy stainless-clad framing -- with window openings of varying width -- is layered over the entire structure.

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Palazzo Strozzi

Italian palazzos (palaces) were more than just places to live – they were symbols of a family’s wealth and social standing. Palazzo Strozzi has the three-part structure common to Florentine palazzos. The rusticated stone base on the ground floor, with its plain windows, would have served as the family’s place of business.


The living areas above have a more ornamental treatment of their facades; pairs of arched windows are united by a single stone arch that spans each pair and a deep cornice caps the entire structure.

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Michelin House

The Michelin Building displays elements of Art Nouveau as well as Art Deco, an architectural style that was beginning to take shape in France around the time the Michelin company was establishing its British branch. However, the fact that the building was designed by a company employee with no formal architectural training — probably with input from brothers and Michelin company founders Édouard and André Michelin, who were known for their creative and visionary work — meant that it displayed a certain disregard for rigid stylistic constraints.


The use of concrete construction, which was a nascent method at the time, allowed for the creation of large open floor spaces. The building now houses a restaurant, shops and offices.

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Gamble House

This National Historic Landmark is the quintessential American Arts & Crafts style bungalow. It exhibits all of the hallmarks of the international Arts & Crafts movement, which prized traditional materials and a handcrafted look over the perceived sterility of industrial age design. Outside, the structure is defined by low-pitched gabled roofs and deep eaves with exposed rafters.


Interiors are dominated by deeply hued woodwork with sophisticated joinery. Many areas of the house offer transitional zones between indoors and outdoors, making it responsive to the southern California climate.


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First Christian Church

The rigid rectilinearity of this church stands in stark contrast to most religious architecture. The First Christian Church is reminiscent of early modern factory architecture in several ways. Building elements (the sanctuary, a classroom wing and, in particular, the tower) are positioned in such a way as to create an industrial complex silhouette.


Cladding is of simple tan brick. Gray limestone panels attached in a grid pattern impart monumentality to the sanctuary façade, yet contribute to the building’s industrial look when seen from afar. Ribbon windows appear in both vertical and horizontal orientations throughout the building, and many of the windows and doors have steel sash construction.


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InterContinential Chicago Magnificent Mile

The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile hotel was built to function as an exclusive men’s club for the Shriners/Freemasons. Originally the Medinah Athletic Club, an organization with roots in the Arabic world, the art and architecture of their Chicago hotel and club borrowed heavily from various Middle Eastern historical designs.


Although the club closed its doors soon after opening due to the onset of the Great Depression, restoration work done in the 1980s closely followed the original design and recreated many of its iconic features. Public areas of the building interior are lavishly ornamented and a four story lobby space is organized around a grand staircase.

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Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church

The departure point for the shape of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church has been said to be the Greek cross inscribed in a circle; however, many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s late buildings explored a circular theme. The envelope treatment — layer upon layer of semicircular arches, woven into a roofline that has its own semicircular fringe — is similar to other of Wright’s late works.

The dome that caps the structure serves multiple functions. It acts as a traditional church dome, even incorporating the traditional Byzantine blue. Its shallow depth allows it to span an auditorium that seats attendees within easy viewing distance of the pulpit. Finally, it follows a progression throughout Wright’s work wherein he explored organic forms specifically through domes, ellipses and arcs.


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AON Center

The Aon Center was known as the Standard Oil Building when it was built. As the tallest building in Chicago at that time (and now the third tallest), architects of this skyscraper boldly emphasized its verticality with full height piers. Because they are structural, the piers largely obscure the building’s glass areas. Stone cladding — originally marble but now white granite — was chosen to impart a sense of tradition and permanence.


A plaza at the main entrance provides a vantage point for the public to fully view and appreciate the soaring pillars of the 83 story façade.


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Charnley-Persky House

The Charnley-Persky House defies contemporary notions of home design. Its most prominent feature is a second floor balcony set against an otherwise plain and symmetrical brick block of a building. The wooden balcony boasts a classical colonnade, a frieze decorated with geometric patterns and a balustrade prominently embellished with Sullivan’s signature foliage and pods (or ovals).


It is supported on wooden beams that are reminiscent of the domestic architecture of classical antiquity. An emphasis on the horizontal and a lack of adornment (on the majority of the façade) are the main characteristics distinguishing this as a modern, as opposed to historical, structure.


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Golden Gate Bridge

Beyond being a landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.” While the bridge is often photographed on a sunny day, where it contrasts magnificently with blue sky and blue water, on many days the bay is actually gray, windy and socked in fog. The orange color, therefore, is a safety feature which improves visibility for ships and aircraft.


This concession to practicality was not the only inadvertent design choice to later become world-renowned. A 1937 report by the chief engineer laments that the originally planned cantilever-suspension type bridge was “abandoned in favor of the simple suspension type.”

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Coit Tower

Coit Tower was built with funds bequeathed by wealthy socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit for the beautification of the city. Officially a memorial, the concrete structure functions as a destination spot within the city, affording views of San Francisco from its top and showcasing a collection of New Deal era murals within its interior.


Public spaces are mostly housed within a base that is embellished by colonnades along its sides but is more reminiscent of Egyptian temple pylons at its main entrance. Like the columns along its base, the shaft of the tower is fluted. Stacked arcades at the top complete the composition.

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GM Renaissance Center

The GM Renaissance Center is one of the world’s largest commercial campuses. With financial backing from the Ford Motor Company, this ambitious project was intended to renew downtown Detroit and to be a statement of the city’s strength in the face of social and economic difficulties. Despite its size, the existing complex represents only part of what was originally intended. Initial proposals called for 15 towers and 1,000 residential units.


Four 39-story office towers actually got built in 1977, rising from a common base and surrounding a cylindrical 73-story hotel. The complex soon saw the addition of two 21 story towers. In 2004, General Motors undertook a major renovation to improve circulation and areas of public interface, including the riverfront.


The complex might have benefited from the completion of its originally intended Phase III. Despite the renovation, which involved many prestigious architecture firms and improved the experience of the Center from a pedestrian point of view, from a distance the contained arrangement of the complex resembles nothing so much as a closed fortress – or, at best, an industrial facility.

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