30 architectural masterpieces everyone should see in their lifetime

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Diego Delso/Flickr

Buildings may be some of the most impressive works of art we have.

After sinking untold sums of money into their construction, we can walk through the finished products and even live inside them.

Here are some of the most ambitious projects from architects around the world, and whose works span thousands of years.

Drake Baer contributed to an earlier version of this article.


The oldest building we know of is Göbekli Tepe in present-day Turkey. Built somewhere around 9500 B.C., archaeologists aren’t certain of its function, but it was probably religious.

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Teomancimit / Wikimedia Commons

Since then, humans have built some pretty rad structures. In the past year, we’ve seen futuristic openings like the Fulton Center in New York …

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Spencer Platt / Getty

… and the Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School in Melbourne, Australia.

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World Architecture Festival

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, is a stunning structure that seems to have been dropped right in the middle of the Amritsar River. It is the center of the Sikh Faith, and it’s lustrous at night.

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Arian Zwegers/Flickr

The Las Lajas Sanctuary in Narino, Colombia, is equally mystifying. It looks like it defies gravity.

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Diego Delso/Flickr

The modernist architect Antoni Gaudí didn’t live to see his Sagrada Família completed — in fact, it’s still being built. The exterior looks like something out of Narnia …

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Shutterstock

… and the interior is even more surreal.

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Shutterstock

The Flatiron Building in New York was one of the first skyscrapers …

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Mario Tama / Getty

… as was the moody Woolworth Building, which was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930.

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Ludovic Bertron / Flickr

In Onomichi, Japan, couples frequently turn to the Ribbon Chapel for their wedding ceremonies — and understandably so.

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World Architecture Festival

Also surrounded by green is the Light of Life Church in Seoul, South Korea.

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World Architecture Festival

On the inside, the church looks completely different.

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World Architecture Festival

Chicago’s Marina City apartments are, to say the least, uniquely designed. Built in 1964, they were one of the first mixed-use buildings and the first to be built with a crane in the US.

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cdelmoral / flickr

Not all impressive buildings need to scrape the sky. The Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki is built into a rock underground and still gets lots of sunlight.

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Jorge Láscar / Flickr

The Church of St. George in Lalibela, Ethiopia, was carved out of a single stone in the 12th century.

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Shutterstock

Some of the most beautiful buildings integrate into their landscape. The Turninn building in Reykjavík reflects the wild beauty of Iceland.

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Courtesy of Architizer.

The modernist master Mies van der Rohe used minimal lines and open space to create buildings that seemingly float in the air around them, like the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, built in the 1960s.

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seier+seier / flickr

Berlin is also home to the Mecca of electronic music: the brutalist masterstroke Berghain.

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Michael Mayer / flickr

Integration into the surrounding environment is one of the oldest ideals of architecture. The old Japanese capital Kyoto features the breathtaking Golden Pavilion …

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Freedom II Andres / Flickr

… and the more subtly stunning Silver Pavilion.

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Reginald Pentinio / flickr

The Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali is the largest mud-built structure in the world — it can hold 3,000 worshippers.

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37degrees/flickr

The whimsical Pompidou Center in Paris is a postmodern masterwork: It gleefully displays the guts of the building.

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Shutterstock

Built around 1200, the Chartes Cathedral in northern France is a primary example of Gothic architecture. Notice the ornate “portals” that you enter into the building through …

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Shutterstock

… and the stunning organ inside.

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Shutterstock

Perhaps the only house of worship that can match its grandeur is the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, built in the early 1600s at the height of the Ottoman Empire.

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Shutterstock

Its interior features more than 20,000 handmade tiles.

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Shutterstock

Neuschwanstein Castle in the German state of Bavaria reportedly inspired Walt Disney to create Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It’s easy to see why.

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Sean Gallup / Getty

Trinity College in Dublin is a gem of a university.

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Chris Jackson / Getty

It has the prototypical library, the most stunning section of which is called, fittingly enough, the Long Room.

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Tony Webster / Flickr

The Imperial Palace — aka the Forbidden City — is the ultimate form of high Chinese architecture. It was the seat of government from 1420 to 1912.

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Lintao Zhang / Getty

Today, some of the most experimental modern architecture in the world is being built in Beijing, like the CCTV Tower, locally known as “The Trousers.”

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Getty

With Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the late Zaha Hadid did what she could only ever do — turn the hard, clean lines of modernism into something organic.

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準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia/Flickr

Perched high in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu is the best example we have of Incan architecture. Archaeologists say it was built around 1450.

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Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 2007, the Parque Biblioteca España in Medellín, Colombia, was designed by the Colombian architect Giancarlo Mazzanti. The three buildings are meant to look like stones.

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Dr EG / Flickr

Sydney’s Opera House is the rightful ambassador of Australian architecture.

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Daniel Munoz / Reuters

Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and opened in 1973, it has become a literal canvas of public expression …

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Tim Wimborne / Reuters

The al-Qarawiyyin university, library, and mosque were founded by Fatima El-Fihriya in 859 — around the time early forms of algebra were being invented.


Only a month after it re-opened to the public in June 2016, after more than 1,000 years of dormancy, visitors from all over the world are already flocking to glimpse a piece of history.

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Wikimedia Commons