The World's 18 Strangest Buildings

This July, the American Institute of Architects forecasted steep declines in nonresidential construction spending through 2010. Spending is projected to decrease by 16 percent this year and another 12 percent in 2010. With less money flowing through the industry, high-end design projects are likely to be scaled back; architects, builders and regular folk are opting for retrofits with more practical design. While the demand may be turning to minimal and frugal architecture, unusual design still holds a place for museums and other prominent locations, primarily because it is so effective at turning heads. Here are some of our favorite unusual designs for museums, offices, homes and libraries—and why they are so effective at drawing attention. [via popularmechanics]

1. Waldspirale

City: Darmstadt, Germany

Background: Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian architect and painter, designed this building, which contains 105 apartments and a restaurant.

How It's Strange: Buildings are not usually this gaudy. "It's fantastical," says Toby Israel, a design psychologist and author of Some Place Like Home. Hundertwasser, known for his colorful, irregular-shaped buildings, chose windows of different shapes and sizes for this apartment. In addition, the building's colors are meant to represent layers of sediment rock.

2. 30 St. Mary Axe

City: London
0 St. Mary Axe

Background: This is the second tallest building in the City of London. Opened in 2004, it is commonly referred to as the Gherkin, after the cucumber-like fruit. Its suggestive shape also earned it the nickname "Towering Innuendo."

How It's Strange: The building's roundness is striking; its maximum circumference is only two meters less than its height. Such roundness is rare because it requires computer-aided design, as well as a more costly construction, Israel says. In addition, the Gherkin is mostly windows, with 24,000 square meters of external glass, a unique, energy-efficient building approach.

3. Habitat 67

City: Montreal, Canada
Habitat 67

Background: This apartment building was built for Expo 67, the 1967 world exhibition held in Canada. Although Habitat 67 was supposed to provide affordable housing after the Expo ended—much like the stated plans for Vancouver's Olympic Village— its apartments go for luxury apartment prices because of the unique architecture.

How It's Strange: The apartments look oddly positioned and disjointed, but Israel says there's actually a purpose behind the design: Habitat 67 is made from 354 cubes, stacked so that no window faces toward another window to provide privacy. "It's unusual-looking," Israel says, "but it's user-friendly."

4. The Egg

City: Albany, NY
The Egg

Background: This building is the Center for Performing Arts. It holds two theaters for concerts and shows, one seating 450 people and the other with capacity for 892.

How It's Strange: You won't see many copies of this design because it requires an intensive support system. A heavily-reinforced concrete beam helps maintain the egg shape and transmit its weight to the supporting stem, which extends six stories underground. The end result is a building that looks like a sculpture, with an interior without straight lines or corners.

5. Flintstone House

City: Burlingame, Calif.
Flintstone House

Background: Architect William Nicholson designed this home in the 1970s. To construct the unique shapes, builders formed a wire mesh over inflated aeronautical balloons and sprayed them with concrete.

How It's Strange: When people design a residential home, they want it to reflect their personalities and preferences. The dome-shape rooms are different and expressive, but the Flintstone requires a particular buyer, Israel says. "It's not everyone's American dream home."

6. Container City II

City: London
Container City II

Background: Container City II is a studio space for 22 artists. The Urban Space Management company designs various Container Cities like this one for use as homes, offices and stores.

How It's Strange: Container Cities use old shipping containers to create modular buildings that are cheap and quick to build. The colors and design of Container City II were devised "to reflect the creative flair of those who work here," according to the company.

7. The Crooked House

City: Sopot, Poland
The Crooked House

Background: The Crooked House is located in a shopping center. Built in 2003, the house is used for commercial purposes.

How It's Strange: Drawings from a children's books illustrator, Jan Marcin Szancer, partially inspired the building's wavy look, which fits snugly between neighboring buildings and looks as though it's sagging in place. The building's roof is meant to create the illusion of dragon scales.

8. Basket Building

City: Newark, Ohio
The Crooked House

Background: This building is the home office of the Longaberger Company, which sells baskets.

How It's Strange: The building looks like a basket. "There is a whole tradition of using supersize realistic objects to draw attention," Israel says. "It's a fun way to catch a consumer's eye." This building's windows in particular are visually interesting because they mimic a basket's weave pattern.

9. Community Bookshelf

City: Kansas City, Mo.
Community Bookshelf

Background: This funky building is the parking garage for Kansas City's Central Library. It features 22 book titles, which the Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees selected from library members' suggestions.

How It's Strange: This is another case of using huge realistic objects to catch the eye; the book spines measure approximately 25 by 9 feet. The book titles include The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes and Romeo and Juliet.

10. Guggenheim Museum

City: Bilbao, Spain
Guggenheim Museum

Background: Renowned architect Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim Museum in an industrial city in Northern Spain. Glass walls link the building's striking curves, which are made of stone, glass and titanium.

How It's Strange: The building fits into a style of architecture called deconstructivism, which is known for "stimulating unpredictability and controlled chaos," Israel says. A building of this complexity is rare because it requires advanced technology to design. For example, Gehry created these mathematically complex curves with a 3D computer design program initially developed for the aerospace industry.

11. Ferdinand Cheval's Ideal Palace

City: Hauterives, France
Ferdinand Cheval's Ideal Palace

Background: Ferdinand Cheval, a rural postman, built this palace between 1879 and 1912. He had no background in architecture or masonry, and a uniquely shaped stone was the inspiration for the project. Today, the castle is a popular tourist destination.

How It's Strange: The palace mixes architectural styles from different epochs and places, such as Northern Europe, China and Algiers. Cheval used a variety of materials, including limestone, shells and stones, to create this elaborately carved building. He spent almost three decades just gathering stones for the project.

12. Dancing House

City: Prague, Czech Republic
Dancing House

Background: Frank Gehry and fellow architect Vlado Milunic designed this building.

How It's Strange: The building is meant to look like a dancing couple, complete with a skirt swaying to the music. Its nickname is "Ginger and Fred" after famous dancing pair Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair. A building like this sticks out among more traditional high-rise buildings. "It helps make Prague a dynamic, cultured city," Israel says.

13. Lotus Temple

City: New Delhi, India
Lotus Temple

Background: Officially known as the Bah‡'’ House of Worship, this temple is one of the most visited structures in India. Over 8000 people attended its opening ceremony in 1986.

How It's Strange: The building is designed to represent the lotus flower, a religious symbol for various religions prevalent in India, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. "When it comes to spiritual architecture," Israel says, "you're looking for some kind of personal meaning or connection." The temple consists of three sets of petals, covered in marble, and it is open at the top.

14. Cadet Chapel

City: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Cadet Chapel

Background: The chapel is part of the United States Air Force Academy. It's an all-faith place of worship, with four separate chapels—one for Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Buddhists.

How It's Strange: This chapel is a spiritual building designed to have viewers experience religion—and the house of worship—in a new way, Israel says. It consists of 17 spires soaring 150 feet into the air.

15. Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum

City: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum

Background: The building, opened in 1996, serves as a museum.

How It's Strange: The circular building resembles a UFO. A cylinder 29.5 feet in diameter supports the entire structure, which makes it seem like it's floating above the surrounding water. In addition, the building was treated with a heat-resistant material that has been used to protect NASA rockets.

16. Cube Houses

City: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Cube Houses

Background: The 38 cubes, built on top of a pedestrian bridge in 1984, are residential homes that overlook a commercial area with restaurants and shops.

How It's Strange: Architect Piet Blom wanted each cube to represent an abstract tree—taken together, all the cubes are supposed to make a forest. The tilted cubes sit on hexagonal poles. Each one is three stories, with the top story a three-sided pyramid covered in windows.

17. Library of Alexandria

City: Alexandria, Egypt
Library of Alexandria

Background: The library is located almost exactly where an ancient Egyptian library once stood. This modern version rises 11 stories and attracts 1 million visitors a year.

How It's Strange: The most striking feature of the library is its large, slanted disc, which represents a rising sun. This is supposed to symbolize an emerging place of learning; in addition, sun discs played a role in ancient Egyptian religion and mythology.

18. Belarus National Library

City: Minsk, Belarus
Belarus National Library

Background: The Belarus National Library's design was selected in an international contest in 1989, but construction didn't begin until 2002.

How It's Strange: The goal of making such common buildings look weird, Israel says, is to make them "landmarks within a city, not only spaces that have practical function." This one is meant to resemble a diamond.

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