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Iconic architecture: A history of ground-breaking designs

Sagrada Familia

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“Architecture is by definition a very collaborative process” – Joshua Prince-Ramus

Every building exists as a living record of its conception. The time and space from which it springs are forever held within its structure, shape and form. However, as time moves on, so does our architecture. Our beliefs and actions evolve in direct relation to the way we create our buildings. It is perhaps this intrinsic relationship between us and our architecture, that upholds our adoration. Here we map out how iconic architectural works – past and present – build, inform and define one another.

Taj Mahal – Lotus Flower
The Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim architecture in India, built to house the tomb of the favourite wife of a Mughal emperor. The breath-taking beauty of this structure is owed to its symmetrical design. The central building is surrounded by four minaret towers, which creates a near-perfect symmetry based on four axes. Not only is this design visually remarkable, but it also carries a poignant meaning: the even proportions represent the concept of pairs, (which are both individual and integrated by the symmetry), this reflects both intellectual and spiritual notions of universal harmony. The presentation of these complex ideas in the design encapsulates the Taj Mahal’s majesty.

Indian architecture’s affection for symmetrical design is incorporated into one of its’ more recent structures – the Lotus Temple, in Dehli. In this case, however, the symmetry has evolved. Whilst many buildings throughout history have used bilateral symmetry (like the Taj Mahal), the Lotus Flower uses a radial version. This creates a nine-sided symmetry which is composed of 27 free-standing petals which assume the shape of a lotus flower bud.

Taj Mahal

Colosseum – Olympiastadion Berlin
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Famously used during the Roman times for gladiator contests and public spectacles, this was the epicentre of ancient entertainment. Measuring 189 metres long and 156 metres wide, the oval-shaped structure is made from two walls: the interior and exterior. The exterior features 76 arches used as entrance and exit gates, and the interior creates walkways beneath the stands. The tiered seating is slanted, giving proportionate views to the arena, which could be up to 50 metres below. Estimated to have held between 50,000 and 80,000 people, this building’s magnitude is still impressive in our modern times.

Olympiastadion Berlin

Empire State Building – Taipei 101
The Empire State Building is an icon for New Yorkers and Americans across the country – it’s towering physicality symbolises the progression and success of a city and by extension of the American Dream. With a height of 381m, the skyscraper held the record of the tallest building in the world for 40 years and is still amongst the tallest buildings in America. Despite its colossal size, the building is also LEED certified, making it the tallest environmentally friendly in the country. The building is hailed as being one of the best examples of American architecture. It was completed in just 410 days, twelve days ahead of schedule. The building’s pencil shape and art-deco design have inspired an archetype for skyscrapers.

In fact, the basic design for many modern stadiums is directly inspired by the Colosseum. Perhaps the best example being the Olympiastadion Berlin. This stadium was designed to host the 1936 Olympic Games and reflect the power of the Nazi regime. The essential structure replicates its Roman predecessor. However, there is a break in the outer ring of the stadium called the Marathon Gate, which was designed to glorify the entrance of the Olympic Torch. This design feature is purely created for the ceremony and reflects a modern architectural stance.

Just as the Empire State Building set new records and precedents for the limitations of architecture, so did Taipei 101. At the time of its construction, this skyscraper became the tallest building in the world, measuring 509.2 metres (it held the record for 6 years). However, the building also reflects the evolution of modern sentiments. Its elevators are capable of reaching speeds of 37.7 mph, transporting passengers between the 5th and 89th floor in just 37 seconds. It also surpasses the Empire State Building’s green capabilities and was the tallest LEED-certified building in the world, as of 2011.

Taipei 101

Sagrada Familia – The Gherkin
Visit La Sagrada Familia and you will be instantly struck by its unique architectural wonder. In fact, it could be argued that there is no building like it in the entire history of art. What makes La Sagrada Familia so special is the integration of the architect’s beliefs into every aspect of its design. For religious representation, Gaudi’s completed cathedral design will have eighteen spires: twelve for the apostles, one for the Virgin Mary, four for the Evangelists and the tallest of all, for Jesus Christ. For the people of Barcelona, the decorative faces on one of the completed facades features sculptures are moulded from deceased Barcelona citizens as a tribute to the city. For nature (which is the fundamental part of the building’s design), the two pillars of the same façade are decorated with a turtle and a tortoise to represent the balance between life and sea. Venture inside and the nature theme continues: the nave vaults of the cathedral are shaped like the trunks of huge trees, forming together at the cathedral’s roof to create a canopy. Essentially, nature and God are at the essence of Gaudi’s outlook and this is reflected in every aspect of his design for his truly astounding cathedral.

Although Gaudi may have been the first architect to resemble nature to such a large extent, this has become an increasingly popular theme in modern architecture. A notable example is 30 St Mary Axe (commonly known as The Gherkin), London. This skyscraper was one of the first environmentally progressive buildings in the UK. Completed in 2004, this building takes its natural inspiration a step further, by integrating it into the way the structure behaves. The air ventilation system is similar to sea sponges and anemones, allowing air to flow through the building much like its natural counterparts would allow seawater to flow through their bodies.

Sagrada Familia

Ultimately, the thought behind these structures reflect our communal thoughts as human beings and conjure our unique thoughts as individuals. That is why millions upon millions of people visit the world’s most famous buildings each year. They go to learn about culture and history, to observe their intricate designs, to absorb their atmosphere and to draw inspiration.

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