The Crooked House, Monte Cassino, Poland: As if to show how the mundane can become marvelous, the Crooked House is a building on a normal shopping street in this seaside town, and it hosts a mall with restaurants, shops and businesses. Rather than go the normal route, however, the architects – inspired by Polish children’s book illustrator Jan Marcin Szancer – went for a wonky fairy-tale route, distorting all the house’s lines to bizarre and comic effect. Sopot’s tourists love it – although some still fear entering.
Metropol Parasol, Seville, Spain: It could be said to be art, not architecture. But the Parasol is definitely a building, soaring over Seville’s once-tired Plaza de la Encarnación, and, at 150 by 70 meters, the largest wooden structure in the world. It was controversial, took ages, cost double its original budget and gained the inevitable nickname Las Setas de la Encarnación – "incarnation’s mushrooms." But as a device to cover a market, provide shade, create museum space and offer tourists a panoramic walkway atop, the Finnish birch-made Parasol is spectacular.
Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest): Olympic Games tend to leave a mixed architectural legacy. Some are good, others iffy. The Bird’s Nest, the centerpiece of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, is one of the former, and with artist Ai Weiwei on board, was the icon of the Games. The design was inspired by Chinese ceramics, and those sinuous steel beams hide supports for the retractable roof. The stadium fell into disuse, but now with a mall and concerts, the Bird’s Nest will live to tangle once more.
Casa Terracota, Villa de Leyva, Colombia: This huge hunk of pottery is the life’s work of environmental activist Mendoza, who built it by hand in a Colombian mountain village, baking the clay in the sun and using recycled junk for many of the fittings. The theme continues inside with clay tables and clay utensils across its two storys. With a great mountain-view location, Mendoza’s ethos was to create harmony between the land and community, and to "transform soil into habitable architecture." So the fact that locals call it the "Casa de Flintstone" won’t faze him.
Cube houses designed by architect Piet Blom, Rotterdam, Netherlands: It’s exhilarating, in a childlike way, to see a house on its side, and these 38 yellow cube houses above the Blaak Station in Rotterdam certainly captivate the imagination. Blom conceived the design of each house as a tree, and their collective bulk a forest, and they’re certainly striking outside: a tumble of squares that make you look anew at the world, as if through a kaleidoscope. They’re fun inside, too, with dramatic spaces giving views over Rotterdam. One enterprising resident even offers tours.
Habitat 67 housing complex, Montreal: The capital of Quebec is loveable, with its rinky-dink center, waterfront and great restaurants. But it’s also a Space Age haven thanks to two events: the Winter Olympics of 1976 and the World Exposition of 1967. Habitat 67 arose from the latter, a block of cuboid homes on the Cité du Havre, overlooking the river. Designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie to be the Canadian Pavilion for the Expo, the complex experimented with high-quality modular homes in dense urban environments. They still look great, and you can still buy one.
Hang Nga guesthouse, popularly known as the Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam: Some liken it to a fairy tale – if that’s the case, it’s one of those Grimm ones in which children get eaten. The Hằng Nga guesthouse is like a mash-up of Gaudí, Dalí, Tolkien and Disney: all sinuous twisted forms with hardly a right angle to be seen. With 10 animal-themed guest rooms, each with uneven windows, connected by tunnel-like corridors, the whole effect is organic, enchanting and slightly sinister. The local People’s Committee haven’t always like it, but tourists flock to this unique bothy in lovely, artsy Đà Lạt.
Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria: One of the results of the European Capital of Culture appellation has been to highlight second cities – and this Kunsthaus, also known as the Graz Art Museum, has really helped to put pretty Graz on the map. Perched between the city’s old gables and the river Mur, it works a biomorphic magic with a bubble-like shape and 1,066 acrylic glass "eyes" that twinkle from its skin. Graz locals have taken the "friendly alien" to their hearts and graciously accepted this playful example of "blob architecture" into the more traditional old town.
MMM Corones, South Tyrol, Italy: You want a mountain museum to be spectacular – and with a cantilevered platform gazing across the Italian Alps, the Messner Mountain Museum (MMM) Corones delivers. Top mountaineer Reinhold Messner has established six MMMs, but this one is the pinnacle: surrounded by the splendor of the Zillertal, Ortler and Dolomites peaks. But it’s Hadid’s building that’s the lure: utterly dramatic, with signature curved spaces leading visitors in and out of the mountain itself.
Museum of contemporary art in Niteroi, Brazil: Late architect Oscar Neimeyer designed the capital Brasilia, and his Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (MAC), designed when the maestro was 89, is similarly Space Age, with a saucer-like structure poised over Guanabara Bay, a reflecting pool, a curvy red concrete outdoor ramp, and a nearby beach. Inside what the locals refer to as the UFO, all the furnishings are by Oscar’s daughter Anna Maria.
Pompidou Centre, Paris: When the Centre Georges Pompidou opened 40 years ago it was genuinely new and startling – a colorful "inside-out: boilerhouse particularly noted for its escalators. The Pompidou (aka the "Beaubourg") did more than amuse though; it exceeded all expectations, and with a "multi-disciplinary" ethos and a space outside full of Interrailing students, it changed the face of the modern art museum.
The Egg, a center for the performing arts, on The Empire State Plaza in Albany, N.Y.: The Egg is an early example of a now familiar idiom – the arts icon that grabs the limelight for a town. In this case the Egg was hatched as part of Nelson Rockefeller’s Empire State Plaza government complex. Ovoid, tilted on an axis and perched on a pedestal, it’s a real eye-catcher. Within there are two theaters, and a stem that descends six storys. The reinforced concrete whopper is much-loved by locals, and N.Y. band They Might Be Giants even wrote a song about it in 2004.
Turning Torso, Malmo, Sweden: Coming on like a tower block suffering a Chinese burn, the Turning Torso is in Malmö’s Western Harbour, near the Öresund bridge connecting Sweden with Denmark, and is a classic bit of post-industrial waterside regeneration. Forged as part of a European housing exhibition, it is the world’s first twisted skyscraper: a jeu d’esprit typical of jokey Calatrava, akin to the figura serpentinata of Renaissance art. Standing brashly at 190 meters, it annoyed the sober Swedes, and replaced a much-loved crane in this ship-building city, but has served well as a gatepost to Sweden.