A short while ago, we took a look at some of Europe’s most famous examples of modernist architecture, from Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to the colourful pipes adorning the exterior of Paris’ Centre Pompidou. And yet, our research threw up so many striking, original and simply fabulous pieces of architectural genius, we thought it was well worth devoting another article to the weird and wonderful buildings of Europe.
To Brussels first of all and the futuristic metallic spheres of the Atomium, the Belgian capital’s most popular tourist attraction. Built for Brussels’ 1958 World Fair, the Atomium was designed to be a replica of a single unit of iron crystal, blown up 165 billion times. Each of the nine spheres is 18 metres in diameter and wrapped in stainless steel, five of which are open to the public. The top sphere (accessible by lift) is home to a restaurant offering far-reaching views over the city and indeed as far as Antwerp on a clear day. The four other publicly accessible spheres play host to a permanent exhibition dedicated to Expo58 whilst those remaining are reserved for temporary events. At night, the spheres are lit up with some 3,000 LED lights, making for a rather special photo opportunity. The Atomium is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
A rather newer addition to the Copenhagen skyline, the Blue Planet, Northern Europe’s largest aquarium, opened its doors to the public earlier this year amidst much fanfare, not least for its stunning architectural design. Designed by an award-winning Danish architect, the building has been constructed in the shape of a whirlpool, comprising a series of curved wings designed to mimic the shapes generated by swirling water. The exterior is clad in shimmering aluminium shingles which give it a rather pertinent fish scale effect, somewhat appropriate given its usage. The Blue Planet contains some seven million litres of water spread amidst 53 aquariums and displays including the Ocean Tank containing hammerhead sharks, moray eels and rays, the Coral Reef and Amazonas, home to piranhas and anacondas as well as butterflies and birds. The Blue Planet is open daily from 10am to 6pm (9pm on Mondays).
Changing architectural tack once again, Prague plays host to the most surreal of buildings and an absolute must-see, the Nationale-Nederlanden or Dancing House as it is more commonly known. Designed in 1992 and completed in 1996, this thoroughly unique and rather controversial edifice was co-conceived by the renowned architect, Frank Gehry who originally named the house ‘Fred and Ginger’. Built in a deconstructivist or ‘new-baroque’ style, so named for its unusual shape, the Dancing House occupies a prime position on the Vltava River and its modern, twisted and curved façade is somewhat at odds with its historic baroque neighbours. Only the top floor of the Dancing House is open to the public and is home to one of the city’s leading restaurants, offering excellent views over the castle.
The tallest building in Reykjavik (244 feet tall) and the largest church in Iceland, the Church of Hallgrímur – Hallgrímskirkja to the locals – is a most imposing and futuristic structure. Designed to reflect the rugged mountains, basalt lava flows and glacial landscapes of Iceland’s splendid natural panoramas, viewed head on Hallgrímur actually resembles more a jagged arrowhead or spaceship erupting from the ground. Commissioned in 1938 and with construction beginning in 1945, the church took some 38 years to complete and due to its somewhat unusual design, drew a certain amount of resistance from the traditionalists along the way. Today, visitors can take a lift to the top of the steeple from where the views across Reykjavik and the Atlantic Sea beyond are simply breathtaking. The church is also renowned for its enormous organ, with some 5,000 pipes reaching up over 50 metres high.
And finally, no mention of the weird and wonderful would be complete (and before you ask, the utterly bizarre architectural delights of Barcelona deserve, and indeed will get, a whole article of their very own!) without mentioning the rather odd Tête au Carré in Nice. Designed and created by the sculptor and artist, Sacha Sosno, this building, aptly translated as ‘Thinking inside the Box’, was created for the Central Library of Nice with some three floors of library situated inside the head! It stands 85 feet high and is in fact the first giant sculpture to have been transformed into a usable building.