10 One-of-a-Kind Buildings From Around the World
When creative architectural minds are given free reign over their creations—and unlimited funding—some truly unique buildings are born. Some of these raise form above function and some do the opposite, but all will make you pause and think, "What is that?"
Unique Architecture From Around the World
Prague, Czech Republic
The Dancing House stands out among Prague’s typical Baroque, Medieval and Renaissance architecture. That’s because it’s relatively new to the city, designed in the early ’90s by Czech-Croatian architect Vlado Milunic with his long-time collaborator, noted Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. The contrasting kinetic and static structures were meant to evince two dancers. In fact, Gehry’s nickname for the double building was “Fred and Ginger”, in reference to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Despite its unique architecture in contrast with surrounding antiquated spires, the Dancing House has been well-received and even featured on a collector’s Czech koruna coin.
Probably the most protracted construction project in the world, the Sagrada Familia‘s unique architecture has been polarizing opinion for over a century. When celebrated modernist architect Antoni Gaudi took the reins in 1883, a year after construction began, he turned just another church into his otherworldly magnum opus. Barcelona’s “minor basilica” has been called everything from “hideous” to a “marvel.” Its intricate designs, facades, motifs and themes divide opinion, but make the Sagrada Familia among the most unique architecture in the world. When it’s finally finished in 2026, its iconic design will have long since been established as one of the great achievements of architecture.
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Conceived as the future of urban living, Habitat 67‘s unique architecture was designed by a young Canadian Israeli immigrant named Moshe Safdie for Montreal’s 1967 Universal Exposition. The building was designed to integrate the advantages of suburban living—namely privacy, gardens and multiple floors—in an urban environment. It was also made to be modular and cheap. The concrete block structure was supposed to be easily replicated in urban environments around the world. Unfortunately, the modular revolution has yet to arrive and the cost of one of Habitat’s 146 residences isn’t exactly cheap, either: A penthouse in the complex can run you up to $2 million.
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Longaberger Basket Building
There are plenty of buildings out there that reflect their purpose, like the Kansas City library that looks like a row of books. The Longaberger Basket Building is one of this kind. Head office of the Longaberger Company, which produce—you guessed it—baskets, this piece of unique architecture can be found in Newark, Ohio and the company’s baskets can be found around the world. The building is a replica of the company’s “Medium Market Basket”, complete with replica copper rivets to hold the two 150-tonne replica handles. Originally, the Longaberger founder’s son wanted all the Longaberger buildings to look like baskets. His daughters, who took over the company after his death, nixed the idea.
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Another example of an offbeat construction for a World’s Fair, the Atomium was built for the 1958 edition of the Universal Exposition held in Brussels, Belgium. Unlike Habitat 67, it wasn’t meant to be a residential building. Instead its spheres contain exhibition rooms and public halls. The building itself is designed to be a copy of the structure of iron crystal. It was also built to represent the “democratic will to maintain peace among nations,” which during the Atomic Age was certainly at the forefront of public discourse. And though it was meant as a temporary structure, its popularity was such that it was retrofitted to become a permanent, albeit odd fixture of the Brussels skyline.
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The world’s largest solar furnace is less of building and more of a machine. Its 10,000 aligned mirrors are capable of heating an area about the size of a volleyball to almost 3,500°C. This high temperature is used for metallurgical and chemical experiments requiring extremely high heat, and to generate electricity with a steam turbine. While solar furnaces have been around for quite some time (legend has it that the Greeks used focused sunlight to burn the ships of the approaching Roman fleet), this one located in the mountainous Pyrenees of southern France dwarfs all comers.
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Elephants play an important role in Thai culture. Not only are elephants deeply ingrained in the national religion, Buddhism, but they are also symbols of the longstanding monarchy. Until recently, too, elephants were used for labour and industries like logging. Many ancient temples around Thailand will also have elephants depicted in some way. So it’s not entirely out of the ordinary that a modern city like Bangkok would have a building constructed in the shape of an elephant. But take away the wooden beams that represent the tusks and the large circular windows that are the eyes, and this unique architecture would simply be an odd building in the shape of the letter “M.”
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This residential wonder in a German university town has more than 1,000 windows—and no two are the same. Far from being a design blunder, this is a point of pride for the creative minds behind its unique architecture. And the windows aren’t the only things that are out of order: Oddities abound in this spiral-shaped building, from onion domes to a lack of straight lines to a multi-coloured facade. It’s crowning peculiarity, however, is its roof garden—or rather, roof forest. The “wooden spiral,” as it’s translated, has an entire woodland atop its undulating roof.
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Niagara Falls, Ontario
For visitors to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in Niagara Falls, the “believe it or not” begins before they even step in the front door. The museum is housed in an imitation Empire State Building resting on its side, complete with King Kong on the spire and a New York City yellow cab at its base, pointing straight up into the sky. After one in Florida, this location is the second oldest Ripley’s Museum in the world, among over 30 others. Ripley’s claims to be home to the strange, odd and unbelievable, and the unexpected exterior in Niagara Falls certainly is all of those things.
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The Sutyagin House was built by a Russian billionaire in the depths of Siberia. At the time of its completion, it was reckoned to be the tallest wooden building in the world. Some 13 seemingly haphazard wooden floors lent the building the appearance of a cartoon haunted house. Though lauded and impressive, the house incurred the wrath of the Russian authorities, who maintained that building codes only allowed wooden structures up to 2 stories in height. In 2008, all but four floors of the house were destroyed, and the rest was sadly destroyed by fire in 2012.
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