Since he’s a furniture designer, you may think Tom’s interest in architecture would be confined to interiors. And while it’s true that the team spend a lot of time working with interior designers to create pieces that perfectly complement the interior, exteriors form one of Tom’s main sources of design inspiration. There’s something about the sheer scale of their geometry that can make you look at simple shapes in a new light, their epic physicality often inspiring a sort of presence. Here we’ve collected ten of our Tom’s favourite awe-inspiring structures by some of the most celebrated architects of all time.
1. Fallingwater – Frank Lloyd Wright Despite Fallingwater's serious and indisputable design credentials, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks like a house straight out of a fairytale. When asked by his clients to create a weekend home with a view overlooking a majestic 30ft waterfall, Wright instead presented his ambitious plans to build their home directly atop the waterfall, so that the waterfall forever became an integral part of the family’s lives and their home. As Director of Fallingwater Lynda Waggoner states;"Wright justified this by saying he felt that something as dramatic as the waterfall – if you could see it out your picture window on a daily basis – it would become very commonplace. It would no longer hold a sense of excitement." A brave move considering this was Wright’s first project in over ten years. The Great Depression had discouraged demand for new constructions and many wondered if Wright had offered all he could to America’s great architecture. The eventual success of Fallingwater in fact heralded a new era of success for Wright, as he went on to complete hundreds of new buildings including New York’s Guggenheim. Now one of America’s most treasured buildings, it is one of the finest examples of organic architecture, not only connecting design with nature but celebrating both landscape and the genius of man.
2. The Eames House – Charles & Ray EamesPretty as a picture – a Mondrian in fact, the Eames house has come to be admired as one of the finest examples of mid-20th century modern architecture. Originally conceived as part of Arts & Architecture magazine’s ‘Case Study House Program’ – a scheme in which the magazine commissioned architects to design homes to express man’s life in the modern world – the Eameses were so thrilled with their creation that it became their lifelong home. Understandable, seeing as their original proposal for the building reflected their own needs; a low-maintenance home for a married couple working in the creative industries with no children, a home perfectly complementing the proposed picturesque site, a meadow overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The perfect environment for, as Charles put it, “life in work”, with nature as a “shock absorber”. Constructed around two boxes linked by an exterior courtyard, the design puts a strong emphasis on natural light, the linear steel frames filled with a mixture of transparent and opaque panels, the effect communicating a gentle Japanese influence.
3. T4 Madrid Barajas Airport – Rogers Stirk Harbour & PartnersTom’s not alone in loving this award-winning piece of architecture. It’s celebrated for its modularity, allowing flexibility and future adaptations, but also for encouraging a clear and calm flow of passengers through the space. The 15 minute walk through the long terminal is beautifully punctuated by subtle changes in colour – in itself an enjoyable journey. We especially love the undulating hill-like roof and circular light wells, flooding the space with gentle daylight. The terminal’s ecological and sustainable credentials are also admirable – designed to use passive environmental systems where possible and the maximum use of natural light throughout all levels. The (sustainable) bamboo roof is pleasing too – adding a linearity to the wave shape and giving an organic balance to an otherwise industrial structure.
4. Heydar Aliyev center – Zaha HadidDesigned to celebrate Azerbaijan’s independence from Sovietism, including the Soviet influence on architecture and urbanism, the Heydar Aliyev center symbolises the Azeri focus on modernism and optimism. "They wanted to have something unique, something which is looking at the future, somehow showing their soft, romantic side but at the same time their optimistic side. When you look at Soviet era [architecture in Azerbaijan], it’s more like monumental internalised authoritarian buildings. So we wanted to use this building as an opportunity to soften it up and totally depart from that." – Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu, project lead. We think the resulting design fits the brief perfectly. The award-winning architecture combines elaborate folds, bifurcations and undulations, creating an impressive but welcoming space, ideal for a modern cultural centre. Interestingly, the fluidity has been used to reflect the Azeri architectural tradition of ornamentation running from floor to the ceiling, here reinterpreted in the most modern way both inside and out.
5. TWA Terminal – Eero SaarinenYou can easily understand why Saarinen’s Trans World Flight Center, designed in 1962, was once called the "Grand Central of the Jet Age" owing to its hugely futuristic design. The exterior’s concrete roof easily conjures images of flight, its massive wings sloping down to the ground and framing the gigantic glass windows looking out over the runway. This is another building on our list with fluidity at the centre of its design, we love the continuous lines of the interior – how the ceiling gently joins the wall and then meets the floor. We also love the all-encompassing consistency of the design as Saarinen explained during construction in 1959: "All the curves, all the spaces and elements right down to the shape of the signs, display boards, railings and check-in desks were to be of a matching nature. We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed environment, in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world." Though the landmark sadly closed in 2001 due to financial issues, we were delighted to hear earlier this year that it will reopen next year as a hotel, all in keeping with Saarinen’s distinctive mid-20th century design.
6. International Fair of Tripoli – Oscar NiemeyerThe story behind this unfinished exhibition centre in Tripoli is a tragic one, both for the people of Lebanon and for architecture. Abandoned before it was finished in 1975 due to the country’s civil war, the site has remained unused and has been rarely visited, save for a few eager photographers and instagrammers. It’s fair to say you might be surprised to find this abandoned treasure trove of futuristic modern design in the ancient port of Tripoli, however in the 1960s Lebanon was up-and-coming, the swinging playground of visiting celebrities and intellectuals. The legendary architect Niemeyer was inspired and envisioned a revolutionary design for the site of the World Fair that sadly never took place. Structures included an exhibition centre, an amphitheatre, a mushroom-shaped helipad, an experimental theatre and a pavilion – the design of the pavilion being Niemeyer’s only departure from the space-age aesthetic, the arches inspired by traditional Lebanese architecture. We especially love the experimental concrete dome theatre, designed as a performance space. The interior acoustics are evidently spectacular owing to the dome shape, even boasting a natural "whispering effect", whereby two people at opposite sides of the space can converse by whisper. Here’s hoping the Lebanon golden age of the 1960s is soon recreated and that the abandoned site will be enjoyed and appreciated by many more people.
7. St Paul’s Cathedral – Christopher WrenThe greatest English architect of his time and perhaps of all time, Wren was responsible for designing 52 churches in London alone. After the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the majority of the previous St Paul’s cathedral, Wren was given the task of designing the new structure. The result undoubtedly became his masterpiece and one of London’s most revered and iconic buildings, dominating the London skyline even as other more modern buildings overtook in height from 1962 onwards. A national institution, it’s a building everyone should visit, admire, and be inspired by. We’re actually very lucky that we can still visit after it was hit by a bomb in World War Two – thankfully the bomb was removed before exploding as it would have destroyed the London landmark completely.
8. Chichu Art Museum – Tadao AndoRecently visited by our very own Tom Faulkner, the Chichu Art Museum is often described as one of the world’s greatest museums for modern art and many consider the structure itself as impressive as the artwork it contains. It’s earned its place on our top ten due to Ando’s clever and balanced use of some of our favourite materials – concrete, glass, iron and wood – as well as his sensitive use of natural light. Located on the small island of Naoshima, the galleries are artfully built into the hillside, using only natural light to illuminate the underground spaces. Even more impressively, each hall was designed specifically for the artwork it exhibits, lighting and framing the piece with sensitivity and care. The luminescence of Monet’s water lilies is given more emphasis by the enveloping natural night and pearlescent mosaic floor, Walter de Maria’s behemoth structures are given a cathedral-like space in which to be admired and revered. In short, the museum is a masterpiece, a rethinking of the relationship between nature and people, offering an experience of artwork rather than simply a vessel to contain it.
9. Sagrada Família – Antoni GaudíIt must be strange to design a building that you know you won’t live to see completed. And yet this is what happened when Antoni Gaudí began designing the epic, extravagant and as yet unfinished Sagrada Família basilica, now under construction for over 13 decades and due to be completed in 2026. It’s often quoted that when questioned over why the project was taking so long, Gaudí would reply “My client is not in a hurry”. He was talking about God. He died in a tram accident in 1926, a hundred years before the basilica’s proposed completion. While 150 years may sound like an inconceivable construction period, it’s a mere drop in the ocean when you consider it was 632 years until Cologne’s cathedral was completed, and over 200 years for the Great Wall of China. It could have taken even longer as many of Gaudi’s original drawings and models were lost and for years Spain was unsure about how to proceed. Progress was only made with the arrival of current chief architect Jordi Faulí, who after completing a doctoral thesis on the design, initiated a historical investigation and unearthed a trove of Gaudí documents then used to complete the final design. Technological advances have also sped up the process, with computers now enabling 3D modelling and even advancing manual processes. However some are less than happy with these design developments, claiming that aspects of the new aesthetic are far from what Gaudí envisaged. Whereas Gaudí took his inspiration from nature (the endless curves created by hanging a weighted string from the ceiling to see how natural arches would form), there are concerns that recent additions to the design are too modern and too angular. Many wonder if it would have been better to have left the basilica unfinished and left it true to Gaudí’s vision, rather than completed with a possibly confused and partly guessed design aesthetic. We however can’t wait to visit after 2026 and marvel at what will be the tallest religious structure in Europe. It may not be considered by all as beautiful, but it’s guaranteed to be impressive.
10. British Library – Colin St John WilsonDescribed as ‘a cathedral of knowledge’, the British Library houses soaring and awe-inspiring spaces, including no less than 11 reading rooms and the King’s Library tower – home to irreplaceable treasures such as the Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels and original Beatles lyrics. Now much-loved, it’s difficult to imagine that the building was originally shrouded in controversy – in fact Wilson described the construction as his ’30 years’ war’ as the structure was accused of being one of the ugliest buildings in the world by a parliamentary committee and suffered numerous budget cuts. Now Grade I listed (and one of the youngest buildings ever to have been awarded this listing) the building’s iconic and visionary brutalist design is finally recognised and has been protected for many future generations to come.