Clever Curves: The Shapes of Modern Architecture

Nature abounds with curves and artists and architects revel in them. Compared to straight lines, curves are gentle and sensual, even poetic. This post showcases the visual appeal of curves in architectural structures around the world, designed by some of the world’s foremost architects. 

Park Crescent, London (19th century). The stuccoed terraced houses by the architect John Nash form a semicircle that defines the elegance of Park Crescent, just south of Regent’s Park in London.
Park Crescent, London.

Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) was a modernist concrete poet. But most of all he was king of the curve. The curves in his buildings were attempts to show his devotion to the female form. The Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba has been nicknamed “The Eye”, though to some, it speaks with the sinuous sensuality of a thigh or a breast.
Oscar Niemeyer was at the heart of the establishment when president Juscelino Kubitschek asked him and fellow Brazilian architect Lúcio Costa to embellish a new capital in Brasília in the 1960s. The result is a planned city distinguished by its white, modern architecture. Shown here is the National Congress building, seat of the government, in futuristic shapes at the end of a monumental avenue.
Brasilia Army Headquarters, Brasilia, Brazil. Designer: Oscar Niemeyer.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, also known as the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói (“MAC”), Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
The abstract sculptural staircase inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brasilia complex, brazil. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
Niterói Arts Centre, Rio, Brazil was designed by Oscar Niemeyer at the age of 89. The stunning location of this arts center overlooks Guanabara Bay in Rio, Brazil.

The Chapel at Bonchamp, Ronchamp, France 1955.

The Chapel at Ronchamp in France was designed in 1955 by Le Corbusier (1887-1965), one of the leading architects of modern times. It is said to be the most sculptural of Le Corbusier’s buildings. A stand-out feature of the chapel is the dark, thickened roof, inspired by a crab shell, resting on broad linear walls, giving it a transcendental spatial effect.

Musee Atelier Audemars Piguet, Switzerland. Located in the high mountain valley of the Swiss Jura, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet was conceived by Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to symbolize the blend of tradition and avant-garde of the legendary watch maker.

Vitra Design Museum, Germany.

The tiny German town of Weil am Rhein has long been a magnet for those with an eye for detail, a penchant for striking forms and clever curves, and an appreciation of making everyday living extraordinary. It is the home of the Vitra Campus, a design wonderland showcasing the works of renowned architects of the 20th century.  The Vitra Museum is the centrepiece of the campus, and is designed by the famed American architect, Frank Gehry (b. 1929).

The Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Designed to bring the world’s flora under one roof, the Flower Dome at Singapore’s Garden by the Bay holds the Guiness Book Record as the largest glass greenhouse in the world. The megastructure and the adjacent “Cloud Forest” was designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Night view of the two mega-biomes at the Gardens by the Bay: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.
ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

The museum was designed by architect Moshe Safdie as a space dedicated to the dynamic interplay between art and science. The standout feature of the museum is the flower-like structure that rises from the ground, made of ten petals of varying radii that seem to above the landscaped lily pond base.

Aerial view of the ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

Staircase rotunda, Axelborg, Copenhagen, Denmark. Axelborg is home to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. DLG Group is also headquartered in the building. The building was built in 1920 and was originally constructed for a bank. The rotunda staircase is an arresting feature of the squarish building.

The soothing curves and color of a building in Munich, Germany.

The City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain. Designer: Santiago Calatrava.

The City of Arts and Sciences is an architectural gem in the heart of the Spanish city of Valencia. Designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the structure comprises a science museum, an opera house, a planetarium, a promenade, and a parking space. Built between 1998 and 2003, the buildings are surrounded by shallow pools. Two streamlined bridges, also designed by Calatrava, cross the promenade between the Opera House and the Planetarium. The whole complex features copious use of curves and lines in white concrete that join the various buildings into a harmonious whole.

City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain.
The Science Museum in the City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain.

The “wings” of the giant “pelican” at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, US also bears the trademark sinuous curves of Santiago Calatrava.

The Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku, Azerbaijan. Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) became internationally famous for her sensual and futuristic architecture dominated by curving facades. Many consider Hadid the most inventive architect of the 21st century.

The Curving House, Korea. Designed by JOHO Architecture, this house beside a mountain in South Korea has a curved grey-brick facade that its architects compare to the body of a fish.

Los Manantiales restaurant, Mexico City.

In 1958 Felix Candela designed a masterpiece that would continue inspiring architects around the world to this day. His experiments with construction and thin-shell structures gave life to this iconic restaurant in Xochimilco, Mexico city. Inspired by a form of a flower, the complex building consists of four intersecting “petals” and blue glass windows opening up to a refreshing canal.

The Calgary Tower, Calgary, Canada. The tower, which opened in 1968, has a columnar base with a round observation platform at the top. It was designed by the Canadian architect Albert Dale.

Calgary Central Library, Calgary, Canada. Designed by Norwegian firm, Snøhetta, the Calgary Central Library features a sweeping curve along the street that was inspired by the curve in the light rail train tracks that go underneath the building.

The Blue Planet by 3XN, Copenhagen, Denmark. Comprising a series of curved wings designed to mimic the shapes generated by swirling water, Denmark’s national whirlpool-shaped aquarium is clad in shimmering aluminium shingles that are reminiscent of fish scales.

One of the most talked-about architecture, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has become more than an icon. The project was so acclaimed that the expression “Guggenheim effect” was coined to define the reconversion of a place through a single building,

The “spiderweb” ceiling of the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Designer: Frank Lloyd Wright,

The Guggenheim building is a fantastic example of human centered design. Lloyd Wright focus was on the museum goers experience, which he visualized as a flawless flow from the ticket desk to the artworks and back. The structure has a functional center in the ample atrium, which is the start and the end of the visit. The smooth walk along the concentric staircase is meant to complement the act of viewing the paintings. Light slopes downward, which makes walking and standing less wearisome and visitors are liberated from the stress of climbing stairs.

Museo Colecao Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal.

Buildings are not only containers, but they can also take an active role in the interpretation of space and art as exemplified by the Museo Colecao Berardo in Lisbon. Shown here is a large mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder that wouldn’t have made such a statement if it weren’t for the museum’s stunning double spiral white staircase.

Tianjin Binhai Library, China. Designed by the Dutch firm MVRDV, this futuristic-looking library in China might be the most exciting place to read a book, as well as a never-ending visual treat for curve lovers from every angle.

The energy in the interior of the library seems to emanate from the sphere in the center of the structure.
The undulating rows of books allow visitors to walk among various shelves while browsing.

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