World’s Iconic Buildings

© Palladium Photodesign

Iconic buildings that put—or will put—their home cities on the map.

Kevin Costner vehicles are not traditionally thought of as fonts of architectural prophecy. But the iconic—oft misquoted—line from 1989’s Field of Dreams embodies the ethos, hope and advent of destination architecture: “If you build it, they will come.” (Cineasts, we know. The quote is actually “He will come.”) Surely this principle guided town planners in 1997 in Bilbao, Spain, then a cultural backwater, to commission Frank Gehry’s stunning Guggenheim. Now that town is a byword for cutting-edge culture, and the “Bilbao effect” has spread its wings to touch every corner of the world.

Casa da Musica, Portugal

Porto, another commonly overlooked city, became a must-visit destination overnight when its Casa da Música concert hall, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, opened in 2005. Originally built to mark the city’s stint as “European Capital of Culture” in 2001, it resembles a gigantic diamond glinting against the azure sky. And diamonds, as we all know, are a good investment.

The City of Arts and Sciences, Spain

To many, Valencia was nowheresville until the appearance of this dramatic, 86-acre museum and arts complex on a formerly dried-up riverbed (now filled with water that mirrors the architecture), designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava and the late, Madrid-born Félix Candela. The complex includes an IMAX cinema/planetarium/laserium, an opera house and a new multi-use space called the Agora.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Can Gehry out-Gehry Gehry? That’s the question with this Guggenheim, the largest one, which is slated for a 2013 completion. Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, has said, “Just as Bilbao established a new level of design and excellence, Gehry’s Guggenheim Abu Dhabi design pushes the boundaries of his own architectural practice and set the benchmark for museums.”

Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, Kazakhstan

Astana is fast acquiring a reputation as culturally sophisticated, thanks chiefly to London-based architects Foster + Partners, whose Palace of Peace and Reconciliation opened in 2006. Norman Foster is also the force behind the tent-shaped, 492-foot-tall Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, which incorporates movie theaters, shops, a park and even a water park, and was completed in 2010.

Sydney Opera House, Australia

Actually an antecedent to the Bilbao effect, the Sydney Opera House was commissioned in the 1950s specifically to lure people to far-flung Australia. Innovative, sculptural and featuring those super-iconic shell-shaped roofs, Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s winning design for a national opera house more than fulfilled its remit, reaping international recognition and putting Sydney on the cultural map.