15 Buildings That Don’t Look Like Buildings

Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel resembles a giant ballistic missile. As the so-called “Hotel of Doom” prepares to open in 2013, Pixtale looks at 15 buildings that don’t look like buildings [15 photos total]

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After more than three decades of on-and-off construction, the sinister-looking Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang is finally poised to open in mid-2013. The pyramid-shaped structure, which rises 105 stories, will be the world’s tallest hotel — and one of the few that evokes an intergalactic warhead. Reto Wittwer, the chief executive of Kempinski Hotels, is over the moon that his firm won management rights. “This pyramid monster hotel will monopolize all the business in the city,” he said recently. “I said to myself, ‘We have to get this hotel if there is ever a chance, because this will become a money-printing machine if North Korea opens up.’” (Reuters) #
The Indira Gandhi Planetarium isn’t out of this world; it’s in Lucknow, India. Opened in 2003, the garish building mimics Saturn by bringing together a large sphere — diameter 70 ft. (21 m) — and a series of rings in varying shades of brown, orange and yellow. It’s unclear why officials named the structure after the former Prime Minister, who presumably knew more about international relations than interplanetary ones. Were she alive, though, Gandhi might point out one glaring error: Saturn has seven rings, but the building has only five. (UPRNN / Aga Khan Award for Architecture) #
From the organization that promotes fisheries in India comes this marine monstrosity. Opened in February 2012, it has the unfortunate appearance of a shark that has swallowed a blimp. The building’s left pectoral fin doubles as an awning above the main entrance. At night, bluish-purple spotlights pointed at the building give the impression it’s swimming through Hyderabad. (Noah Seelam / AFP / Getty Images) #
You don’t have to speak Thai to realize that chang means elephant. This Bangkok landmark opened in 1997 and rises 32 stories over the city’s northern business district. Offices fill two of its towers, while apartments and luxury penthouses rest in its other tower and top floor. Eyes and yellow tusks imbue the structure with a cartoonish quality, but its creators took the design process very seriously. The building honors an animal that Thais revere for helping defend the kingdom early in its history. (jarcje) #
Aldar, a real estate development and investment company in Abu Dhabi, exists to turn a profit. True to form, its futuristic HQ resembles a giant coin. Inside, 12 high-speed elevators help employees move up 23 floors that include office spaces, two cafés, prayer rooms and male and female gyms. The world’s first circular skyscraper, it’s held together by a diagonal grid of steel. (Alamy) #
The folks at Ohio’s Longaberger Basket Company take pride in their handcrafted maple-wood baskets. So much so that founder Dave Longaberger decided to move the company’s corporate offices into this massive basket — a steel structure plastered over with stucco. (Doral Chenoweth III / Columbus Dispatch / AP) #
If Chinese deities still hold sway, then guests at the Tianzi Hotel in China’s Hebei province can count on a happy stay. That’s because the colorful building depicts Fu, Lu and Shou, the Chinese gods of good fortune, prosperity and longevity. Shou, the jolly figure with the white beard, welcomes guests through a door in his right foot. His right hand holds a peach, which is actually a suite. Guinness World Records named the hotel the world’s “biggest image building.” (Sun jun / Imaginechina / AP) #
Designed to resemble a diamond, the 24-sided National Library of Belarus is covered in glass panels so that it sparkles like a giant engagement ring. To keep the shimmer going all night long, technicians installed 4,646 color-changing LED fixtures on the building’s exterior. It gives this temple of knowledge a hint of Las Vegas. Who says learning can’t be glam? (Keren Su / Corbis) #
Azerbaijan — known as the Land of Fire because of its history of Zoroastrian fire worship — cast subtlety aside with the Flame Towers. The three structures, which opened in 2012, each rise 620 ft. (190 m) over Baku, the capital. At night their LED exteriors light up to depict flames, a waving Azerbaijani flag and other moving images. The towers house a Fairmont hotel, offices and a shopping center. (Jamie McDonald / FIFA / Getty Images) #
When designing the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi, architect Fariborz Sahba used the lotus flower as a metaphor for man’s potential: the flower springs up from muddy water, blooming into something of undeniable beauty. Nine ponds surround the structure, which consists of 27 freestanding marble slabs that represent petals. According to Guinness World Records, it’s the most visited religious building in the world, attracting more visitors than the Taj Mahal. (Ed Freeman / Getty Images) #
Twitter isn’t the only forum for hashtags. Bjarke Ingels Group, a Danish architecture firm, has unveiled plans for the Cross # Towers: a pair of skyscrapers in Seoul connected by two interlocking bridges. The bridges, set at 230 ft. (70 m) and 460 ft. (140 m), will be topped by roof gardens. Could an “@ sign” building follow? (BIG architects) #
C.Y. Lee, the Taiwanese architect who built Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings, also made this — one of the world’s ugliest. The 25-floor office block in Shenyang, China, takes inspiration from ancient Chinese coins that were circular with square cutouts in the middle. Abu Dhabi’s Aldar building — also a coin — looks sleek. This just looks clunky. (Sun Hai / AP) #
Among other things, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has been compared to a ship, a meteorite, a spaceship from Alpha Centauri, a large soufflé and a metallic piece of cauliflower. Regardless of the analogy deployed, academics and critics alike praise the Frank Gehry building as one of the most influential and important of our time. (Atlantide Phototravel / Corbis) #
Given the success of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Gehry is entitled to a bit of failure. Enter the Experience Music Project, a 140,000-sq.-ft. (13,000 sq m) museum in Seattle devoted to rock music. It thrusts and curves in a similar way to his work in Bilbao, but it lacks any sense of cohesion. The aluminum-and-steel exterior could have been eye-catching. But his decision to color it shades of fuchsia, fire-truck red and powder blue results in a loud mess. It’s no wonder critics have said it reminds them of feuding blobs or open-heart surgery. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) #
Designed for the 2012 Olympics, Zaha Hadid’s London Aquatics Centre cost a whopping $430 million. From the side, it looks like a beached whale stuck on a concrete shore. Inside, spectators get the sense they’re sitting underneath the animal’s belly. (Mark Chivers / Corbis) #

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