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Top Architects of the last 100 years

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Great architects have come from all corners of the globe, spreading their distinct ideas, styles and techniques worldwide. Many of these buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, have become iconic emblems in their respective countries.

Who are the best architects of the last 100 years? Here’s our run down of five architects who we feel merit distinction and praise for their substantial achievements.

Frank Gehry (1929-) 

Frank Gehry’s aesthetic, post-structuralist style has made him one of the most distinctive and recognisable architects in recent years. Born in Toronto in 1929, he grew up a creative child with a keen interest in building materials. He would build imaginary cities and homes out of scraps of wood and other items he found in his grandfather’s hardware store.

Much of Gehry’s early work was designed in a deconstructive aesthetic, a style that challenged the standard architectural ideals of the era. Gehry mastered this style throughout his whole career and it all began in the 1970s-80s, where he designed several commercial buildings and homes in California, including his own residence in Santa Monica, California. His designs caught the attention of the architectural world and as his reputation grew, so did the scale of his work. In 1997, Gehry’s reputation reached new heights when the Guggenheim Museum opened. This architectural masterpiece is arguably his best-known work and is a major tourist attraction. His other famous buildings include the Louis Vuitton Foundation and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Even in the twilight years of his career, Gehry continues to be a legend in the world of architecture. 

Ian Athfield (1940-2015) 

Over the last fifty years, Ian Athfield has made a huge contribution to architecture. He reshaped the face of Wellington and New Zealand as a whole. Born in Christchurch, he dedicated his life to creating vibrant communities in New Zealand. His work was constantly experimental and innovative, evading categorisation. He deliberately avoided the standard forms of architecture, typically experimenting with shapes and creating distinct images.

His most notable works include the Civic Square, Telecom Towers and the Wellington Central Library. One of his greatest creations was his own home Athfield House, which was his first major project that he completed in 1968. Located in Khanadalla, it sits on a hillside overlooking the city. It has a vernacular, aesthetically striking design, which noticeably contrasts with the rest of the neighbourhood. He is among this country’s most celebrated architects and received a knighthood in 2015. 

Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) 

What perhaps best defines the work of Zaha Hadid is the fluid, interwoven spaces between elements. Her structures were futuristic in appearance, free-flowing and ahead of their time. Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, but moved to London in 1972 to pursue her passion for architecture. Her first major project was constructed in 1993-1994: it was a small fire station built in Germany. She also designed the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg, in 2005. By this point, she had become a renowned architect, becoming the first woman in history to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture prize, which she won in 2004. She also designed the Riverside Museum in Scotland and the London Aquatic centre for the 2012 Olympics. She has a vast number of uncompleted projects that we can only hope get built posthumously in the future.

Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) 

Oscar Niemeyer, best known for designing the buildings in Brasilia, was a key figure in the development of modern architecture. Born in Rio De Janerio, he was raised in a wealthy family and started drawing from an early age. He always had an eye for the visual arts. After a period working for his father in a typography house, he joined the office of architect Lucio Costa, before launching his solo career in 1941.

Niemeyer designed various buildings throughout the 1940s, but when he joined the team tasked with designing the United Nations Building, he became a serious name in architecture. His reputation allowed him to go onto design the civic buildings for Brasilia in the late 1950s. He pushed the boundaries with his designs for the city, casting aside traditional architecture and introducing structures with unique and modernist shapes. He designed many buildings in the city, including the Ministry of Justice Building and the presidential palace. Niemeyer has left behind a legacy felt all over the world.

Phillip Johnson (1906-2005)  

Phillip Johnson played a key role in developing postmodern architecture and became a prominent advocate of the international style. After completing his studies at Harvard University in 1930, he travelled across Europe and visited many famous landmarks and ancient monuments, such as the Parthenon. Johnson designed his own private residence, the Glass House in 1949, which is his best-known work. The house is a minimalist and expressive structure, an early example of industrial materials such as glass and steel being used in home design. He also designed New York’s Seagram Building (1959) in collaboration with Mies Van der Rohe. 

His other works include the Gate of Europe Towers in Madrid and the Williams Tower in Houston, Texas. An influential and great innovator, Johnson designed many incredible buildings in a career spanning more than fifty years.

Architecture of the past one hundred years is an exciting story of stunning creations. The world would not be the same without these great architects. The next hundred years will hopefully be just as vibrant and culturally stimulating.

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