Skyscrapers are modern day symbols of power and economic prosperity. They are shrines to capitalism, towering marvels of modern architecture and design, and a window cleaners worst nightmare. The higher the skyscraper, the more power and wealth it adds to a city’s skyline.
But these days, bored with simply inducing an inverted vertigo, innovative architects around the world are blending modern art and architectural design with bizarre, wacky, and quite breathtaking results.
From the Shard in London to the glorious Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai, the new symbols of power are cutting edge, abstract-looking mutant skyscrapers that push the boundaries of what’s possible and reshape our preconceptions of beauty and design. Here’s our pick of the ten wackiest skyscrapers in modern history.
10. China Central TV Headquarters Beijing, China
The locals call it big boxer shorts. And we’re not quite sure why. The first radical skyscraper on our list is China Central Television Headquarters, a 44-story, 768ft marvel of modern archtecture located in Beijing’s busy CBD.
Construction began in 2004 and was only completed in May this year. On top of the structural challenges that come with building an unusually shaped skyscraper in a seismic zone, the project was delayed by a fire breaking out at the adjacent Television Cultural Center in 2009.
Finally realised, the building is a long-term combination of European and Chinese engineering and innovation. The unusual loop shape is a tribute to the interconnected process of television making. Tower 1 is the editing and office area, while the lower tower, Tower 2, is used for broadcasting.
9. Western City Gate Belgrade, Serbia
Hulking above its surroundings like an Orwellian shrine to the industrial age, BelgradeÕs Western City Gate sticks out like a sore thumb on a broken hand. It also looks like something out of Total Recall, or Escape from New York!
Completed in 1980, Western City Gate, aptly named Genex Tower, is a 460ft, 35-story, brutalist monster Ð canÕt you just picture flames shooting out of the top while Vangelis does the soundtrack?
The taller of the two towers is a residential block and the other is vertical office space. And the two-story bridge that connects the two towers has an observation deck and revolving restaurant perched above it.
In the 70s, Architect Mihajlo Mitrovi? envisioned a futuristic high-rise gate, greeting people as they arrived into the city from the west. But in 2012, Western City Gate represents an unrealised future: the kind of stylised, flying-cars-and-hover-boards future anticipated in the 70s and 80s. The future, as weÕve seen, is a lot curvier and more artistic.
8. National Architects Union Headquarters (Paucescu House) Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest’s National Architect’s Union Headquarters looks like it got dressed in the dark Ð over the space of a couple of centuries. Basically, it’s a mid 19th century French Renaissance style European heritage building, with a modern skyscraper plonked on top of it. Which makes it one of the wackiest skyscrapers on our list, donÕt you think?
Naturally, opinions on this man-made hybrid are strongly divided. Some see it as an insult to BucharestÕs heritage and a symbol of the local authoritiesÕ failure to preserve the past. Others, however, see it as an eclectic combination of old and new and an architectural representation of modern BelgradeÕs embrace of contrasts.
The original building was named Paucescu House and was once the residence of Grigore Paucescu, a politician in the second half of the 19th century. In 1914, the building was partially demolished. Still, the remaining structure could be described as remarkable.
In 2000, the Union of Architects took over the building. Instead of restoring it or demolishing it and starting all over again, they took the road less travelled, creating an odd tribute to BucharestÕs historic past and a nod to its progressive future.
7. Lippo Centre Admiralty, Hong Kong
The twin towers of the Lippo Centre on Hong Kong Island stand like two massive, 48-story totem poles to the gods of commerce. Further adding to the centre’s wacky credentials, the towers were designed to look like a series of koala bears climbing trees. Now thatÕs something you donÕt hear every day.
Completed in 1988 and originally known as the Bond Centre, architect Paul Rudolph designed the building with the idea of making it seem softer and less harsh than other modern skyscrapers. A gentler approach to sky scraping: sky tickling, if you will. Still, we wonder if he could ÒbearÓ how the result looks today.
As far as height goes, the taller of the two towers, Lippo Centre 2, is 610ft tall, while the slightly shorter tower, Lippo Center 1, stands at 564ft.
6. HSB Turning Torso Malmš, Sweden
Sweden’s Turning Torso residential block is about as wacky and Ôout thereÕ as modern skyscrapers get Ð we get motion sickness just by looking at it. Even the name sounds like the latest piece by bizarre English artist Damien Hirst. We’d hate to come home drunk if we lived on the top floor.
With a height of 623ft, the HSB Turning Torso is the tallest skyscraper in Sweden. Completed in August 2005, the twisted 54-story building was designed by sculptor, architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava.
Illustrating just how blurred the lines have become between architecture and modern art, the building is an elaboration of Calatravas 1991 steel and marble sculpture The Twisting Torso. Inspired by his own creation, Calatrava designed the skyscraper to look like a contorted human body. And if that isnt wacky enough, an exposed structural spine on one side of the building emphasises its anatomical predisposition.
5. Robot Building Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok’s retro-looking Robot Building was designed for the Bank of Asia in the mid 80s by Thai architect Sumet Jumsai, who was asked to represent the computerized world of modern banking. The building was completed in 1986, which explains why it looks a lot like the famous 80s movie robot Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 or R2-D2.
Jumsai modelled the Robot Building on one of his sonÕs toy robots. And his idea was to illustrate the successful merger of the human race and technology, challenging the idea that modern technology was remote to mankind. Jumsai explained that making technology a part of our daily lives, a friend, ourselves would help facilitate the inevitable union of mankind and machinery.
Standing just 20 floors high, the Robot Building certainly isn’t as vertically imposing as a lot of the skyscrapers on our list. But it’s unique, iconic, and ridiculously wacky. And the dated-looking robot character is endearing and charming and more Wall-E than Optimus Prime.
In tribute to The Robot Building’s avant-garde iconic goofiness, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art selected Jumsai’s creation as one of the 5 Seminal Buildings of the Century.
4. Chang Building Bangkok, Thailand
Looming over Bangkok like a giant Lego elephant, the Chang Building is another one of Thai architect Sunet Jumsai’s bizarre creations. Completed in 1997, the Chang Building is a two dimensional, 32-story tribute to Thailand’s national animal. And naturally, since it’s a 335-ft elephant, it’s also one of the most famous and iconic buildings in the country.
Made up of seven sections, the Chang Building is used for both residential and commercial purposes. Onsite features include a luxury suite, a swimming pool, a shopping plaza, a bank and a post office.
Stylistically, the building’s chunky, harsh outline and washed out grey fade are incredibly unattractive. But at the same time, Jumsai’s creation is impressive for its way-out there audacity and the mighty image it projects over the city. And somehow, with the right skyline behind it, there is beauty in its angular rigidity.
3. Nakagin Capsule Tower Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo’s peculiar Nakagin Capsule Tower looks like an abandoned monochrome Rubik’s Cube. Weird on the outside, and weird on the inside, the building consists of two interconnected towers that house 140 prefabricated compact apartments, or capsules.
Designed by Kisho Kurokawa and completed in 1972, the tiny capsule apartments were originally aimed at Japanese bachelors, and were fitted with the latest modern conveniences such as refrigerators, TVs and even reel-to-reel tape decks. With a bathroom the size of an aircraft lavatory, space was definitely an issue.
Bizarrely, the space pod-looking capsules were fabricated at a factory, shipped to the building site, and then attached to the concrete towers individually. Each capsule is attached separately and can be ÔunpluggedÕ without affecting the others.
Lately, the tower has fallen into disrepair. In 2007, residents complained about the cramped living conditions and raised concerns over the use of asbestos. They voted to demolish the building and replace it with a larger, more spacious and more contemporary tower. However, for now the building still remains standing.
New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in opposition to the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s scheduled demolition, describing the tower’s importance to the world of modern architecture: its existence also stands as a powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.
2. Capital Gate Abu Dhabi
The Capital Gate skyscraper in Abu Dhabi was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s furthest leaning man-made tower in 2010, and is certainly an impressive sight. Known as The leaning tower of Abu Dhabi, Capital Gate is a 35-story, 520-ft mass of concrete, steel and glass. Most obviously, the building features an 18-degree incline to the west, meaning that it leans out four times as much as the more famous tower in Italy.
We know what you’re thinking. How does it work? Well, to counter the gravitational pressure imposed by such an audacious incline, the building has a pre-cambered core. Essentially, the building uses a core of concrete reinforced with steel, which in this case, has been built slightly off-centre. Capital Gate is also anchored to the ground by 490 piles, drilled 60 to 90-ft underground.
RMJM, the architectural firm behind the eye-gouging skyscraper, must have got Willy Wonka to recommend a good elevator specialist.
1. Sutyagin House Arkhangelsk, Russia
It looks like something out of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon but Satyagin House, the worldÕs Òtallest wooden house, is 100% real. Well, it used to be. The fascinating building was torn down in 2008 and the remaining four-story structure burned to the ground on May 6, 2012.
The 13-story, 144-foot-tall wooden Frankenstein’s monster was built by eccentric-sounding Russian gangster and entrepeneur Nikolai Petrovich Sutyagin without any formal plans or building permits. Sutyagin, who described the building as the Òeighth wonder of the world, sounds like a real-life Citizen Kane: building his own Xanadu out of wood for 15 years, in an obsessive attempt to outdo his neighbours and the surrounding buildings.
According to reports, the state of the building deteriorated drastically while Sutyagin spent several years in prison on racketeering charges. From the sounds of things, though, the structure was always pretty unstable. Finally, in 2008, housing officials ordered that Satyagin House be destroyed.
And there you have it, our guide to 10 of the world’s wackiest and most out of the blocks thinking skyscrapers. From bizarre animal tributes to space-saving prefabricated capsules and a giant pair of Chinese boxer shorts, the buildings on this list showcase the kind of artistic license, creativity and freedom that has infiltrated modern architecture. The architects and designers on this list are artists in their own right, stamping their own personal touch on skylines around the world.