23 Of The Greatest Buildings In The World

For the past three thousand years or more, people across the world have been designing and constructing amazing buildings. They are built for many different reasons: in homage to loved ones, as tombs for the dead, as homes to live in and places designed for work. Sometimes they come from mistakes, and at other times they are built simply to show that they can be, a legacy of ambition and engineering advance. Some take decades to build, others go up in months. Every one of them, in one way or another, is unique. As a nod to the spirit of human endeavor and achievement, we’ve pulled together 23 of the greatest buildings we could find, knowing that there will always be more.

The Acropolis Athens

The Acropolis, Athens

The Acropolis is located on a hill above Athens and is not a structure itself, as is sometimes thought, but a kind of complex consisting of a number of buildings. The most important are considered to be the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the Athena Nike, which is not, as some people seem to think, the latest running shoe. [Details]

Taj Mahal India

Taj Mahal, India

It has been described as the most beautiful building in the world, and was built by the emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife. If this makes the flowers you picked up on the way home from work seem somewhat inadequate, we understand. If it makes you feel any better, this was his third wife. The Taj Mahal is one of the few sites around the world that tends not to disappoint. If you’re lucky enough to visit, stay as long as you can. The light changes throughout the day. You get the sense that you’re never looking at exactly the same thing. [Details]

Buckingham Palace London

Buckingham Palace, London

It’s been the official London residence of the Kings and Queens of England since 1837. It is open to the public, though not intended to be as open as it was in 1982 when Michael Fagan climbed up a drainpipe and made his way into the queen’s bedroom. When she woke up, there he was. The palace has 775 rooms, including 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, and 188 staff bedrooms. So if you’re ever at the front door ringing the bell, it might be a while before someone answers. If you’re busting to use the bathroom, Buckingham Palace is a good place to be. It has 78 of them. [Details]

Leaning Tower of Pisa Italy

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Construction of the tower began in 1173. Just five years later, it was already sinking. The problem was too shallow a foundation built on unstable ground. It was left to settle, and construction resumed in 1272. In 1284 it stopped again. Construction was finally completed in 1372. The tower is actually curved because attempts were made to straighten it out by making one side taller. The top of the tower is twelve feet out from where it would be if it were straight. Not so long ago, there were no railings at the top. People could walk right off the edge, and sometimes they did. [Details]

Empire State Building New York City

Empire State Building, New York City

When it was finished in 1931 the Empire State was the tallest building in the world, and it stayed that way for forty one years until the Twin Towers overtook it in 1972. Official records show that five workers died during its construction. Photographs like this one make you wonder why that number isn’t higher. Of course, the photographer was also up there. No wimps at this level. [Details]

Burj Khalifa Dubai

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Since 2010 it has been the tallest building in the world. If you visit Dubai, you must surely go up to the observation deck on level 124. Once you get there, you can take in the view, or alternatively, go shopping. [Details]

St Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Before the Burj Khalifa, around eight hundred years before, in fact, the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, which stood where the current St. Paul’s stands, was the tallest building in the world. It was burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. [Details]

Palace of Versailles France

Palace of Versailles, France

Hard to believe, but the palace at Versailles started off as a hunting lodge in 1624, after Louis XIII took a fancy to the surrounding land. He expanded it into a chateau, and later Louis XIV got his hands on it and turned it into one of the largest palaces in the world. Successive Louises – right up through the XVI – continued working on it. Right up to the French Revolution, in fact, after which point a few changes came about. [Details]

Al Bahar Towers Abu Dhabi

Al Bahar Towers, Abu Dhabi

The two 29-storey towers are protected by what might be described as giant automated venetian blinds. There are two thousand of them, made of glass and they open and close depending on the intensity of sunlight. They’re said to reduce heat inside by up to fifty percent, all of which led to a second place in the Emporis Skycraper Awards. [Details]

Sydney Opera House Australia

Sydney Opera House, Australia

One of the few truly iconic buildings of the world. Despite its name, the Sydney Opera House does not restrict itself to opera. The complex is a multi-venue performance space producing over 1500 performances each year. Many performing arts companies are represented here, but there are four key resident companies: Opera Australia, Sydney Theater Company, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and The Australian Ballet. [Details]

The Twin Towers New York

The Twin Towers, New York

We won’t say much about the Towers here. It’s pretty common knowledge that they were brought down in September of 2001. When there were officially opened in 1973, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Always an identifying feature of the New York skyline, they will always be synonymous with the city. [Details]

Eiffel Tower Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

When it was built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel for the World’s Fair, it was the tallest building, or at least structure, in the world. At the time it was, and essentially still is, completely useless. It was built as an engineering feat, for almost no other reason than just to show that it could be done. [Details]

Monticello Virginia

Monticello, Virginia

The house at Monticello was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who among many other things was essentially a self-taught architect, and where he lived for around fifty years. He continued to work on the house throughout his life, and at the time of his death, though largely complete, he was still developing it. The house is important because this was new architecture for a new world. [Details]

Tintern Abbey Wales

Tintern Abbey, Wales

Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 in Monmouthshire, Wales, and has inspired art and verse in visitors to its ruins. Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Ginsberg were all reduced to poetry, and Turner painted it. By this we mean he created a painting of it, not that he covered it in a semi-gloss. [Details]

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

We’ve included the new building because it’s the tallest in the western hemisphere. It’s managed this by the spire at the top, which seems more of an afterthought than anything. [Details]

Shenzhen Baoan International Airport China

Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, China

In the city where many of our favorite tech gadgets are put together, one of the most modern airport terminals has been built. It’s in the shape of a cross and looks like a plane, or a giant stick insect, some kind of flying machine from the planet Urk, or as it says here, a manta ray. [Details]

Cayan Tower Dubai

Cayan Tower, Dubai

Dubai’s Cayan Tower won the vote for the best residential highrise, but let’s be serious, it’s not even straight. You’d think someone would catch this sort of thing before building began. The architecture and engineering was done by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, whose goal is apparently to build the tallest buildings in the world. They also built the Willis Tower, the Burj Khalifa, as well as the new One World Trade Center, among others. [Details]

Big Ben London

Big Ben, London

Big Ben is actually the nickname of the bell inside the clock, so technically Big Ben could never be one of the world’s greatest buildings, no matter how hard it tried. Mind you, it does make a pretty impressive bell. The clock is part of the Elizabeth Tower, which until 2012 was known simply as the Clock Tower. 2012 was the Queen’s diamond jubilee, hence the name change. Elizabeth Tower is the north end of the Palace of Westminster, which is the building that probably should be on this list, and not Big Ben. [Details]

Potala Palace China

Potala Palace, China

The Potola Palace has been the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century. It is made up of the White and Red Palaces, and built on Red Mountain in the Lhasa Valley, some 11,000 feet up. It was made a World Heritage Site in 1994. [Details]

Royal Pavilion England

Royal Pavilion, England

Also known as the Brighton Pavilion, the Royal Pavilion was a retreat away from London for the royal family, in particular George, the Prince of Wales. Because of its location in an English seaside town, ie., Brighton, its Indian-style architecture tends to stand out from its surroundings. One reason the royal family had residences outside of London was to escape disease when it struck, as it did from time to time. [details]

Forbidden City Beijing

Forbidden City, Beijing

The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial palace from the Ming to the Qing dynasty. That’s a bit over 500 years, from around 1368 to 1912. It’s known as the Forbidden City because unless you had a reason to be there, which if you weren’t connected to the Emperor you probably didn’t, it was forbidden to be there. [Details]

Pyramids Egypt

Pyramids, Egypt

Kind of difficult to have a list of greatest buildings and not include the Pyramids, even though technically they’re probably structures, rather than buildings. The earliest known are around three thousand years old. The most famous are the Pyramids at Giza. The Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest and largest at Giza, and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still exists. You may know it better as the Pyramid of Cheops. [Details]

The White House Washington DC

The White House, Washington DC

Er… it’s where the President lives. Slaves helped to build the White House. During Jefferson’s presidency, the second child ever born in the White House was born to slaves. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation here. Truman signed orders for desegregation of military and government. Today, Barack Obama and his family live here. [Details]

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