Physics-abiding architecture is so last century. Although structures like St. Peter's Basilica and Angkor Wat will always be impressive, the architecture that truly captures the public imagination these days does so with designs that are less concerned with pure aesthetics than delivering a solid shoulder shrug to gravity.
Around the world, architects push the boundaries of science, striving to design buildings that seem more like optical illusions than functional structures. These masterpieces are a treat for the mind as much as the eye, and while walking amongst the cantilevers and arches that make them possible, it's difficult not to wonder at the capabilities of our species and the scientific advancements that have allowed us to come so far.
Here are some of the best physics-defying buildings from around the world.
10 Capital Gate, United Arab Emirates
Tilted 18˚ to the west, Capital Gate was declared the "farthest manmade leaning building" by Guinness World Records in 2010. A strong core made of concrete and steel helps to keep the building upright and to support against the wind and other pressures. Its foundation comprises 490 pilings, each reaching 20 to 30 meters down into the ground.
Most of the leaning towers in the world tilted as a result of age or wear, but the squiggle-like form of Capital Gate was very much intentional, designed t0 catch the eye and push the boundaries of architectural possibility.
9 Milwaukee Art Museum, USA
White, panel-like projections are affixed atop the roof of the Milwaukee Art Museum, looming in the air like the wings of a skeletal butterfly. The architect of the museum, Santiago Calatrava, is well-known for the way his designs mirror living organisms, and to further enhance the life-like flavor of the museum, the panels open and close like flapping wings depending on the time and weather.
One of the largest museums in the United States, this structure is home to almost 25,000 works of art—but it is worth visiting as much for its exterior as for the art displayed within.
8 Veluwemeer Aqueduct, Netherlands
Normally, bridges go over the water, not under it. However, in the Netherlands, a unique aqueduct allows the vehicles of the land and sea to switch places, with small ships sailing above the cars that zoom by beneath.
Connecting the mainland to an artificial island, over 25,000 cars drive the length of this roadway every day, and the aqueduct hanging above it acts as a bridge for small ships. Pedestrian walkways line the road, allowing visitors to marvel at this architectural wonder—but of course, the best way to take in the aqueduct would be on one of the many ships that glide along its length every day.
7 The Habitat Housing Complex, Canada
Visiting Habitat 67 in Montreal feels a bit like stepping into a game of Minecraft. The architect, Moshe Safdie, originally devised the idea for this structure as his master's thesis, but the design would later come later to life as a pavilion for the 1967 World Fair in Montreal.
Intended to combine aspects of suburban life, such as gardens and open spaces, with the more compact style of urban living, this building serves as a residence, with the distinctive concrete blocks it is so famous for linking together to form cozy units. Although the design did not revolutionize city-living in the way the architect hoped it would, Habitat 67 has become one of the most famous landmarks in Quebec—and home for a lucky community of people in Montreal.
6 Auditorio de Tenerife, Spain
Built between 1997 and 2003, the Auditorio de Tenerife on the Canary Islands is home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra and has become an icon of modernism in Spain.
It is particularly famous for its arc, which curves over the main body of the structure, braced by only two points. Given how much of its weight looms without support, the arc appears to defy physics, poised overhead like the tail of an angry scorpion.
5 Museum of Tomorrow, Brazil
With its elongated form and white, bone-like projections, the Museum of Tomorrow in Brazil looks a bit like a cross between an industrial fan and the skeleton of some enormous sea creature. Atop the structure are solar panels, which stick up like fins and move throughout the day to follow the light.
The main body of the museum is home to exhibits exploring science and the future of mankind, and reaching out from this central building is an enormous overhang that casts its shadow upon visitors as they approach the entrance. Located on the edge of the water, it almost feels like this unique structure will slither into the ocean at any moment—but it remains in place, looming over both land and sea to dazzle tourists and locals alike.
4 Holmenkollbakken, Norway
Staring down the slippery slope of an enormous ski jump is unnerving at the best of times—but when you're standing at the top of Holmenhollbakken in Norway, there's the added insecurity of being perched upon a structure that looks very much like a seesaw about to pitch its occupants onto the ground.
Having been rebuilt 19 times, the current version of the hill was the product of an architectural design competition and was completed in 2010. Although its architecture is very modern, the ski hill has a long history, with the neighborhood of Holmenkollen in Oslo having hosted ski festivals since the late 19th century.
3 China Central Television Headquarters, China
Like the mind-bending shapes of M. C. Escher's optical illusions, the odd angles of the China Central Television Headquarters tend to deceive the eye upon first glance. From afar, the structure looks a bit like a rectangle, but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the different parts of the structure jut away from each other in odd directions, with the topmost section seeming to defy gravity by leaning away from its supports.
As the headquarters for CCTV, the building was designed to reference the concept of closed-circuit television, with its two L-shaped towers linking together in a continuous loop.
2 The Balancing Barn, UK
Looking like a mix between a futuristic shed and a diving board, the Balancing Barn is a gem of contemporary architecture. Half of the structure hangs mid-air, and those lucky enough to visit its interior stand at eye-level with the tops of surrounding trees.
Intended to increase the accessibility of modern architecture and encourage greater connection to the countryside, the Balancing Barn is available for booking and accommodates around eight people. Amidst the cozy cottages and ancient churches of the English countryside, the futuristic architecture of this unique residence may seem a bit out of place—but it's this distinctiveness that makes it so popular a destination.
1 Langkawi Sky Bridge, Malaysia
The Langkawi Sky Bridge is perched atop a mountain, curving out over open air to offer a unique viewing experience of the surrounding jungle and ocean beyond. Unlike more traditional bridges, this bridge bends, allowing visitors to admire different sections of the Malaysian landscape as they make their way along its length.
Its entire weight is supported by eight cables, which hang from a single pylon that looms above. Given that our minds are used to structures that are supported from below, walking from one end to the other of this unique, floating bridge can be a bit of an unnerving experience. The air falls away beneath your feet, and—if you have a strong stomach—you can stand atop sections of glass flooring to gaze down at the base of the mountain below.