As all avid travellers will know, they are as many different types of buildings around the world as there are… well, something that’s pretty darn numerous indeed.
Through the course of human history, we’ve lived in everything from humble cave dwellings to vast, towering and awe-inspiring tower blocks. We’ve marvelled at impossible feats of engineering like the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. We’ve defied nature itself by constructing modern wonders like the Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper in Dubai which is currently the world’s tallest building. It’s 828 metres (2,717ft) tall, friends. Does that sound like something to mess with? That’s because it isn’t.
As you travel around the world, you surely stop to take in some of the many unmissable buildings and structures. You know, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Colosseum of Rome, New York City’s Statue of Liberty… these sorts of landmarks have been bucket list essentials for vacations and trips for generations.
Sometimes, it’s for their historical significance. Other times, it’s for their sheer beauty or their iconic nature. Either way, there’s a reason why these landmarks attract visitors by the million every year.
For some of us, though, the big ticket items are so passé. Do you know how many people have taken that obligatory ‘holding the tower up’ selfie in Pisa? I’ll tell you how many. Too many, that’s how many. If you really want to see something special and unconventional, how about the Bolivian hotel that’s made of salt? Or Dubai’s bizarre rotating tower? Now these are landmarks for the seasoned traveller.
You think you’ve seen it all? Buckle up for this list, friends. You haven’t seen anything yet.
20 The Hotel Made Of Salt
I thought it was best to get straight to this one. After all, you don’t promise to deliver a hotel made of salt and then keep people in suspense, do you? You’ve got to deliver the goods straight away.
On that note, feast your eyes on the Luna Salada (the Salt Moon) Hotel. Touted by The Ultimate Travel Company as “one of the most extraordinary ideas in the hotel world,” this remarkable building is found in Bolivia. The country is home to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats, the largest in the world, so it was a natural idea to build a hotel from salt right on top.
That’s right, it’s built from blocks of salt mined from its surroundings. Furnishing in the rooms (even the bed) are also made from solid salt).
19 Help! My House Is Upside Down!
Do you have children? Or have you ever had someone else’s over for a visit? If that’s a yes to either question, you’ve no doubt found yourself exaggerating about the mess they’ve made. There are toys everywhere, you’ll say in the aftermath, or they’ve turned our whole house upside down. You’d better calm down with your hyperbole, though, because you’ve got no idea what an upside down house is really like.
Until now. This fascinating house in Szymbark, Poland is probably the region’s most unusual tourist attraction. It was built as a snarky statement, reflecting the belief that the country was turned topsy-turvy by its rulers in the 1970s.
The builders, as Atlas Obscura reports, had to take frequent breaks because the work --further complicated by the fact that it’s located at the base of a mountain, with a natural incline—was so utterly disorientating.
18 I’ve Suddenly Got A Hankering For Neopolitan Ice Cream
If you live in a big city, you’ll know two typical rules of thumb about apartment blocks and residential buildings. The first is that they’re dang well everywhere, and the second is that they don’t tend to be the most aesthetically interesting of buildings.
Uniform, grey, rectangular… these tend to be the words that sum up these building complexes. For better or for worse, though, nobody seems to have told Friedensreich Hundertwasser about any of this. This Austrian artist with an eye for the eccentric created an apartment building with a difference in Darmstadt, Germany.
This is the Waldspirale (‘Forest Spiral,’ in reference to its green roof). Boasting distinctive onion domes, all the colours of Neopolitan ice cream and over 1000 windows (all of which are unique), it’s a world apart from the apartment and office blocks most of us are used to.
17 Cubes, Cubes Everywhere
As Friedensreich Hundertwasser has firmly established, then, you don’t always have to go for dreary, samey blandness when you’re designing residential or office buildings. All it takes is an artsy imagination, a dash of creativity, and… well, in this case, many, many cubes.
From Germany we’re taking a short hop across Europe to Holland, where the cubic houses of Rotterdam await.
As Holland.com emphasises, the city is known for its unique and innovative architecture. The famous Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen) are but one example of this. They were designed by local architect Piet Blom, a series of cubes tilted at 45 degrees. Eager cube fans can also check out the Show Cube Museum. The most interesting thing of all? This line of homes actually forms a bridge for pedestrians to cross into the city centre!
16 If This Tower Could Stop Rotating For A Moment, That’d Be Great
Now, I don’t know about you, but the idea of an 80-storey skyscraper that can rotate and shapeshift at will has me falling all kinds of ways. I’m a terrible sufferer of motion sickness, and I saw what happened to the Sip ‘N’ Spin Lounge on The Simpsons (it span and span until it picked up enough speed and flew off).
As such, the thought of Dubai’s proposed Dynamic Tower is making me clench like I’ve never clenched before. The idea, What’s On explains, is that the building will comprise separate rotating floor attached to a central column. This means that they’ll be able to rotate independently, without impacting on the others.
It’s an incredible, frightening and super ambitious idea, and one that architect David Fisher hopes can be completed in 2020.
15 If You Put Your Ear To It, Can You Hear The Sea?
In the Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll find the breath-taking Isla Mujeres (Women Island). It’s so named for its connection to the Maya goddess of medicine and childbirth, Ixchel, and is known today for its plentiful and fantastic traditional seafood. It’s also a wonderful spot to swim with dolphins.
One of the island’s more unconventional tourist attractions is The Shell House, described by Isla Mujeres.net as “among the most artistically creative houses in the world.” Creative is certainly the word, and it’s a popular place for visitors to stay and enjoy the spectacular views of the Caribbean. Weddings are also held at this bizarre-and-beautiful-in-equal-parts venue!
14 350 Million Euros Will Buy You A LOT Of Bubbles
So, yes. With the Conch Shell House in the last entry, the game as we know it was raised several notches. How can we continue living up to those impossible standards? By hopping back over to Europe, where something very, very special lies in the Théoule-sur-Mer region of France.
Oh, yes indeed. What you’re looking at here is the profoundly odd Palais Bulles, or Bubble Palace. Construction of this huge, lavish home began in 1975 and was completed in 1989. It later became the holiday home of fashion designer Pierre Cardin. In 2017, after five years of extensive renovations, it was listed for sale for a formidable 350 million Euros.
13 What Did The Other 66 Look Like?
The next stop on our world tour of distinctly eccentric buildings is Canada. Architect Moshe Safdie was studying his master’s in architecture at McGill University in Montreal when he hit upon a truly incredible thesis. This would eventually become Habitat 67, which would then become a decades-spanning career on the international architecture and design stage.
For those unfamiliar with the project, Habitat 67 was originally built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the World’s Fair that took place in 1967. As a residential complex, the goal was to blend the close-knit, dense style of apartment living with the natural space of a more suburban environment.
All of which I can totally appreciate, but the whole complex has a mysterious, optical illusion sense about it.
12 Come On, Have A Heart
It’s quite remarkable, really, that we’ve made it almost halfway through this rundown without hitting on one particular type of building: the art museum. These are, for all intents and purposes, the natural home of the weird and wonderful. Oftentimes, designers like to reflect that in the façade of the building itself. When that happens… well, things like the Kunsthaus Graz tend to happen.
Also known as the Graz Art Museum, this curious landmark is found in Graz, Austria. It tends to exhibit contemporary art, but its primarily known for looking distinctly alien-like. Is it an upturned soccer boot? Is it an ocarina? Is it an alien heart, as is often suggested? The world may never know.
11 A Library With A Difference
In direct contrast to the often peculiar-looking art museums, libraries don’t really tend to stand out too much. They’re a lot like residential buildings in that respect. They’re a necessity, performing a vital function, and they don’t have to look eccentric. They just need to get the job done.
They don’t have to, but they can. Over in Kansas City, Missouri, the public library had a fantastically odd idea of a way to inject some personality into the building: the Community Bookshelf. The south wall of the parking garage consists of book spines, around 25ft by 9ft, depicting classic books like The Lord of the Rings and A Tale of Two Cities.
10 They’re A Modern Stone Age Family
By this stage of our world tour, we’ve seen some incredible things. There are some real feats of architectural wonder here. That proposed rotating tower in Dubai? That one’s still giving me the collywobbles.
Having said that, it’s about more than just sheer size and scale. 'Hey ma, look how tall I can build' isn’t the only measure of a building. Gaze in wonderment at Portugal’s Casa do Penedo, or House of Rock.
Not to be confused with a Jack Black movie, this is instead an improbable, Spartan structure nestled between two boulders. There’s just something about it that looks… wrong somehow, like it isn’t meant to be.
9 Now That’s My Kind Of Mansion
Trends and fashions are a curious thing, aren’t they? It’s odd how something will be all the rage for a brief while, before fizzling out. Some will be lucky enough to cycle back right back into fashion, while others will be just be looked back on with burning humiliation (like the Friends flashback episodes with Ross’ afro and moustache).
Over in Bolivia in the last few years, an intriguing trend for psychedelic architecture has sprung up. In El Alto, Quartz reports, Freddy Mamani Silvestre developed a style of completely extravagant and unapologetically kitschy mansions known as cohetillos (spaceships). I think we’re doing them a bit of an injustice to call them colourful.
8 I Do Not Like Green Eggs And Ham
Now, of course, everybody’s heard of Dr. Seuss. This incomparable children’s author created so many iconic characters. The Grinch, The Cat in the Hat and so many more are the brainchild of this remarkable man, whose characteristic writing style hid some stark messages about the real world behind its adorable exterior.
Many people have created many tributes to Seuss, but the so-called Dr. Seuss House is actually nothing to do with him. This odd, private building is located in Alaska, near Willow, and gives off an odd The Burrow vibe with its various cobbled-together storeys. This one’s a real enigma.
7 Head (And Everything Else) In The Clouds
Now, if I’m completely honest here, I’m totally conflicted on this one. I just don’t quite know what to make of it.
Some may consider Cloud House beautiful. Cute. Kitschy. Unique. I guess, in its own way, it’s all of those things. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, after all. It’s just… it’s a step too far, as far as I’m concerned.
This property is found in Melbourne, Australia, a renovation and extension of a classic Edwardian home. It’s no longer a classic Edwardian home, let me tell you. I think the thing that makes me the most unsure about this whole thing is how strongly it reminds me of the Doctor Who episode "Fear Her", in which a child’s drawings come to life.
6 The Most Streamlined Spaceship You Ever Saw
Oh, hey, you know what? While we’re in Melbourne, there’s something else in Australia I’d like you to meet. Next stop, Inverloch, Victoria, for possibly the most distinctly Spock-ish looking home I’ve ever seen.
These days, it’s more important than ever that we all become a little more energy efficient. With this in mind, the owners of a slice of land in Inverloch commissioned architect James Stockwell to build them a home. The key to the whole thing was a place that minimised their impact on the land while maximising their view and enjoyment of it. They did not add “oh, and make it look like a bizarre cross between a festival tent and a UFO” to the plan, but Stockwell threw that in for free.
5 Are You A Man(sion) Or A M…ountain?
Yep, maybe I did try a little too hard with that headline. The polite thing would be not to dwell on that.
Anyway, the important takeaway from that home in Inverloch, Australia is this: it’s important to try and work with nature, rather than against it.
That’s the case for futuristic UFO-looking homes, but it’s also the case for other structures. What do you do when pesky rocks threaten to scupper your architectural plans? You compromise, work with them, and fantastic things can happen.
This is the Dar al-Hajar, or Stone House. It’s found in Wadi Dhar, Yemen, and was home to Imam Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din during his reign.
It’s a fascinating study, how it weaves between natural and man-made. It’s tough to tell where one ends and the other begins.
4 The Walls Actually Aren’t Paper-Thin
For our next stop, we’re on our way back to the United States. Massachusetts, to be precise, for a look at a completely different kind of engineering feat.
Now, when it came to engineering feats, Elis Stenman was definitely the man for the job. He made his name as the designer of a machine that made paper clips, but it’s a little project he worked on in his spare time that we’re here to see now: his famous paper house.
That’s right. In 1992, he began making himself a summer home in Rockport. Out of paper. Inside, as Paper House Rockport explains, there’s some truly impressive and intricate furniture, which is also made of paper.
3 Finally, The Toilet Gets The Respect It Deserves
Do you ever get the feeling that we just don’t appreciate the humble toilet enough? Of course you do. It keeps you awake at night sometimes, doesn’t it? I knew I wasn’t alone in this.
I mean, toilet appreciation is one thing, but there’s always somebody who takes it that stage too far. Over in Suwon, South Korea, you’ll find the toilet-shaped house of ‘Mr. Toilet,’ which is now a museum dedicated to all things toilet-related. I think I’ve used the word ‘toilet’ enough for one paragraph, so I’ll move on.
Sim Jae-Duck, mayor of Suwon in the 1990s and early 2000s, became known as Mr. Toilet for his commitment to all things sanitation. So, you know, there’s some logic behind all of this.
2 But Who Drank Them All?
As the old fraternity house stereotype has made clear over the years, there are all kinds of different ways you can employ empty drinks bottles. I mean, sure, recycling might seem like a logical way to go, but that’s far too vanilla for some. You can make whole dang sculptures with them. You know, like houses of cards.
Over in Thailand, though, the Buddhist monks at the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple have put even the most dedicated drinker to shame. The temple, also known as the "Temple of a Million Bottles," is made from Heineken and Chang beer bottles. Over 1.5 million of them, in fact.
These efforts reduce emissions and keep the many bottles out of landfills, all while serving a spiritual purpose.
1 Behold The Almighty Snail!
Now, if you’re in the market for a gigantic, five-storey technicolour snail (and heck, let’s be honest with ourselves, that’s life goals for just about everybody right there), the outskirts of Bulgaria probably wouldn’t be the first place you’d go looking to find one. This wonderfully wacky world of ours is full of surprises, though.
This beautiful abomination is found in Sofia, Bulgaria. As Atlas Obscura reports, there’s some incredible ingenuity at work here. This odd-looking residential building has been designed in such a way that all of the appliances and features appear to be part of the building’s décor.
References: The Ultimate Travel Company, Atlas Obscura, Holland.com, What’s On, The Guardian, Unusual Places.