Who would live in a place like this?
The weird, wacky and wonderful world of apartment architecture.
When we think of iconic buildings, our minds tend to gravitate toward strangely shaped office-filled skyscrapers, lavish palaces and grand structures. But there are a great number of residential architectural knockouts too. As these strange and spectacular inhabited structures prove, apartment blocks needn’t be boring.
Habitat 67, Canada
When seen from Montreal’s Old Port, across from which this building stands, Habitat 67 looks like a Lego construction made real. An eye-catching assemblage of stacked concrete boxes set on a small manmade peninsula, this striking structure was the brainchild of now-famous Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and was built for Expo 67, Montreal’s 1967 world’s fair. Conceived by Safdie at the tender age of 23, Habitat 67 was designed in response to, and perhaps even as an alternative to, the uninviting, uniform inner-city high-rises and seemingly unstoppable suburban sprawl that was proliferating at the time. Each cube of Habitat 67 offers the qualities of a house – space, light and even roof gardens – with sheltered streets connecting the apartments rather than corridors. Today, the building still serves as an apartment block, though several of the units have been merged to create larger multi-cube configurations.
Les Espaces d’Abraxas, France
While the center of Paris is all elegant balconied townhouses and neoclassical monuments, Paris’s suburbs are starkly different in appearance. They are home to vast, concrete housing estates known as the grands ensembles, erected in the post-war decades to house incoming migrants both from rural France and further afield. The earlier estates tended to be function-oriented modernist constructions, while the latter postmodern complexes from the '70s and '80s – among them Les Espaces d’Abraxas in Noisy-le-Grand – were much more varied in style, rising up in response to the blander high-rises that came before.
Designed between 1978 and 1983 by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, this colossal neoclassical-style pink concrete complex consists of three monument-like buildings: the Theatre, the Arc and the Palacio. Though this massive complex was meant to reintroduce beauty to social housing, a concept shunned by Modernism, it wasn’t an outright success, with critics often drawing comparisons between the hulking edifices and fortresses or prisons. Having narrowly escaped a demolition order, Les Espaces d’Abraxas is still occupied by residents today. It has also caught the eye of Hollywood filmmakers, with scenes from Terry Gilliam’s "Brazil" and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" both being shot here.
The Crazy House, Israel
The house stands out amidst the Bauhaus style of Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo: Barefaceddesign/Instagram)
The clue is in the name. The Crazy House is located in Tel Aviv, Israel on its iconic HaYarkon Street, a major thoroughfare that runs parallel to the beach. The home, as you can tell from the photo above, isn’t easily overlooked. It features 11 apartments, only one of which doesn't have an ocean view. Designed by French architect Leon Gaignebet and built by Israel Bollag, the structure takes inspiration from the surrounding environment of the Mediterranean coast. Its façade is split into two parts: one featuring curving white balconies designed to represent waves, the other adorned with sand sculptures and a fresco through which tree branches sprout. When the building was first erected in the mid-1980s, reaction was mixed, and it still tends to elicit a love-it-or-hate-it response. Either way, its ability to grab the attention of passers-by is undeniable.
The Barbican, U.K.
This iconic London complex was designed by three young architects: Peter Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell and Christoph Bon. This massive post-war Brutalist complex, which houses some 4,000 apartments as well as an arts center, music school and cinema among other public facilities, is a kind of city within a city and was designed to lure middle-class professionals into living in London’s urban core. Construction lasted through the ‘60s and ‘70s and the complex officially opened in 1982. People have come around to the Barbican’s many charms, among them some rather lovely landscaped gardens and public plazas, and the Grade II-listed housing estate is now one of the most sought-after addresses in the U.K. capital.
Absolute Towers, Canada
Standing at about 550 feet, the Absolute Towers contain apartments on each of their oval-shaped floors. (Photo: Paul Bica/Flickr)
Situated in the Canadian city of Mississauga near Toronto, these residential towers have been nicknamed the Marilyn Monroe condos because of their curvy, hourglass shape. Their voluptuous silhouettes stand as a retort to the boxy, cookie-cutter skyscrapers that have become dominant in 21st-century skylines. So just how did these towers get their shapely curves? Each story is rotated by a few degrees, which creates a kind of twisted, organic-looking shape. This project was created by Chinese architecture firm MAD. And just like the blonde bombshell from which it takes its moniker, the towers have won a following of adoring fans and a smattering of prizes, including one for Best Tall Buildings in the Americas, awarded by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2012.
Vanke Center Shenzhen, China
Designed by Steven Holl Architects, this unusual mixed-use development in Shenzhen in southern China is a prime example of outside-the-box thinking. Rather than adhering to the traditional vertical skyscraper form, they decided to flip things around and create a horizontal high-rise that is as long as the Empire State Building is tall. When viewed from afar, the so-called “horizontal skyscraper,” which stands atop raised stilts, almost appears to hover. Beneath it is open park space. On the underside of the structure are several sunken glass cubes, which offer 360-degree views of the gardens below. Not only was it one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum-rated buildings in Southern China, but it has also garnered numerous awards including the 2010 “Good Design is Good Business” award for Best Green Project.
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