Robots, Eggs, and a Pineapple: 11 Modern Buildings in Asia

Featured — By Rachel Greenberg on May 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a…performing arts center? Between the high-tech architectural wonders of the 21st century and the post-modern gems of decades past, Asia has more than its fair share of spectacular modern design. Innovative structures that combine the best of art and science dot the skyline across Asia where experimental architects are given free reign.

Although not everyone appreciates some designers’ artistic license – many controversial buildings have been given endearing (or even downright snarky) nicknames that are almost as popular as the buildings themselves. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, these spectacular structures are totally free to look at and usually pretty cheap to go inside, making them ideal spots not-to-be-missed on your next trip.

1. Esplanade-Theaters on the Bay, Singapore

Nickname: The Durian Fruit

Image: edwin.11/ Flickr

Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay is a state-of-the-art performance center located in Esplanade Park, downtown Singapore. It was completed in 2002 and designed by a UK architectural firm, DP Architects PTE, who explain its “unique” exterior,

A secondary sun shading lattice is used with folded sunshades which gradually transform in shape and orientation. The resulting dynamic and ever-changing mesh of dappled sunlight and shadows has given this world class performing arts venue its distinctively Singaporean personality.

Although not everyone is convinced. The merits of the building’s design have been the subject of intense debate in Singapore. Many residents think the design is “too western” and doesn’t accurately represent Singapore’s vibrant meld of Asian cultures. Others just call the complex down right ugly, saying it looks like Chinese dumplings, copulating aardvarks, or even the infamous (and stinky!) durian fruit.

Image: yeowatzup/ Flickr

Even though the exterior may be controversial, the interior of this much-disputed building is pretty remarkable. Inside is a 1,600 seat concert hall, 2,000 seat theater, recital theater, black-box theater, private event spaces and multiple outdoor performance spaces. Even if you aren’t interested in shelling out for a concert here, make sure to visit the art exhibit space, shopping mall, and an open-to-the-public library to experience this structure for free.

Image: Henry407 (HL)/Flickr

[Insert Image: beggs/ Flickr]

2. Grand Lisboa, Macau

Nickname: The Pineapple

Image: Michael McDonough/bluejeans25/Flickr

Macau is the Las Vegas of China, located on a peninsula 37 miles southwest of Hong Kong. Although there are tons of gigantic, glittering casino/hotels in Macau, the Grand Lisboa stands out even among the other opulent structures. Completed in 2007, the Grand Lisboa is owned by famed Macau business man (and one of the richest men in the world) Stanley Ho…who isn’t necessarily known for his “conservative” design choices. The Grand Lisboa’s shape is supposed to look like a lotus leaf resting on a sphere but many people have been likened to, among another things, a giant pineapple.

Image: Shen Milsome and Wilke/Flickr

The casino has 430 hotel rooms and suites, 268 gaming tables, 786 slot machines, and is the first casino in Macau to offer Texas hold ‘em poker. Feel like checking out something especially neat? The Star of Stanley Ho, a 218.08 carat diamond is on permanent display at the casino. The diamond is the largest cushion shaped, internally flawless D-color diamond in the world!

Image: ChrisNick11/Flickr

3. National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing

Nickname: The Egg

Image: peoloq/ Flickr

Built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this incredible domed structure is made of titanium and glass and is surrounded by a man-made lake. Beijing’s performing arts center has been nicknamed “the egg” (we wonder why?) and its spherical design is intended to marry the modern structure with the historic landmarks that surround it. Located on prime real estate near the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square, visitors enter the building from am underground glass walkway where they can look up at the lake from bellow.

Image: Roydy/ Flickr

The building’s estimated cost was just under 400 million USD but by the time it was completed the price tag was around 470 million (meaning each seat in the place is worth around $75,000). Perhaps a bit off budget…but it just might be worth it. The interior of the performance space is covered with an intricate lattice wood design and the floors are polished marble, creating an ideal acoustic space. Make sure to put this building on your list of things to do while visiting the other tourist spots nearby, and when walking in the corridor into the building, don’t forget to look up!

Images: joshua l/Flickr

4. Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo

Nickname: The Lego House

Image: scarletgreen/Flickr

Located in Shimbashi, Tokyo, the Nakagin Capsule Tower was built in 1972 and is credited with being the first “capsule” building actually put into use. Built by Kisho Kurokawa, famed “Metabolism” architect, each capsule of this immense building was built in a factory and is attached by tension bolts to a central core. The pods themselves (although high-tech in the early 70s) are now terribly outdated. Each pod apartment comes with all built-in furniture, a bathroom the size of an airplane’s, a TV, tape player, and wall mounted calculator.

Although the Metabolism movements has come and gone, this building stands as a reminder of the beginning of Japan’s obsession with modular living. Today the building is scheduled for demolition with a brand-new, more efficient high rise slated to take its place. Only the architect himself is fighting for the building to stay. According to Architectual Record,

Kurokawa has pleaded to let the Capsule Tower express one of its original design qualities: flexibility. He suggested “unplugging” each box and replacing it with an updated unit, letting the base towers —which he calls “timeless”—remain untouched. Japan’s four major architectural organizations, including the Japan Institute of Architects, support this scheme.

But worry over asbestos contamination in the building and the immense cost for this project have led the owners of the Capsule Tower to reject Kurokawa’s plea. So if you want to see this 70s relic you better make the trip soon.

[Insert Photos: chris 73/Wikipdeia/scarletgreen/Flickr]

5. The Baha’i House of Worship, New Delhi

Nickname: The Lotus Temple

This Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi was completed in 1986 and is the Mother Temple for Baha’i followers in all of the Indian subcontinent. It’s delicate lotus shape is made with 27 free standing marble petals, arranged in groups of 3, to form the traditional 9 sided Baha’i structure. The temple can hold an astounding 2,500 people in its white marble center hall.

Image: marksquared/Flickr

And it’s a good thing the Lotus Temple can hold so many people too. From its opening 1986 to 2002 the temple had attracted more visitors than the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal, almost 50 million people in total. If you’re planning a visit to the Lotus Temple make sure to check and see if it’s a Hindu holiday. On holy days the temple can draw up to 150,000 people!

6. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

Nickname: The Ugliest Building That Doesn’t Exist

Image: paul_ark/Flickr

The story of this infamous building begins in 1987 when the North Korean government broke ground with the intention of constructing a structure so huge, it would intimidate the rest of the world. The estimated cost to construct? Around $750 million, or 2% of North Korea’s GDP. After 5 years of plagued construction and skyrocketing costs, the project was completely abandoned for financial reasons after only the outer shell was complete. And then the building disappeared!

Not really, but it did from every and all public records. Although standing in the North Korean capital Pyongyang the structure could be seen from almost everywhere, it was officially erased from all photos of the capital and intentionally left off maps. The North Korean government even officially denied its existence publicly.

Images: yeowatzup/Kernbeisser/Flickr

But after 16 years of standing empty and “forgotten”, a Egyptian telecommunication group has begun construction on the building. Reports that glass is being installed on the sides of the building and work on the interior has begun. If you want to see this tower in its full glory you’ll have to wait a few years, the Egyptian owners are saying the building is slated for completion in 2012 in honor of the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s “Eternal President”.

7. Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai

Nickname: The Pearl

Image: Kanegen/Flickr

When the Oriental Pear Tower was completed in 1995 it reigned as the tallest structure in China until 2007, but even after losing its title it still manages to attract over 3 million visitors a year. The tower has a duel purpose: it acts as a gigantic antenna, broadcasting TV and radio, and it also serves as an observation deck where visitors can see all of Shanghai 1,148 feet up (see pic bellow!). In addition to 15 observatory levels, the tower also has a revolving restaurant and a 20 room hotel which is located between the two largest spheres.

Images: beggs/Axel Rouvin/Flickr

Given the popularity of the tower there can be an insane wait (we’re talking 5 hours) to get up to the highest deck. But if you do make it, be sure to send a postcard to your jealous friends back home from the worlds highest post office, located on one of the top observation decks.

8. United Overseas Bank, Bangkok

Nickname: The Robot

Image: /Diliff/Wikipedia

This 1985 gem is nicknamed, you guessed it, Robot Building (surprise!). It’s located in Bangkok and currently serves as the headquarters for the United Overseas Bank. The Robot Building was designed by Sumet Jumsai, one of Thailand’s most well respected architects, in response to the postmodern architectural styles that were popular during the mid eighties. Jumsai said he wanted to build something that would represent the modernization of banking, and took inspiration from one of his son’s toy robots.

Although the building has a pretty charming motif, its accessories are useful too. The antenna’s on top of the robot are functioning and its reflective glass eyes are windows that open up from executive suits.

The building isn’t open to the public but to get a great view of it from the Skytrain between Surasak and Chong Nonsi stations.

[Insert Images: ashoknet/Flickr]

9. Beijing National Stadium, Beijing

Nickname: The Bird’s Nest

Image: Francisco Diez/Flickr

Built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Beijing National Stadium was in the center of the action for the games – it was the location of the opening and closing ceremonies. The team that designed the stadium studied Chinese ceramics as an inspiration and one of the lead artists on the project, Li Xinggang said this about the design,

Why does a Chinese bowl or a Chinese window have this kind of pattern? Maybe the Chinese people like things to appear in this irregular way, but underneath there are very clear rules. The Bird’s Nest developed in this way.

The actual construction of the Bird’s Nest took almost 5 years and cost $423 million. The design includes many clever design details, like special pipes that were installed under the playing surface that gather heat and cold air and then pump it through the stadium to heat spectators in the winter and cool them in the summer. In addition a rainwater collector located nearby has its own built-in purification system and provides much of the water needed for the stadium.

Although the stadium was a pretty big deal in the Olympics, its future in Beijing remains unclear. Although it does attract around 20,000 people a day as a tourist spot, it hasn’t drawn a lot of interest for its intended purpose. Now the developers are considering turning the stadium into a shopping mall in the next few years. So if you want to catch a glimpse of this historic Olympic building in its original form (and want to pay 50 yuan or $7.50 entrance fee), you better do it soon.

[Insert Image: dawvon/Flickr]

10. Fuji Television Building, Odaiba, Japan

Nickname: N/A (Have a good one? Let us know!)

Home of the Fuji TV Headquarters, this futuristic building was designed by famed Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. Tange created a gigantic building consisting of two separate towers connect by corridors. In the center a huge sphere (with an observation deck and restaurant inside) seems to hang in the balance.

Image: Kagelump/Wikipedia

This is a can’t-miss building if you’re in Odaiba. No only can you enjoy spectacular views of the harbor from the observation deck, but visitors can take a guided tour through the TV studio and watch live Japanese TV being filmed. If you had taken the tour in the mid 90s, you could have caught a glimpse of Iron Chef being filmed…Kitchen Stadium was located in this building!

11. Cybertecture Egg, Mumbai

Nickname: The Intelligent Egg

So don’t get too excited quite yet, this building has yet to be completed but is supposed to be ready by the end of this year. Everything about this ridiculously high-tech office building is cool. It’s unique curved structure distributes much of the weight of the building, allowing for huge spans of column-less floors. Solar panels all over the building will provide a lot of its energy as will wind turbines on the roof-top gardens. In addition, the plants on the roof are designed to perform “thermolysis”, a natural process where growing plant dissipate heat from the building, cooling it naturally.

And the neat-o factors don’t end! There are tons of perks for people who will be working in this building. Office workers will be allowed to customize the views from their desk to show anywhere in the world and see real-time scenery from across the globe. Innovative health monitoring systems will also be installed in all the bathrooms that will keep track of worker’s blood pressure and weight, and if there are any significant changes a doctor is automatically notified. Maybe a touch invasive, but it seems like the architects have their hearts in the right place when it comes to looking out for the office workers.

[All Images: World Architecture News]

Seen any ridiculous modern architecture in Asia that we left off the list? Leave a comment!

Tags: Architecture, Asia, Bangkok, Beijing, Buildings, Japan, Macau, Mumbai, new delhi, North Korea, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo

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