Travel To These 10 Museums For Their Stunning Structures

Buildings that have created waves in city landscapes.  
Guggenheim Bilbao museum
The curves of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum are constructed to refract light in various directions. Photo courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao

Some museums captivate even before you enter. We asked Mumbai-based architect Shobhan Kothari of Atelier dnD for iconic museum architecture. He listed 10 structures that he recommends travelling to for the designs alone.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan

The Heydar Aliyev Center Azerbaijan Baku Zaha Hadid

Architect Zaha Hadid won the London Museum’s Design of the Year award for the Heydar Aliyev Center in 2014. Photo: Hufton + Crow Photographers/Zaha Hadid Architects

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan was designed by the Iraqi-British architect, Dame Zaha Hadid. It opened in 2012 and consequently, in 2014, Hadid was awarded Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum. The fluid, ice-cream-swirl-like design, doesn’t have a single straight line, according to the centre’s website. It houses a museum, nine floors of exhibition halls, and an auditorium. The museum is dedicated to preserving Azerbaijan’s history, and the life and work of Heydar Aliyev, the nation’s former president. Covering three floors, the museum gives patrons an interactive, in-depth view of the region’s heritage.

1 Heydar Aliyev Avenue, AZ 1033, Baku. Call +994 12 505 60 01. Visit their website for details. 

Museu de Arte do Rio, Brazil

Museu de Arte do Rio Brazil Dom João VI Mansion Bernardes Jacobsen

The three buildings that form the museum are connected by a wave-like roof, a walkway and a square. Photo: Andrés Otero/MAR

The Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) functions out of three buildings—the Dom João VI Mansion (that was once a palace), a police building, and another structure that was originally a bus terminal— that are linked by a wave-shaped roof, a walkway and a square. The mansion houses the museum’s exhibition galleries, while the police building houses Escola do Olhar, an education initiative that teaches public school educators about art. Designed by Rio de Janeiro’s Bernardes + Jacobsen, the major challenge they faced was uniting the three areas. For a more comprehensive explanation of the layout, watch this video of the blueprint:

Maritime Museum of Denmark, Denmark

Maritime Museum Denmark BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) UNESCO Helsingør

The museum is located in a former dock, originally meant to be filled up. To the left, in the distance, is the Kronborg Castle while the Culture Yard stands to the right. Photo: Luca Santiago Mora/Maritime Museum of Denmark

Built by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), the Danish museum is situated in the town of Helsingør (also known as Elsinore) between the UNESCO site of Kronborg Castle—that some say inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet—and the city’s Culture Yard. In such close proximity to cultural and architectural landmarks, the museum makes its mark through its subterranean existence in a former dock. The highest point of the museum is the pinnacle of the glass barrier, one metre off the ground. Sloping bridges inside connect various exhibitions which feature collections of merchant ships and their stories from the past four centuries. In addition to exhibitions, there is also a café and a shop—all underground—in the museum.

Ny Kronborgvej 1, DK-3000 Elsinore. Call + 45 49 21 06 85. Visit their website for details. 

Museo de la Memoria de Andalucía, Spain

Museo de la Memoria de Andalucía Spain Alberto Campo Baeza

Elliptical ramps connect the three levels inside the museum (below); a vertical slab marks the edge of the structure. Photo: Javier Callejas, courtesy Campo Baeza.

Andalucía’s Museum of Memory gives visitors a chance to discover Andalucía’s history from prehistoric times to the present day. Designed by Alberto Campo Baeza and in line with the central headquarters of the Caja Granada Savings Bank (also designed by Baeza), the unusual structure comprises three floors, the uppermost of which lines up with the podium of the main Caja Granada building. It is built around a circular courtyard, from which elliptical ramps rise to connect the various levels. On one end of this miniature dwelling rises a steep blank vertical slab, which really consists of plasma screens to be used for giant public displays.

Avenida de la Ciencia, 2, 18006 Granada, Spain. Call 958 222 257. Visit their website for details. 

HEART Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark

HEART Herning Museum Denmark Steven Holl

The roof of the museum is designed to look like shirt sleeves when viewed from above. Photo: Iwan Baan/Wikimedia Commons (

Designed by American architect Steven Holl, the museum aims to promote contemporary art through exhibitions of visual art and music. The one-level structure is located on an open expanse of grass mounds very close to an old shirt factory, which also houses a part of the art collection. This and the fact that the city of Herning is rooted in its relationship with textiles and art have both inspired the outline of the structure. If viewed from above, the roof is supposed to resemble shirt sleeves. The museum, which opened in 2009, consists of exhibition galleries, an auditorium, music rehearsal rooms, a restaurant, and a media library.

Birk Centerpark 8 . DK-7400 Herning. Call +45 9712 1033. Visit their website for details. 

Berlin Jewish Museum, Germany

Berlin Jewish Museum Daniel Libeskind Germany

Libeskind’s design evokes poignant memories of the Holocaust. Photo: Jens Ziehe/Jewish Museum Berlin

Daniel Libeskind’s 2001 extension to the original Jewish Museum from 1933 aims to recall and integrate the repercussions of the Holocaust. The new museum doesn’t have its own entrance, but instead requires visitors to enter through an underground corridor from the old structure. Through his design, Libeskind wanted to evoke feelings of absence, invisibility and emptiness that played a dominant part in the life of Jews. It’s easy to get lost inside the structure: there are dead ends and empty spaces everywhere, illuminated only by slivers of light that seep in from the outside. According to the architect’s website, the symbolic structure was built to understand the history of Berlin (incomplete without the contribution of its Jewish citizens), to merge the meaning of the Holocaust with the city’s consciousness and memory, and for Germany to acknowledge the erasure of Jewish life in its history.

Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, Call +49 (0)30 259 93 300. Visit their website for details. 

Guggenheim Museum, Spain

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Spain Frank Gehry

The curves of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum are constructed to refract light in various directions. Photo courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao

Renowned architect Frank Gehry is the brains behind the iconic Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, which houses three levels of modern and contemporary art. The structure continuously plays with curves, both on the inside and out. Curved volumes and glass curtain walls connect the outside with its inner spaces. The titanium used in building, along with the design of the curves, adds to the way the building catches light. Inaugurated in 1997, the structure revolutionised the way people looked at museums and architecture. The museum features exhibitions that change often.

Avenida Abandoibarra, 2 48009 Bilbao. Call +34 944 35 90 80. Visit their website for details. 

Guggenheim Museum, USA

Guggenheim Museum USA Frank Lloyd Wright New York

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum raised the architectural bar for museums everywhere. Photo: Jules Antonio/Flickr/Creative Commons (

The oldest museum on this list, New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was commissioned in 1943 but only opened in 1959. Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect behind the structure, died six months before the opening. It’s arguably the most important building he ever built. The museum’s website quotes Paul Goldberger on the impact of this structure: “Wright’s building made it socially and culturally acceptable for an architect to design a highly expressive, intensely personal museum. In this sense, almost every museum of our time is a child of the Guggenheim.” Over the years, the rotund, modernist structure has been shut for restoration multiple times, but it still remains an architectural delight.

1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street), New York, NY 10128. Call 212 423 3575. Visit their website for details. 

Centre Georges Pompidou, France

Centre Georges Pompidou France Richard Rogers Renzo Piano

Centre Georges Pompidou is designed to look like a giant steel container, constructed from pre-fabricated parts. Photo: Oh Paris/Flickr/Creative Commons (

Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano won an international competition in 1971 to build an “information, entertainment and cultural centre”. Open since 1977 in Paris, the Centre now houses a museum of modern art, reference library, industrial design centre, temporary exhibition space, children’s library and art centre, audio-visual research centre (IRCAM) and restaurants. This multitude of functions that the centre performs is represented in its structure: it’s designed with clear postmodern influences to be “a flexible container, constructed from pre-fabricated parts”. Escalators and elevators are on the outside of the structure, allowing for uninterrupted floor space on the interior, and an incredible panoramic view of the piazza outside.

Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris. Call +33 (0)1 44 78 12 33. Visit their website for details.

Museum of Architectural Drawing, Germany

Germany's Museum of Architectural Drawing

The structure is designed to represent slidable drawers and storage shelves, and features intricate etchings along its walls. Photo: Roland Halbe/Tchoban Foundation

Set up by the Tchoban Foundation to reawaken an interest in hand-drawn architectural ideas, the Museum of Architectural Drawing opened in 2013 on the Pfefferberg, the premises of a former brewery. The solid lines and angles of the structure have been designed by Sergei Tchoban and Sergei Kuznetsov of Moscow’s SPEECH to remind one of slidable drawers and storage shelves within which such drawings would generally be stored. The crude architectural etchings on the outer concrete walls also tie in with this theme. The five-floored structure has room for a museum shop, exhibition galleries and a terrace that is used for conferences and as a work space by the curators.

Christinenstraße 18A, 10119 Berlin. Call + 49 30 43 73 90 90. Visit their website for details.

Updated in March 2016.


    Fabiola Monteiro is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.

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