15 Famous Architects Who Have Shaped the Way We Live, Work, and Play

15 Famous Architects

From left to right: Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain), Oscar Niemeyer (Photo: Mondadori Publishers via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain), Zaha Hadid (Photo: Dmitry Ternovoy via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

“The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilization.”  These words by Frank Lloyd Wright encapsulate the importance of the built world. Without architecture, we would have nowhere to sleep, eat, work, and play. And thanks to the tireless work of history's most influential architects, we are able to effectively do all of those things.

The world's best architects not only design functional spaces but rather, create projects that elevate our daily lives and provide opportunities for growth. At the same time, the most innovative architects also seize the opportunities available to them, pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

This look at some of history's most famous architects moves from the organic forms of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí to the audacious neo-futuristic buildings of Zaha Hadid. By discovering more about these creative geniuses, we will also learn more about how our society has grown and developed new ways of using space.

Here are 15 famous architects in history that have shaped the way our world looks.

Antoni Gaudí

Sagrada Familia by Gaudi

Sagrada Familia (Photo: deb-37/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Antoni Gaudí i Cornet
Born
June 25, 1852 (Reus or Riudoms, Spain)
Died
June 10, 1926 (Barcelona, Spain)
Notable Work
La Sagrada Família
Movement
Modernisme

When Antoni Gaudí graduated from architecture school, the director stated that he wasn't sure if they'd given a diploma “to a madman or to a genius.” Time eventually showed that this father of Catalan Modernism was a bit of both. Barcelona is filled with his work, which incorporates natural motifs and new materials that were available thanks to the Industrial Revolution. His most well-known piece of architecture, the Sagrada Familia, has been under construction for over 135 years.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater. (Photo: deb-37/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Frank Lloyd Wright
Born
June 8, 1867 (Richland Center, Wisconsin)
Died
April 9, 1959 (Phoenix, Arizona)
Notable Work
Fallingwater, Guggenheim Museum
Movement
Prairie School, Modernist

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to create a style of architecture that his country could call its own. Starting with his Prairie School homes in Chicago, Wright certainly created a niche for American architecture that continued as his career developed across 70 years. From iconic residential projects like Fallingwater to important public spaces like the Guggenheim Museum, perhaps no other American architect has left such an imprint on the nation. Favoring clean lines, open spaces, and a dialogue with nature, Wright sought to create architecture that was a record of American civilization.

 

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Seagram Building by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

Seagram Building (Photo: Ken Ohyama via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Full Name
Maria Ludwig Michael Mies
Born
March 27, 1886 (Aachen, Germany)
Died
August 17, 1969 (Chicago, Illinois)
Notable Work
Seagram Building
Movement
Modernist

German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was the last director of the Bauhaus before the rise of Nazism forced him to emigrate to the United States. There, he enjoyed a successful art career and is considered part of the group of architects who were pioneers of modernism. He preferred a minimalist approach to architecture with free-flowing interiors. His acclaimed Seagram Building in New York City was designed in the International Style and is a fine example of his use of steel and glass.

 

Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye (Photo: KhunTa/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris
Born
October 6, 1887 (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland)
Died
August 27, 1965 (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France)
Notable Work
Villa Savoye
Movement
Modernist, International Style

It's impossible to overstate the influence of Le Corbusier on the world of architecture. One of the fathers of modernism, Le Corbusier was part of the International Style that arose after World War I. He advocated for an absence of load-bearing walls to give people more living space and accommodate flexible living styles. Though he is also a controversial figure for his political and personal beliefs, there is no denying his impact on future generations of architects.

 

Louis Kahn

The Salk Institute by Louis Kahn

The Salk Institute (Photo: sepavone/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky
Born
February 20, 1901 (Kuressaare, Estonia)
Died
March 17, 1974 (New York City, New York)
Notable Work
Kimball Art Museum, Salk Institute
Movement
Modernist

Known as a master of geometry, Louis Kahn is one of the most important architects of the 20th century. His most iconic project, the Salk Institute, displays all the characteristics that make Kahn's work so influential. The use of simple forms, symmetry and precise geometry are all hallmarks of Kahn's work.

 

Oscar Niemeyer

Cathedral of Brasília by Oscar Niemeyer

Cathedral of Brasilia (Photo: STYLEPICS/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho
Born
December 15, 1907 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Died
December 5, 2012 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Notable Work
Cathedral of Brasília
Movement
Modernist

Architect Oscar Niemeyer was a leading figure in the modernist movement in Brazil. He is particularly known for his work in developing Brasília, which was then the new capital of the country. Believing that curved lines were more pleasing to the eye, he rejected the angularity of modern architecture. At the same time, his use of white concrete with pops of primary color was thoroughly modern. Niemeyer won the Pritzker Prize in 1988 and his legacy is evident in his many civic buildings in Brasília.

 

Eero Saarinen

Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Gateway Arch (Photo: f11photo/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Eero Saarinen
Born
August 20, 1910 (Kirkkonummi, Finland)
Died
September 1, 1961 (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Notable Work
Gateway Arch, TWA Flight Center
Movement
International Style

Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen is known both for his work on important monuments and his contributions to industrial design. The son of an architect, Saarinen is known for his dramatic, sweeping forms that are direct in their communication. This makes his work particularly impactful. One of his most famous projects was the TWA Flight Center, which has now been transformed into a hotel. And with his Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Saarinen created one of the most recognizable monuments in America.

 

I.M. Pei

JFK Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

JFK Library and Museum (Photo: mjbs/123RF)

Full Name
Ieoh Ming Pei
Born
April 26, 1917 (Guangzhou, China)
Died
May 16, 2019 (New York City, New York)
Notable Work
Louvre Pyramid, John F. Kennedy Library
Movement
Modernist

World-renowned Chinese American architect I.M. Pei was a champion of modernism who is known for his striking use of steel and glass. No stranger to controversy, his most well-known work is the glass Louvre Pyramid which opened to the public in 1989. The daring design is now a beloved part of the museum and is just one of many iconic pieces of architecture that Pei created across Europe, Asia, and North America.

“At one level my goal is simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it,” he once said. “But I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting.”

 

Frank Gehry

Dancing House by Frank Gehry

Dancing House (Photo: Madrabothair/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Frank Owen Goldberg
Born
February 28, 1929 (Toronto, Canada)
Notable Work
Dancing House, Walt Disney Concert Hall
Movement
Deconstructivist

Visionary architect Frank Gehry has been a household name for most of his career. From the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles to the Dancing House in Prague, Gehry is known for his striking postmodernist style. By incorporating unique materials like bent sheets of metal into his design, he has been able to carve out a distinct look to his deconstructivist buildings. In 1989, Gehry was awarded the Pritzker Prize.

 

Norman Foster

HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong

HSBC Main Building (Photo: WiNG via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

Full Name
Norman Robert Foster
Born
June 1, 1935 (Reddish, England)
Notable Work
HSBC Main Building
Movement
High-Tech Architecture

Known for his high-tech, industrial style, British architect Norman Foster is the founder of the highly-successful firm Foster + Partners. He is known for his innovative use of steel and glass and some of his most famous projects include London's “The Gherkin” and the HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong. In 1999 he won the Pritzker Prize and in 2022, it was announced that Foster would contribute to the rebuilding of Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

 

Renzo Piano

Centre Pompidou by Renzo Piano

Centre Pompidou (Photo: STYLEPICS/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Renzo Piano
Born
September 14, 1937 (Genoa, Italy)
Notable Work
Centre Pompidou, The Shard
Movement
High-Tech Architecture

Italian architect Renzo Piano first gained acclaim for his high-tech design of Paris' Centre Pompidou. His interest in incorporating technology into his designs continued, as he uses this technology to solve architectural problems. Some of his most notable projects include the Whitney Museum, the Kansai International Airport Terminal, and London's The Shard.

 

Tadao Ando

Interior of Church of the Light

Church of the light (Photo: siranaamwong/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Tadao Ando
Born
September 13, 1941 (Minato-ku, Osaka, Japan)
Notable Work
Church of Light
Movement
Critical Regionalism

Japanese architect Tadao Ando is known for his deeply personal aesthetic that focuses on the minimalist form of his buildings. The self-taught architect, who won the 1995 Pritzker Prize, often uses concrete to execute his vision and masterfully incorporates light and other natural elements into the design. In this way, the natural world becomes an important part of his buildings. His work often takes on a spiritual quality and one of his most well-known pieces is the Church of Light.

“I don’t believe architecture has to speak too much,” says Ando. “It should remain silent and let nature in the guise of sunlight and wind.”

 

Rem Koolhaas

CCTV Headquarters by Rem Koolhaas

CCTV Headquarters (Photo: fotokon/123RF)

Full Name
Remment Lucas Koolhaas
Born
November 17, 1944 (Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Notable Work
CCTV Headquarters
Movement
Deconstructivist

Seen as one of the great architectural thinkers of his generation, Danish architect Rem Koolhaas is known for both his architectural theory and building projects. As a founding partner of the firm OMA, Koolhaas has designed important projects like the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing and the Qatar National Library. His deconstructivist work often defies gravity and through wide-ranging designs for retail spaces, corporate headquarters, hotels, and civic buildings, he is able to bring his architectural theories to life.

 

Zaha Hadid

Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid

Guangzhou Opera House (Photo: panxunbin/Depositphotos)

Full Name
Zaha Mohammad Hadid
Born
October 31, 1950 (Baghdad, Iraq)
Died
March 31, 2016 (Miami, Florida)
Notable Work
London Aquatics Centre, Guangzhou Opera House
Movement
Deconstructivist

Affectionately called “the Queen of the Curve,” Zaha Hadid made an indelible mark on 21st-century architecture. She helped usher in a new era of architecture with her futuristic designs and was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize. But while her designs are cutting-edge, they often have a base in nature. For instance, her iconic Guangzhou Opera House was inspired by pebbles that have been rubbed smooth by the waters of a stream. Though she, unfortunately, passed at a young age, her legacy is carried on by her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects.

 

Bjarke Ingels

VIA 57 West by Bjarke Ingels

VIA 57 West (Photo: Razvan Dinu via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Full Name
Bjarke Ingels
Born
October 2, 1974 (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Notable Work
Via 57 West, LEGO House

One of the most exciting figures in architecture today, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels is creating dramatic, impactful work with his firm BIG. Known for his bold, playful designs, Ingels was mentored by Rem Koolhaas. Through BIG, Ingels is not only designing single buildings but entire urban developments. Sustainability is a core value of the firm, with BIG's buildings weaving sustainability into the fabric of the design, rather than leaving it as an afterthought.

 

Related Articles:

11 Architectural Styles That Define Western Society

20 Inspiring and Famous Architecture Quotes by Master Architects

20 Documentaries About Famous Architects and Great Architecture

25 Books That Every Architect and Architecture Lover Should Read

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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