Rodić Davidson Architects

10 influential contemporary architects


We like lists and debates and so here is our opinion on the 10 most influential contemporary architects born between 1850 and 1950, ordered by date-of-birth.

No 1 on our list of contemporary architects is Antoni Gaudí (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) Gaudi was a Catalan architect famed for his unique designs that went beyond the limitations of Modernism. He was a devoted Catholic and his most famous work is Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. He designed it to have 18 towers – 12 for the 12 apostles, 4 for the 4 evangelists, one for Mary and one for Jesus. The work on Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026. The building is a combination of three styles – Spanish Late Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau. The plan of the building is complex: there are double aisles, three portals and three façades. The whole structure is 90 meters long, 60 meters wide and it will be 170 meters high when the last tower will be finished.

No 2 on our list of contemporary architects is Louis Sullivan (3 September 1856 – 14 April 1924) Sullivan sought to simplify form and was one of the first architects at his time to embrace the column-frame construction technique, which allowed taller buildings with larger windows to be erected. This method used steel girders, suspended from the walls, floors and ceilings in order to carry all the weight of the building. Sullivan is considered the creator of the modern skyscraper, due to its participation to the construction boom in Chicago that followed the Great Fire of 1871. He was hired by Dankmar Adler in 1879, with whom he designed famous structures like: The Auditorium Building in Chicago, Wainwright Building in St. Louis and Prudential Building in Buffalo, New York.

No 3 on our list of contemporary architects is Le Corbusier (6 October 1887 – 27 August 1965) Le Corbusier was not only an architect and designer but also an urbanist, writer and painter. He was one of the first architects to consider the quality of life in big, crowded cities He started his five decade career with designing villas through the use of modern techniques. He designed Villa Savoye near Paris, as a machine a habiter “a machine for living in”. Le Corbusier thought that his austere and unornamented buildings would help to build cleaner and brighter cities of the future. His major works include Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp and The Centre Le Corbusier in Zürich.

No 4 on our list of contemporary architects is Alvar Aalto (3 February 1898 – 11 May 1976) Aalto was contemporary with the economic boom and with the industrialization of Finland, therefore many of his clients were major Scandinavian industrialists. In the 1920s, at the start of his career, Aalto completed a series of single family houses. His mid career was marked by experimentation, a time of redbrick buildings that started with the Baker House of the MIT and Helsinki’s University of Technology.

No 5 on our list of contemporary architects is Oscar Niemeyer (b. December 15, 1907) Niemeyer was a pioneer in creating new possibilities for using reinforced concrete. His early career was defined by his work on the first state-sponsored skyscraper in the world, for the Brazilian government. It was completed in 1943 and is now widely regarded as the first example of Brazilian modernism. He was part of the international team that designed the UN headquarters in New York and his conceptual masterplan for the site was closely followed. During the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, his membership of the Brazilian Communist Party curtailed his ability to work in the US. By the time the exile ended, he had completed main administration buildings in Brasilia, the country’s new capital city. While in Europe, he created several buildings, including the headquarters of the French Communist Party and the Mondadori Publishing House office near Milan.

No 6 on our list of contemporary architects is Ieoh Ming Pei (b. 26 April 1917). Pei was born in China and at the age of 17 he came in United States of America to study architecture. He is known for his large, abstract geometrical forms and for incorporating the traditional Chinese style in his work. Pei started his career in 1950 with the design of quite a regular corporate building in Atlanta, Georgia. After establishing his own company, in 1955 he focused on urban projects such as the Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan, New York City or the Society Hill Towers. Some of Pei’s most notable works are: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Le Grand Louvre (The Pyramid) in Paris, The Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

No 7 on our list of contemporary architects is Frank Gehry (b. 28 February 1929) Frank Gehry is known for his deconstructivist approach: a development of postmodern architecture characterised by ideas of fragmentation by manipulating surfaces. Unlike the most architectural styles, Gehry’s buildings often involve forms do not follow function. Some of his most prominent works include: The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Der Neue Zollhof in Düsseldorf and the Marqués de Riscal Vineyard Hotel in Elciego.

No 8 on our list of contemporary architects is Rem Koolhaas (b. 17 November 1944) Koolhaas is one of the most influential architects and urban planners from the Netherlands. He first studied scriptwriting in Amsterdam and then architecture in London and at the Cornell University. In 1975 he founded The Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam and his first major project was the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague, in 1987. Some of the most notable buildings designed by Koolhaas are: the Central Library in Seattle, Casa da Mùsica in Porto, Museum of Art at the Seoul National University and China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing.

No 9 on our list of contemporary architects is Zaha Hadid (b. 31 October 1950) Hadid was born in Iraq and was the first woman to win a Pritzker Architecture Prize. She completed her studies in London and in 1980, opened her own practice in London. Her work is unconventional and artistic and her structures are often characterised by a deconstruvist approach. Her notable works include MAXXI , the Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck, Phaeno Science Center and the Opera House in Guangzhou.

No 10 on our list of contemporary architects is Santiago Calatrava (b. 28 July 1951). Calatrava was born in Valencia and is one of the most acclaimed architects, sculptors and structural engineers Spain has seen in the last century. The early world-wide recognition led to offices opening in Valencia, Zürich, Paris and New York City. He started his career designing numerous civil engineering projects, such as bridges and train stations. The bridge Puente del Alamillo in Seville is one of his most prominent works as a civil engineer and it rapidly became a landmark of the city. The Montjuic Communications Tower in Barcelona and the Allen Lambert Galleria were his first works as an architect. The 54-story twisting tower in Malmö, Sweden is the second tallest residential building in Europe.


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