Architecture & Design

Top 5 Modern Architects: Who Is Shaping Today's Cities?

Have you ever looked at the world around you and wondered how we, as a species, got here? Nowadays, we have skyscrapers with more than 150 floors, modern building designs that seem to defy the laws of physics, as well as a fast-paced, ever-growing, and ever-changing urban landscapes. 

So, what styles define the architecture and urban engineering of the 21st century? More importantly, who are the architects shaping the fabric of our cities? Let’s examine some of the most influential and successful architects of the modern era!

Santiago Calatrava

Not only is Santiago Calatrava a fantastic architect, but he is also a Renaissance man with many hidden talents. His primary vocations include architect, artist, and engineer. His wide-ranging talents enable him to build just about anything, including bridges (Alamillo), museums (Milwaukee), and transportation complexes (The World Trade Center Transportation Hub).

Art critics often attribute the “biotech” style to Calatrava. Biotech is a modern evolution of "organic architecture,” which was pioneered by Antoni Gaudi (Casa Mila). For Calatrava, wildlife and the human body function as inexhaustible sources of inspiration. For example, the anatomy of a male figure inspired the Turning Torso skyscraper in Malmö.

However, Santiago Calatrava saved his greatest creations for his hometown of Valencia, Spain. These hi-tech structures were made using steel and reinforced concrete, though they look more like giant creatures than functional buildings. In any case, these zoomorphic beasts of the City of Arts and Sciences attract thousands of tourists to Valencia every year. 

Zaha Hadid

According to her mentor, Ram Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid is “a planet in its own orbit.” She has gone through a difficult creative path from deconstructivism (Vitra) to parametricism (Morphius). This transition took her designs from sharp angles and asymmetry to complex curvatures and fluid lines. Her friend and colleague, Patrick Schumacher, named Hadid as one of the driving forces behind the parametricism movement.

Though she began with styles popular in post-modern architecture, Hadid evolved to capture and create a wholly unique style of her own. Since 2008, Hadid’s projects often look as if they were born by nature itself. One popular example is Beijing Airport, which has fluid lines that resemble the inside of a plant cell — or even an alien spaceship! The Beijing Airport, along with other masterpieces like the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, reflect Zaha Hadid’s simple and truthful belief that “the world is not rectangular.”

Frank Gehry

Classified as an apologist for deconstructivism, Frank Gehry dabbles in many different styles to create entirely new worlds. One can observe the ghosts of Cubism in his own home in California. Gehry even utilizes twisted cardboard furniture and is the father of the iconic “wiggle” chair design. He folds and twists his materials to produce distinct shapes, with sharp corners accented by curved lines (Disney Hall, Marquis de Rascal).

For his DZ Bank project, the architect shocked viewers with a discreet, laconic façade that penetrates the open-air space. However, his primary masterpiece remains the Guggenheim Museum. This project launched a phenomenon called the "Bilbao Effect,” in which one masterful structure helps revive the life and economy of an entire city. If not for Gehry’s masterful design, Bilbao might still be a middling, relatively unknown port city!

Bjarke Ingels

Bjarke Ingels is a young and daring architect from Copenhagen. In his youth, he dreamed of being a comic book artist, which is reflected in his architectural manifesto "Yes Is More.” As illustrated in his manifesto, Ingels likes to challenge the conservative Danish society with his radical projects (VM House).

Additionally, Ingels is known for reimagining the concept of traditional housing. In one famous example, he created a mountain-shaped structure, in which every resident has their own open terrace and garden (Mountain Dwellings).

Ingels's business is called BIG, a fitting name for an architectural practice built on big and elaborate ideas. One such idea was the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion: a wall motif that looks as though it was “unzipped.” With every project, Ingels's primary aim is to create structures that look as if he (the creator) did not put any effort into them.

While creating some of today’s most innovative architectural designs, Ingels also introduced the term “Hedonic Resilience.” This is how the CopenHill Energy Plant project was created, where a recycling plant is crowned with a ski slope, a hiking trail and a climbing wall.

Norman Foster

Norman Foster is well known as a master of high-tech architecture. In fact, his first projects resemble the aesthetics of the R. Rogers Pompidou Center in Paris, albeit turned inside out! 

However, Norman Foster's style has recently evolved towards sophisticated high-tech glass structures (City Hall), inspired by Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov (Tower).

Foster is also a strong believer in green architecture. His buildings have won worldwide LEED (The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) awards. One of his projects, Apple Park, received LEED Platinum in 2017. Apple was so happy with Foster’s work that they’ve commissioned him for a total of 18 projects. So, if you see a cool-looking Apple building, Norman Foster probably created it!

Foster’s early dream was to build not skyscrapers, but eco-friendly vertical cities. His high-rise buildings breathe on their own with the help of natural ventilation (Mary-Ax), and, whenever possible, are constructed from recycled steel (Hirst) and feature living gardens (Commerzbank).

However, his most ingenious project is the city of Masdar, which provides energy not only to itself, but also to its neighbors, Abu Dhabi. Though Abu Dhabi runs on innovation, particularly in the energy sector, it owes much of its success to Norman Foster. In short, Norman Foster is helping make the planet a more beautiful and eco-friendly place to live — one building at a time!


To recap, it takes a great deal of ingenuity and vision to be one of the top modern architects. Bjarke Ingels wows people the world over with his radical designs, while Zaha Hadid’s work reflects the development and evolution of an extremely talented artist. Meanwhile Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, and Norman Foster forever changed entire cities with their architectural masterpieces and unique styles. In short, the world is a much more beautiful and fascinating place thanks to these individuals!
Made on