Surprisingly, modern architecture has a lot of entries on the UNESCO World Heritage list! These can be in many shapes or forms, from factories to office buildings, houses to performance spaces. They’re all fascinating in their own way, and provide an incredible insight into the shaping of the modern world. Read on to discover nine of the best Modern Architecture World Heritage sites!
1. Bauhaus Sites in Weimar and Dessau, Germany
When it comes to early modern architecture, one name stands out from the rest – the Bauhaus. This legendary German college of art and design was founded by architecture Walter Gropius in 1919, and had a profound impact on designers across the world. In this video, we visit the Bauhaus’s original location in Weimar, along with the expanded college site in the town of Dessau, where a large design college still exists.
2. Tugendhat Villa in Brno, Czech Republic
Tugendhat Villa is a Modernist villa in Brno, second-largest city of the Czech Republic. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the Tugendhat family, it remains an excellent example of early Modernist architecture. Sadly, the family only lived in their villa for eight years – Hitler’s annexation of then-Czechoslovakia in 1938 meant that the Jewish Tugendhat family had to flee to Switzerland. But after a long restoration process, the villa is now one of Brno’s most famous sights!
3. Fagus Factory, Germany
The Fagus Factory was constructed between 1911-1913, and is an early example of modern industrial architecture. One of the early buildings designed by Walter Gropius (he of Bauhaus fame, above), the factory was designed to manufacture shoe lasts – the small moulds around which shoes are made – a purpose it still fulfils today! Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside as it’s an active factory, but the exterior was fascinating and the museum was very interesting too.
4. Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, Germany
This World Heritage site is a collection of six housing estates in the German capital, Berlin. They all date from the early 20th century, when Berlin was growing rapidly and new solutions were needed to solve the problems of desirable, low-cost housing. Here again we can see the enormous influence of Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius, Martin Wagner, and Bruno Taut.
5. Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland
Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland, was built between 1911-1913 and is an early landmark of reinforced concrete construction. Designed by Max Berg, it was intended to host sporting events, exhibitions, theatre and opera, and other concerts – a function which it still performs today! It has a very unique shape – a dome within a square cross (inspired by the Germanic Iron Cross), and sits amid a large parkland and fountain area. This was quite an interesting visit for us as a jobs fair for Polish students was taking place in the main hall, so it was great to see the hall being used as a functional space.
6. Van Nelle Factory, Netherlands
We visited this World Heritage site in August 2017. It’s a large factory building in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and was opened in 1931. The architecture here is known as Constructivism, and it makes extensive use of reinforced concrete and glass curtain walls – both were revolutionary techniques at the time, but these days quite commonplace in skyscrapers and other modern buildings. Although it originally was a factory for processing consumer goods like coffee, tea, chewing gum and tobacco, these days it’s home to several media and design companies. What a beautiful place to work!
7. Rietveld-Schroeder House, Netherlands
This site is a small terrace house in Utrecht, Netherlands, built in 1924 by architect Gerrit Rietveld. It’s from a Dutch school of design known as Der Stijl, and is absolutely mind-blowing. It sits at the end of a row of terraces in a quiet suburb, and looks like something from another planet! The outside makes use of square shapes, piping, and a black & white colour scheme, while inside we can see a fore-runner of modern “open-plan” living. Upstairs there are no internal walls at all (save for the bathroom), and space can be created or removed by a series of sliding panels and doors – fascinating! There’s also a strong use of primary colours inside to create consistency, e.g. cupboard doors are always blue, regardless of your location in the house.
8. Town Houses of Victor Horta, Belgium
Although not strictly “modern” architecture, this World Heritage site in Brussels, Belgium, covers four art nouveau townhouses designed by Belgian architect Victor Horta in the 1890s. The listing covers Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta. These are some of the earliest and finest examples of art nouveau. Unfortunately for us, only Maison & Atelier Horta permit entry to the general public, but they were still a fascinating place to explore!
9. Sydney Opera House, Australia
Perhaps as Sydney locals we’re a little biased, but our favourite modern architecture World Heritage site is the Sydney Opera House. Opened in 1973 after nearly 20 years of construction, it’s actually the youngest entry on the World Heritage list! And it might seem hard to believe, but the previous occupant of the site was a tram depot! The Opera House itself was designed by Danish architect Joern Utzon in the Expressionist style, and contains seven separate performance spaces within the building. It’s used almost every night of the week for opera, ballet, theatre, orchestra, pop and modern music concerts, comedy, forums, and almost anything else besides. We’re both looking forward to returning to Australia and producing a video about one of our favourite places!