Modern architecture World Heritage sites are surprisingly common. These UNESCO modern architecture sites come in many shapes and styles, from modern factory architecture 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 for the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site modernist architecture!
1. Bauhaus Sites in Weimar and Dessau, Germany – World Heritage Site
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 architect Walter Gropius in 1919. It had a profound impact on designers across the world. In this video, we visit the Bauhaus’s original location in the city of Weimar. We also check out the college site in the town of Dessau, where a large design college still exists. It’s definitely one of the most influential modernist architecture UNESCO sites.
2. Tugendhat Villa in Brno, Czech Republic – World Heritage Site
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 and one of the most impressive modern architecture homes. Sadly, the family only lived in their villa for eight years. Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 forced the Jewish Tugendhat family to flee to Switzerland. But after a long restoration process, the villa is now one of Brno’s most famous sights, and a real highlight of modern residential architecture.
3. Fagus Factory, Germany – World Heritage Site
The Fagus Factory was constructed between 1911-1913, and is an early example of modern industrial architecture. This impressive example of World Heritage architecture was among Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’s earliest buildings. This particular factory was designed to manufacture shoe lasts. Shoe lasts are the moulds around which shoes are made, and surprisingly, the factory still makes shoe lasts today! It’s also an active factory so we weren’t allowed inside. But the exterior was fascinating and the on-site museum was very interesting too.
4. Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, Germany – World Heritage Site
Next in the list of UNESCO World Heritage modernist architecture sites is a collection of six housing estates in the German capital, Berlin. The estates 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. Although the apartment buildings appear fairly unremarkable, they’re actually quite incredible when you consider the impact they had on modern architecture in Europe, and the world. All up it makes for an intruiging Berlin World Heritage site.
5. Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland – World Heritage Site
Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland, was built between 1911-1913 and is an early landmark of reinforced concrete construction. It’s another excellent example of UNESCO World Heritage architecture, and was 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. Quite an unusual example of UNESCO modernist architecture!
6. Van Nelle Factory, Netherlands – World Heritage Site
The Van Nelle Factory, or Van Nelle Fabriek is an industrial World Heritage building in Rotterdam, Netherlands, that opened in 1931. A fantastic example of World Heritage Site modernist architecture, the style here is known as Constructivism, and it makes extensive use of reinforced concrete and glass curtain walls. Both of these were revolutionary techniques at the time, but these days are commonplace in skyscrapers and other modern buildings. Originally was a factory for processing consumer goods like coffee, tea, chewing gum and tobacco, but these days it’s home to several media and design companies.
7. Rietveld-Schröder House, Netherlands – World Heritage Site
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. It’s definitely a leading example of the best modern architecture in Europe.
8. Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Belgium – World Heritage Site
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 design and construction.
Unfortunately for us, only the Maison & Atelier Horta permitted entry to the general public. The others are all private residences, and are only open on very rare occasions. However, the Maison & Atelier Horta was a fantastic place to visit, and definitely one of the highlights of Brussels. It’s a great place to see and experience Victor Horta’s legacy, and easily among the top modern architecture heritage sites in Europe.
9. Sydney Opera House, Australia – World Heritage Site
Perhaps as Sydney locals we’re a little biased, but our favourite modern architecture World Heritage site is the Sydney Opera House. It’s one of the five World Heritage Sites in New South Wales! 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, discussion forums, and everything in between.
When visiting World Heritage sites, it’s always important to remember that “heritage” doesn’t necessarily mean “old”. There really are some incredible modernist architecture UNESCO world heritage sites. While you’re here, consider checking out the best Industrial World Heritage Sites. And of course, don’t forget to visit World Heritage Journey on YouTube, and click the notification bell so you never miss a video.