10 Buildings that Changed the World

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Charlottesville, Virginia Home
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/ Buyenlarge / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

What are the most significant, most beautiful, or most interesting buildings of the past 1,000 years? Some art historians choose the Taj Mahal, while others prefer the soaring skyscrapers of modern times. Others have decided on the Ten Buildings That Changed America. There's no single correct answer. Perhaps the most innovative buildings are not grand monuments, but obscure homes and temples. In this quick list, we'll take a whirlwind tour through time, visiting ten famous architectural masterpieces, plus some often overlooked treasures.

c. 1137, St. Denis Church in France

Detail from the Rose Window at St Denis in France, showing the signs of the Zodiac, 12th century
Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

During the Middle Ages, builders were discovering that stone could carry far greater weight than ever imagined. Cathedrals could soar to dazzling heights, yet create the illusion of lace-like delicacy. The Church of St. Denis, commissioned by Abbot Suger of St. Denis, was one of the first large buildings to use this new vertical style known as Gothic. The church became a model for most of the late 12th century French cathedrals, including Chartres.

c. 1205 - 1260, Chartres Cathedral Reconstruction

Looking at the gothic spires of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Chartres from the streets of Chartres, France
Photo by Katherine Young/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

In 1194, the original Romanesque style Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France was destroyed by fire. Reconstructed in the years 1205 to 1260, the new Chartres Cathedral was built in the new Gothic style. Innovations in the cathedral's construction set the standard for thirteenth-century architecture.

c. 1406 - 1420, The Forbidden City, Beijing

Forbidden City Architecture in Beijing, China
Photo by Santi Visalli/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

For nearly six centuries, great emperors of China made their home in an enormous palace complex known as the

Forbidden City. Today the site is a museum with more than a million priceless artifacts. Today the site is a museum with more than a million priceless artifacts.

c. 1546 and Later, The Louvre, Paris

Detail of the Louvre, Musee du Louvre, in Paris, France
Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

In the late 1500s, Pierre Lescot designed a new wing for the Louvre and popularized ideas of purely classical architecture in France. Lescot's design laid the foundation for the development of the Louvre over the next 300 years. In 1985, architect Ieoh Ming Pei introduced modernism when he designed a startling glass pyramid for the entrance to the palace-turned-museum.

c. 1549 and Later, Palladio's Basilica, Italy

Andrea Palladio's statue near the Basilica Palladiana in Italy
Photo by Luigi Pasetto/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

During the late 1500s, Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio brought a new appreciation for the classical ideas of ancient Rome when he transformed the town hall in Vicenza, Italy into the Basilica (Palace of Justice). Palladio's later designs continued to reflect the humanist values of the Renaissance period.

c. 1630 to 1648, Taj Mahal, India

Dome of the Taj Mahal mausoleum southern view detail, Uttar Pradesh, India
Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images News/Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images

According to legend, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan wanted to build the most beautiful mausoleum on earth to express his love for his favorite wife. Or, perhaps he was simply asserting his political power. Persian, Central Asian, and Islamic elements combine in the great white marble tomb.

c. 1768 to 1782, Monticello in Virginia

Walkway to Monticello in Virginia
Photo by Elan Fleisher/LOOK Collection/Getty Images

When the American statesman, Thomas Jefferson, designed his Virginia home, he brought American ingenuity to Palladian ideas. Jefferson's plan for Monticello resembles Andrea Palladio's Villa Rotunda, but he added innovations such as underground service rooms.

1889, The Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower and the River Seine on a Parisian evening
Photo by Steve Lewis Stock/Photolibrary Collection/Getty Images

The 19th century Industrial Revolution brought new construction methods and materials to Europe. Cast iron and wrought iron became popular materials used for both building and architectural detailing. Engineer Gustave pioneered the use of puddled iron when he designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The French scorned the record-breaking tower, but it became one of the world's most beloved landmarks.

1890, The Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Missouri

First floors of the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri
Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler redefined American architecture with the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri. Their design used uninterrupted piers to emphasize the underlying structure. "Form follows function," Sullivan famously told the world.

The Modern Era

World Trade Center Twin Towers and the New York City Skyline Before the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack
Photo by ihsanyildizli/E+/Getty Images (cropped)

During the modern era, exciting new innovations in the world of architecture brought soaring skyscrapers and fresh new approaches to home design. Keep on reading for favorite buildings from the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Craven, Jackie. "10 Buildings that Changed the World." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, thoughtco.com/buildings-that-changed-the-world-177938. Craven, Jackie. (2021, July 29). 10 Buildings that Changed the World. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/buildings-that-changed-the-world-177938 Craven, Jackie. "10 Buildings that Changed the World." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/buildings-that-changed-the-world-177938 (accessed February 5, 2023).