Defining an architectural style in a single decade is a near impossible task, considering that some large profile projects take about that time to conceive and realise. However, the 90’s were quite a special time of reflection and experimentation. Some of the most prominent visionaries came into their own; none more important that the work of Zaha Hadid. The 90s saw the decline of the overly embellished post-modernist era and the beginning of the ‘green’ epoch of healthy and sustainable buildings.
The space between both eras showcased elegant experiments by architects looking to change the status quo with no particular ordering principles or trends governing the outcome. The result; a series of eccentric buildings that were to be designed, built and occupied in the 90s.
9. Getty Museum (1997) – Richard Meier
It’s never a good idea to break the rules as you start, but we did it anyway. Technically this $1.5 billion building’s earliest conceptions came in the late 80s but it was largely developed in the early 90s and served as a high point in the the career of Richard Meier. Like most of Meier’s standout projects, this also stood as a counterpoint to the ubiquitous postmodernism buildings that peppered cityscapes around America around that time.
8. Petronas Towers (1997) – Cesar Pelli
At the time of it’s completion, it took over as the tallest building in the world for a short period of time. Generally considered a postmodernist building, it shows little signs of ornamental indulgence. However it takes on the local Malay vernacular in it’s facade treatment, which in someways could be seen as adornment and referenced back to postmodernist ideals. Whatever the case this building stands out as an icon for Malaysia and definitely a high point in 90s architecture.
7. Beyeler Foundation (1997) – Renzo Piano
Perhaps not the most defining moment of the 90s but certainly a game changer in the approach to museum design and natural lighting of spaces in general. Piano spent this decade researching place-form architecture; an idea that buildings should strictly relate to their environment and/or local culture. This museum seamlessly blends into it’s natural landscape.
6. Maison Bordeaux (1998) – Rem Koolhaas
Another proponent of heavy academic experimentation, Rem Koolhaas unveiled this incredible house to the world in the late 90s and had everyone in awe. Here Koolhaas and his firm, OMA, explore the concept of a house as a machine for living. With large circular windows and doors and no sense of front and back, it certainly challenged the conventional norm of a house. It was also a major feat of engineering for it’s time.
5. Vitra Fire Station (1994) – Zaha Hadid
As we mentioned earlier, Zaha was probably the biggest culprit of crazy experiments that were brought to life in the 90s. Frankly she was just waiting for technology to catch up with her, but every time one of her ideas was realised, we were never disappointed. The Vitra Fire Station is one of her earliest built works and at such a small scale her prowess is already evident. In hindsight, it is clear what she was embarking on, but at the time each new project was mind-blowing.
4. Jewish Museum Berlin (1999) – Daniel Libeskind
This project single-handedly shot Daniel Libeskind into the limelight. An academic experiment that mapped out different addresses of holocaust victims and used that data to determine the angular directions of the lines that cross the spaces and inevitably the building’s form. This is a timeless building that would stand out in any era but will always be a product of that 90s curiosity.
3. Lord’s Media Centre (1999) – Future Systems
The 90s was a glorious time for futurist experimentation and no one did it better that Future Systems. They pushed towards what they termed blobitecture; An amorphic formless architecture that took on the shape of bubbles and blobs. The Lord’s Media Centre however, was a rational and strict approach to futurism, looking more like an aircraft than a media centre.
2. Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre (1998) – Renzo Piano
Arguably the most dynamic building on this list, this cultural centre epitomised exactly what Renzo Piano was looking to achieve at the time. It was an out of this world experience of one of the most unique and and original building that extrapolated the native New Caledonian hut to create one of the most dynamic cultural centres in history.
1. Guggenheim, Bilbao (1997) – Frank Gehry
The only thing that could top the Tjibaou Centre is this one. An icon of the 90s and a stand out project that redefined Gehry’s career. The building is so unique and influential and is the very first in the new titanium material that Gehry explored with for a period. It is a global cultural icon and changed the city of Bilbao forever, and probably one the most recognizable buildings in the world.