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Buildings that Changed the World

A Millennium of Masterpieces


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 chosen 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 the buildings our readers selected, plus some often overlooked treasures. Did we leave out your favorite building? Add to our list.

1. 1137 : St. Denis Church in Saint-Denis

Church of St. Denis in Paris
Photo © flickr member Stevecadman
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.

2. 1205 - 1260 : Chartres Cathedral Reconstruction

Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France
Photo © Paolo Negri / Getty Images
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 Cathdral was built in the new Gothic style. Innovations in the cathedral's construction set the standard for thirteenth century architecture.

3. 1406 - 1420 : The Forbidden City , Beijing

Forbidden City in Beijing, China
Photo © John Wang / 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.

4. 1546 and Later : The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre / Musee du Louvre
Photo © John Sigler / iStockPhoto
In the late 1500s, Pierre Lescot designed a new wing for the Louvre and popularized ideas of pure 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.

5. 1549 and Later: Palladio's Basilica, Italy

Basilica by Palladio in Vicenza, Italy
Photo © Luke Daniek/iStockPhoto.com
During the late 1500s, Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio brought 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.

6. 1630 to 1648 : Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India
Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation
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.

7. 1768 to 1782 : Monticello, Virginia, USA

Monticello, the Virginia Home of Thomas Jefferson
Gabriele Rausse Monticello Wine Trail, Charlottesville, VA. Photo: Amy C Evans, SFA oral historian
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.

8. 1889 : The Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower in Paris
Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation
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.

9. 1890 : The Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Missouri

The Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri
Photo by Flickr Member Matthew Black, CC 2.0
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.

10. The Modern Era

New York City Skyline before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack
Photo © Markus Seidel / iStockPhoto
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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