Urban Lifestyle

Impressive architecture: Top ten urban university buildings for learning in style

Universities and cities have got a special relationship. The universities enrich cities by attracting intelligent young people and world-renowned intellectuals, and they often establish research partnerships with local companies. Universities also frequently add that extra touch to their host cities: beauty and architectural landmarks.

With their wealth of beautiful buildings and landscaping, it’s easy to understand why tourists often visit the local universities when they are in a new city. Below we take a tour of some of the most stunning and architecturally unique university buildings in cities around the world.

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Published on 07.02.2018

High-style buildings for higher education

The close relationship between city and university, people and higher education is often best expressed by campus buildings. These examples show how universities seek to unite traditional design with progressive change. In addition, these modern designs often display a transparency and diversity, symbolizing the need to maintain accessibility to higher education for all. It’s no wonder some of the most striking urban landmarks can be found at the crossroads and campuses of learning.

Peter B. Lewis Building, Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

Readers might recognize this architect’s signature from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Frank Gehry is known for the swooping metal shapes on the buildings he designs. This building is so striking that it convinced the school to add design methodology as a theme in management training and to start encouraging unconventional creativity. Some say it even led to a renaissance at CWRU.

CWRU rode into the 21st century on waves of stainless steel

Central Library, National Autonomous University of Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico)

The Central Library at the National Autonomous University of Mexico is decorated with a mural by artist Juan O’Gorman so beautiful that the building was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the design of the building itself is not very extraordinary, it stands as a testament to the power of art.

Mexican history becomes timeless art

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, College of Business (Melbourne, Australia)

As first glance, the Swanston Academic Building looms up behind the traditional buildings, almost swallowing them. The layout of the building, however, has a unifying aspect. Designers mapped lines from the site to surrounding landmarks and used them to create a computerized algorithm which generated the 3D forms and the portals in the building. From almost any vantage point, students inside have a connection to the cityscape.

Melbourne’s downtown gets a new twist of architecture

Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, Columbia University (NYC, USA)

Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Columbia University’s 14-story steel, glass and concrete building prominently features a staircase, the sides of which protrude outward from the glass façade.

Medical students at Columbia University study in style

Campus Luigi Einaudi, Turin University (Turin, Italy)

Two linked buildings unified under a roof canopy and around a central courtyard, Norman Foster’s design is a contemporary take on the quadrangle or “quad” frequently found on traditional university campuses. The completion of the building regenerated an industrial site on the banks of the River Dora and includes a bridge, connecting it to the historic center.

Campus Luigi Einaudi
A non-quadrilateral quadrangle to enliven the campus

Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs American University of Beirut (Beirut, Lebanon)

Many of the IFI’s facilities appear to float above the entrance courtyards, lending the building a lightness while preserving much of the courtyard as a meeting place. The entire site was designed as to promote interaction: the raised pathways and the building’s interlocking geometric forms underscore the symbolism of intersecting routes of study and thought.

Geometric lightness offers inspiration in Beirut

Philological Library, Free University of Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

Another design from Norman Foster, this library belongs to the existing “Rust and Silver Lodges” complex on the main campus. Designed in the shape of a human brain, including two hemispheres, it houses the libraries of numerous humanities collections.

The "brain", the rounded back of the Philological Library

Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre, City University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, China)

The crystalline shapes in this building – designed by Daniel Libeskind and named after the founder of Shaw Brothers Studio – can also be found in the design of the windows, doors and lighting patterns. The various geometric shapes and spaces vary widely in form, light and material and are intended to encourage collaboration and creativity in the new media departments.

Hong Kong’s cutting-edge center for media studies

Wabash Building, Roosevelt University (Chicago, USA)

Although it is “only” the fourth tallest university building in the world (469 feet), it is perhaps the most beautiful – to fans of modern architecture, at least. A state-of-the art LEED-certified sustainable building, its modern flowing lines still leave room for the historic façade of the Fine Arts Annex.

Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)

Heatherwick Studio designed this Learning Hub – also known as “The Hive” – to create a sense of community. To do this, they eliminated corridors, introduced rounded classrooms and allowed for plenty of natural light and greenery. You can enter this building from anywhere on the ground floor, which itself is a large open space that connects and unifies each and every one of the beehive-live towers.

The Hive: Cornerless classrooms, no corridors and plenty of light