Many of us visit museums to feast our eyes on humanity's finest works of art. Yet, it may surprise us to know that the buildings housing elegant works may be architectural masterpieces themselves. Certainly, museums can be both functional storehouses for the arts and sciences as well as iconic monuments to man's creative genius. If you appreciate architectural beauty, here are six museums to put on your must-see list.
The Louvre, Paris, France
It's probably the most iconic museum in the world, and according to France 24, it's also the most visited. Upwards of 10.2 million people visited the Louvre in 2018, more than any other museum in the world. With more than 650,000 square feet of space, according to Designing Buildings, the Louvre is the world's largest museum. It's also home to such famous works as the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.
However, it's not just the artwork that brings in millions of visitors. The building itself is a true work of art. The building was originally a fortress and royal home before Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned it to be turned into a museum in 1801.
The Louvre is a stunning example of the French Classical style. Frescoes cover the ornately decorated walls along the outside and an iconic glass pyramid sits in the middle of the property, a striking contrast against the Renaissance-style buildings in the background.
Famous architect I. M. Pei designed the pyramid structure as part of a new lobby area for the museum in 1988. It's now one of the most iconic features of the museum.
The Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Niteroi museum was completed in 1996. The UFO-shaped building overlooks the cliffs of Guanabara Bay, with sharp lines and sleek curves accenting the concrete and glass structure.
Meanwhile, visitors can get sweeping views of the bay from the exhibition floors and the auditoriums in the basement. One of the most interesting features of the museum is its entrance. Visitors wander up a long and meandering ramp. It looks like a winding red carpet leading visitors to the lobby of the 27,000 square-foot museum.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris, France
The Louis Vuitton Foundation is a testament to the marvels of French design. The museum opened in 2014 as a contemporary art museum. Architect Frank Gehry designed the building, adding another famous structural work to his already impressive portfolio.
The building resembles the sails of a massive ship. Each of the 3,600 panels that form the twelve sails are made of glass, and each of the sails is covered with 19,000 panels of ductal or fiber-reinforced concrete. Thanks to the use of glass as the primary building material, the interior ambiance can change, depending upon the weather and time of day.
According to the museum's official website, two exhibits are organized each year, one of contemporary art and the other of modern art. Featured artists have included Olafur Eliasson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Egon Schiele.
The Museo Soumaya, Mexico City, Mexico
Visitors to the Museo Soumaya may find themselves so dazzled by the exterior of the building that they forget to step inside to admire the artwork. The founder, Carlos Slim, named the museum after his late wife, Soumaya Domit.
Designed by Fernando Romero, the building has about 16,000 aluminum hexagons covering its curving surface. The result is a sparkling structural frame with seven rings connecting 28 elliptical columns.
If you can tear yourself away from staring at the exterior, the inside of the museum is nearly as impressive. Grecian marble floor and spiraling staircases grace the interior space. Once inside, you can tour the impressive collection of more than 66,000 pieces of art, including works by Dali, Rodin, Rubens, and Botticelli.
The collection of about 100 art pieces by Rodin constitutes one of the world's largest by the renowned artist.
The City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain
The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia isn't made up of just one building. Instead, it's a complex of six buildings, mostly designed by Santiago Calatrava. The six areas include a planetarium, garden, science museum, opera house, aquarium, and events center. You'll need tickets to visit the planetarium, aquarium, and science museum, but you can visit the rest of the complex for free.
Interestingly, the City sits on a former riverbed, whose waters were diverted to create space for the museum.
Each of the buildings in the complex is unique. The Principe Felipe science museum looks like the backbone of a marine sea creature. It houses more than 26,000 meters (more than 85,000-square-feet) of science and technical exhibitions. Meanwhile, the Palau De Les Arts opera house's sweeping, contemporary architecture is equipped with the most advanced acoustic technologies, making it an exciting venue for music festivals and performances.
This is definitely a museum worth a visit, even if all you do is check out the amazing Oceanografic, Europe's largest aquarium. The Oceanografic houses more than 500 species of marine creatures, such as sea lions, penguins, sharks, and dolphins.
The Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain
When it comes to architectural masterpieces, this museum will find its way on most lists. The Guggenheim Bilbao is a breathtaking creation and the second museum on this list designed by Frank Gehry. Visitors should take time to sit down and take in the entirety of the structure's majesty before venturing inside.
The building's curved panels appear to twist and turn, jutting up and out at interesting angles. Observers liken the shape of the building to a boat, which makes sense given its location in the old port area of the city. Gehry designed the building as a new public outdoor space, with a curved walkway flanking the river Nervion.
According to Arch Daily, officials in Bilbao proposed the idea for the museum as a way to rejuvenate the dilapidated port area. In what's now known as the Bilbao Effect, the finished museum was so popular that it was responsible for the revitalization of the entire city. In its first three years alone, the museum generated more than $500 million dollars in profit. The money it brought to the city has helped pay for many city-wide development programs.