You won’t find any ivy-covered brick buildings here! While we tend to think of the ideal college campus as looking more like the traditional, the 30 buildings on this list are quickly changing the norm to something a little more this century. From glass-domed libraries, to steel cocoons, to walls that slant in every direction, we’ve found the 30 most amazing modern university buildings the world has to offer.
41 Cooper Square
The Cooper Union
The Cooper Union’s beautiful 41 Cooper Square features state-of-the-art laboratories, classrooms, studio spaces, conference rooms, student lounges, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the 41 Cooper Gallery, and the Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, among a number of other important spaces. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and the Morphosis architectural firm, the building has won a number of prestigious architectural awards, and was even the first academic building in New York City to achieve an LEED Platinum rating.
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library has an exterior that is modern, but ultimately anything but extraordinary. Indeed, the SOM-designed structure looks something like a granite and marble shoe box. Inside, however, is a completely different story. The marble exterior diffuses the light as it enters the building, causing the library’s interior spaces to glow amber. Multiple levels, each of which is tastefully decorated with leather chairs and mid-century modern tables, surround the building’s crown jewel: a multi-story glass book enclosure that is climate controlled. Fun fact: the library is home to one of only 48 existing copies of the Gutenberg Bible.
United States Air Force Academy
Visited by more than half a million people each year, the multi-denominational Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy is the most visited man-made attraction in all of Colorado. The unique modernist exterior is characterized by 17 angular spires soaring 150 feet into the air, while the solid exterior made of aluminum, glass, and steel is softened by a beautiful series of floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows that add light and color to the interior worship space. Surrounding the Chapel are gorgeous views of the local countryside.
Campus Luigi Einaudi
Designed by Foster + Partners architectural firm, Campus Luigi Einaudi unites the 5,000+ students studying in the faculties of Law and Political Science. The magnificent building was designed as a modern interpretation of the traditional cloistered quadrangle. Surrounding the lush courtyard, in which two refurbished historic buildings house a cafe and Student Services, are two linked buildings, unified by a single roof canopy. Inside each building are classrooms and study spaces, though the most impressive feature of Campus Luigi Einaudi may just be the 500-seat auditorium, which has been designed to split into two 250-seat auditoriums as needed.
Lasalle College of the Arts
Completed in 2007, the $82 million City Campus of Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore is an impressive example of a modern university building. The building’s glass and steel exterior faces the city, and is designed to look like walls for mountain climbing. Nearly all of the building’s classrooms, offices, and performance spaces face outward towards the interior, where an open-air courtyard makes for a perfect socializing space for students.
Dickinson School of Law
Pennsylvania State University
While designing the Dickinson School of Law Building at Pennsylvania State University, architectural firm Ennead Architects was specifically inspired by the University’s mountain backdrop and agrarian surroundings. Indeed, stunning views are afforded viewers from just about anywhere in and around the structure. The building’s focal point is the second story library, which is housed between curving glass walls that allow plenty of natural light to flood the space. The ground floor consists of classrooms, an auditorium, and even a courtroom, all of which flow unimpeded and offer access to an adjacent arboretum and beautiful views of Mount Nittany.
Edward P. Evans Hall
Housing Yale’s School of Management, Edward P. Evans Hall is a sophisticated work of art designed by the British architectural firm Foster & Partners. The Hall’s rectilinear design is characterized by its open, light-filled corridors and public spaces. Wavy glass walls afford students views of the central courtyard’s patio and grassy area. Not surprisingly, the Hall has classrooms that are just as unique. Sixteen lecture halls are all housed in drum-shaped modules, each of which is enclosed by pretty luminescent blue panels.
London Metropolitan University
Opened in 2004, the Graduate Centre at London Metropolitan University is a striking and modern addition to the otherwise traditional campus and streetscape. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the Centre consists of three intersecting volumes clad with embossed stainless steel panels that glimmer in different ways with different kinds of light. Large geometrically-shaped windows flood the interior spaces with natural light. Inside, the Centre houses a lecture theater, seminar rooms, an auditorium, faculty offices, IT facilities, and a cafe.
Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs
American University of Beirut
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy is a stunning multi-angular edifice located at the American University of Beirut. Designed by Zaha Hadid, perhaps the most famous living female architect, the building’s unique form and angled, parallelogram-shaped windows make it look as if it is in motion. But the cast-in-place concrete facade isn’t the only impressive element of this building. Hadid designed the Institute to maximize the space, and sizable courtyards and plaza spaces are included amongst the classrooms and offices. Additionally, a 69-foot cantilever works wonders to minimize the building’s overall footprint.
Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania’s Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology houses tens of thousands of dollars worth of delicate equipment and biological research, so it’s specially engineered to isolate vibrations and noise coming from the nearby subway line. As if that weren’t impressive enough, the Center is also aesthetically spectacular. The three-story building, designed by the Weiss/Manfredi firm, is characterized by its transparent facade and unique planted roof. Besides research labs, it houses multipurpose conference rooms, lecture halls, and various open seating areas.
Perhaps it’s not too surprising that impressive Lee Hall houses Clemson University’s School of Architecture. Designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners, the Hall consists of personal studios and instruction spaces that are surely inspiring to the working students. The building is made almost entirely of glass and steel, and its soaring ceilings and broad windows and oculi allow plenty of light to fill the spaces. Lee Hall’s unique modern design offers an exciting variation to the University’s collection of more traditional buildings.
Library and Learning Centre
Vienna University of Economics and Business
With its main structure tilting at a 35-degree incline, it’s hard to miss the Library and Learning Centre at Vienna University of Economics and Business. The base of the building is made of fiber-reinforced concrete, while a second space cantilevers dramatically over a plaza. Ribbon and broad glass windows allow plenty of natural light to flood the Centre’s library, auditorium, classrooms, and offices, while a cavernous interior courtyard makes for the perfect student hangout spot.
Los Angeles Campus
Boston-based Emerson College’s Los Angeles campus might just be the coolest college housing in the world. Designed by Morphosis Architects, the campus is a cluster of different shapes, materials, and angles. A 10-story rectangular “domestic zone,” which houses more than 200 students, frames a dynamic core space of classrooms, studios, performance spaces, and student social areas. Students live, study, and work in the building, which is located on prime Sunset Boulevard real estate.
Miami-Dade College, located in downtown Miami, is a stunningly modern university building designed by Oppenheim Architects. The building’s unusual shape is constructed with glass and steel, both of which contribute to the reflective shimmer that has become an iconic part of the city skyline. Between the leaning towers is a grassy center corridor that makes for a great student hangout. The structure is the college’s main building, and houses dorms, classrooms, and student spaces.
Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower
Uniquely, the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower in Japan belongs not to a single school, but to three different schools: Tokyo Mode (fashion school), HAL Tokyo (technology and design School), and Shuto Iko (medical school). Measuring 50 floors and 669 feet in height, the Tower is the second tallest university building in the world. Each floor of the building consists of three rectangular classrooms that surround an inner core, while every third floor has a three-story student lounge located between classrooms. Designed by Tange Associates, the Tower’s cocoon shape is meant to symbolize the nurturing of the students inside.
Peter B. Lewis Building
Case Western Reserve University
One look at Case Western Reserve University’s Peter B. Lewis Building, and you may be struck with a feeling of familiarity. The building was designed by the legendary Frank Gehry, and resembles many of his most famous buildings. In fact, Gehry was a close personal friend of the building’s namesake, Peter Lewis, and a number of the building’s design features advanced ideas Gehry would later use for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The beautiful building houses Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Freie Universitat Berlin
Opened in 2005, Freie Universität’s Philological Library is the centerpiece of the institution’s beautiful Dahlem campus. The library was designed by internationally known architectural firm Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, and is appropriately shaped like a brain. Its characteristic big-glass windows allow plenty of natural light into the nearly all white interior spaces. Inside, the library contains the individual collections of various humanities departments, plus a number of student study spaces.
Ray and Maria Stata Center
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT’s Ray and Maria Stata Center, known also as Building 32, is a topsy-turvy tour de force designed by Frank Gehry. The building was designed to look almost improvised, with columns tilting in random curves and angles, and a frequently changing series of materials that include brick, mirror surface steel, brushed aluminum, brightly colored paint, and corrugated metals. The surrealist-style building houses the Center for Computer, Information, and Intelligence Sciences, and includes classrooms, research facilities, fitness facilities, a childcare center, and a large auditorium.
Glasgow School of Art
Nestled amongst Glasgow’s traditional architectural landscape is the Reid Building of the Glasgow School of Art. Designed by the American firm of Steven Holl Architects, the Reid Building is a luminous 5-story structure addition to an original 1909 building. Its translucent exterior of laminated glass was inspired by the sun filtering into the building, so the design includes plenty of naturally illuminated spaces, a soaring stairwell, and a large circular skylight. The Reid Building houses art, design, and architecture studios, a cafe; an exhibition hall, and other ancillary rooms.
Richard B. Fisher Center
The Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College may look a bit like a “classy junkyard” (as it was once described), but it also happens to be one of the best regarded and most recognizable small performance theaters in the United States. The Center was designed by Frank Gehry, and consists of a wave-like steel facade that has become a trademark of the legendary architect. One side of the uniquely shaped building is constructed entirely of steel and glass, which allows a warm light to enter the building and offers visitors glorious views of the Hudson River Valley.
Roland Levinsky Building
University of Plymouth
In designing University of Plymouth’s Roland Levinsky Building, BDP architecture firm and designer Henning Larsen sought to create a building that could be an arts and culture center for both the University and the city of Plymouth (located in southwestern England). Indeed, the building is practically a mini city, complete with 25 classrooms, two auditoriums, galleries, a cinema, a cafe, and a balcony area with views of the Atlantic. The unique triangular exterior is wrap-like, and creates a continuous copper facade that fits right into the Plymouth skyline.
Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre
City University of Hong Kong
How perfect that City University of Hong Kong is able to house its School of Creative Media in such a uniquely creative building as Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre. Designed by famed New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind, the Centre is a nine-story crystalline structure characterized by dramatic angles and asymmetrical windows. The building houses sound stages, recording studios, screening rooms, exhibit and performance spaces, a multipurpose theater, labs, classrooms, a cafe, and a restaurant. The Centre has received a number of prestigious architectural awards, including the Best Institutional Trophy of the Perspective Award (2012), and the Cityscape Award of the Community Built Category (2011).
Saw Swee Hock Student Centre
London School of Economics
Despite its extreme modern design, the unique Saw Swee Hock Student Centre fits right in among the historic brick buildings that surround it. Embracing the challenge of building on a small lot in the midst of bustling London, the Irish firm of O’Donnell + Toumey created a unique geometric structure that is as eye-catching as it is functional. The hand-made brick building houses a music venue, cafe, library, and gym, among other popular student spaces.
School of Art, Design, and Media
Nanyang Technological University
There is surely no other building in the world quite like the School of Art, Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Indeed, from a distance, one might question if it’s even a building. Designed by CPG Consultants, the School’s most notable feature is its grassy roof. Besides being an awesome meeting space for students, the roof also insulates the building, cools surrounding air, and harvests rainwater for landscape irrigation. Below the roof is a state-of-the-art five-story building that houses more than 25 studio spaces, labs, two galleries, lecture halls, classrooms, a sound stage, and a 450-seat auditorium.
Sharp Centre for Design
Resembling a box-shaped spaceship, OCAD University’s Sharp Centre for Design is easily one of the most distinct and recognizable college buildings in the world. The Centre sits on 12 multi-colored steel columns four stories off the ground, and houses the Faculty of Design’s facilities for Art and Liberal Studies. Opened in 2004 as part of a $42.5-million campus redevelopment project, the Sharp Centre has won a number of architectural awards, including the first ever British Architects Worldwide Award.
S.R. Crown Hall
Illinois Institute of Technology
Centrally located on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus is S.R. Crown Hall, home of the Institute’s famous architecture school. The Hall was designed by Mies van der Rohe, and is often considered the legendary German architect’s masterpiece. The building’s simple and elegant exterior supports the entire roof and leaves the interior free of columns so that it can change functions as needed, while big windows provide the building with natural light and wide views. Called one of the most significant modernist building ever built, the Hall is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Swanston Academic Building
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
In 2012, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology invested $600 million into sprucing up its urban campus and constructing new buildings. The stunning Swanston Academic Building, designed by Lyons architecture firm, is easily the most eye-catching and impressive of that investment. The 11-story building houses 380,000 square feet of shared learning spaces, including six large lecture theaters and a two-story cantilevered student portal that hangs over Swanston Street. Swanston, with its colorful exterior that is meant to reflect the surrounding cityscape, also boasts a 5-star green rating.
The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library
University of Chicago
The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is an eye-catching modern building located on the beautiful University of Chicago campus. The highlight of the library is the Grand Reading Room, home to more than 3.5 million books. A dome-shaped glass ceiling floods the room with natural light, while long, natural-wood tables add warmth to the popular study space. The library has received several honors for its impressive architecture, including recognition from the Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Patron of the Year award, and the GE Edison Award of Merit.
The New School (New York)
Adding to the sophistication of Manhattan is The New School’s University Center. Designed by the firm SOM, the Center features a number of impressive sustainable features including a rain-catching roof, sustainably resourced materials, and state-of-the-art lighting and window placement. Speaking of windows, a transparent stairwell lets in tons of light while simultaneously offering world-class views of 14th Street and Fifth Avenue. Inside the Center are classrooms, dorms, computing labs, a two-story library, and a faculty resource center.
Weisman Art Museum
University of Minnesota
The Weisman Art Museum, yet another remarkable university building designed by Frank Gehry, is located in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. The museum’s abstract shape is consistent with Gehry’s most famous designs, and its two-faced facade blends seamlessly among the surrounding brick buildings. Inside, the modern art museum has an impressive collection of more than 20,000 pieces, including works by Marsden Hartley, Alfred Maurer, Charles Biederman, Native American Mimbres pottery, and Korean furniture.