Metaphoric Architecture uses architecture to convey a message by structural elements. It is characterized by combining ideas and concepts from outside the architecture field to expand the architectural discipline. The completed building is less important in metaphorical architecture than the idea that drove it. Metaphors are effective in determining design parameters. Although the products belonging to this architectural sub-title are decreasing because of prioritizing factors such as environment context and urban morphology, it is still possible to see examples that take all aspects into account simultaneously. In this article, I will mention examples of metaphorical architecture.

Below are ten examples of metaphoric architecture:

1. Jewish Museum, Berlin | Metaphoric architecture

Studio Libeskind designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and it became one of the most prominent examples of metaphoric architecture. Libeskind’s design is a narrative for the genocide that has taken place during world war II. There are three axes on the building’s spatial organization; each one is a metaphoric route for Jewish Germans’ endings. Moreover, the museum includes a holistic experience of color, light, sound, time, detail, and ratio. On the inside, to arouse a sense of being trapped and despair, condensed darkness and emptiness are used. While certain parts of the building are entirely dark, they receive very little sunlight from the thin slits on the building’s facade. Libeskind used the light in the building as a structural material. Light for visitors is both a guide and a source of hope for trapped souls.

10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Jewish Museum, Berlin_©Denis Esakov
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Jewish Museum, Berlin_©Denis Esakov
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Jewish Museum, Berlin_©Denis Esakov

2. Johnson Wax Headquarters 

Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the headquarters administration building of the S. C. Johnson & Son, and the building represented Wright’s understanding of office space.  The most iconic and most remembered feature of the office is its long tree-like columns. Columns create an island and define the workplace of employees, and Wright chose to use glass tubing at the juncture of the wall instead of a heavy cornice. Glass tubing allowed natural light to flow through inside with an undulating pattern, and the building reinforces its connection with nature. Wright created an architectural forest that divides the space without blocking the light, does not preclude the circulation, leaves open space, and gives a sense of egalitarianism.

10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Great Workroom_© frank-lloyd-wrights-larkin-and-johnson-wax-workspaces
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Glass tubing at the juncture of wall_©Kerry O’Connor

3. Pompidou Centre | Metaphoric architecture

Pompidou Centre’s metaphoric architecture is bringing out the machine esthetic with a community space in Paris. Pompidou Centre, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the most prominent feature is its machine-like facade. Building systems such as oil refinery, ventilation systems are displayed on façade with vivid colors and framed with a skeleton. Not only does the building’s facade allows interaction between outside and inside but also, it creates a metaphor that emphasizes public space’s mission as a machine, which produces a form to create a collectivity.  

10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Pompidou Center_©Pixabay user 139904
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Building systems_©Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP)
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Inside-out Building_©Renzo Piano Building Workshop

4. Suleymaniye Mosque

One of the earliest examples of metaphoric architecture is mosques. They are usually referred to as “Houses of God” since people gather there to pray for God. Mimar Sinan was an architect in the Ottoman period and patronage by various Sultans. He was impressed by the Hagia Sophia, and his ambition was surpassing it; therefore, he designed the Suleymaniye Mosque. He likens domes to ornaments like bubbles of the sea of elegance and the mosque’s highest dome to revolving heavens in his poems. It can be referred to as the Suleymaniye Mosque’s architectural form is a humble metaphor for God’s creation. 

10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Suleymaniye Mosque_©
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Suleymaniye Mosque from the Courtyard_©
10 Examples of Metaphoric architecture
Interior of Suleymaniye Mosque_©

5. Fallingwater House | Metaphoric architecture

Fallingwater house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and served as a weekend house for a Kaufmann family. The house is known for its relationship between nature, architecture, and humans. The positioning of the building on a rock and preference of horizontal layout instead of vertical reinforces the waterfall connection. Moreover, it is a metaphor for prehistoric architecture that people used to settle among the rocks and trees as dwellings. Wright achieved this by placing the building on top of the existing rock as if it were part of the rock.

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Fallingwater House_©Robert P Ruschak
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Fallingwater House_©Corsini Classic Summer
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Fallingwater House_©Surfsupusa

6. Shalimar Garden

In Islamic metaphoric architecture, it is believed that the geometric order is the paradise’s characteristic; therefore, the designs were planned according to Char Bagh, a quadrilateral arrangement divides the garden into four pieces with canals, and pathways represents a description of four rivers of paradise in Quran. Therefore, the garden is a metaphor for paradise, and it has a relaxing effect that makes people forget the fear of death. Shalimar Garden is located near Lahore in Pakistan, and it is an example of Islamic garden design. Char Bagh is repeated on different scales in Shalimar Garden. 

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Shalimar Garden_©Meemjee
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Shalimar Garden’s Plan_© 24_pakistan pak_eng.htm
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Shalimar Gardens_©Azhar Masood

7. Yugoslavia Pavilion in Brussels World’s Fair, 1958

Expos or world fairs are the platforms where metaphorical architecture stands out the most. Unlike traditional architectural production, the only goal is to show the country’s stance on environmental, technological, or political issues, regardless of the environmental context or urban morphology. The Yugoslavia pavilion is an example of metaphoric architecture that is not well known but has been successful in Brussels World’s Fair. The aim of the pavilion is to reflect well the political situation and future agenda of the country in 1958. The pavilion was designed to promote Yugoslav socialism’s vision as an alternative to western capitalism and liberal democracy. An architectural language conveyed the message; therefore, steel and glass were used as a metaphor for modernism and technology.

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Yugoslavia Pavilion _©Archive of Serbia and Montenegro
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Yugoslavia Pavilion _©Archive of Serbia and Montenegro
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Yugoslavia Pavilion _©Archive of Serbia and Montenegro

8. The House in Parasite

The Director of Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, used metaphorical architecture to reinforce what the film is trying to illustrate. The movie, Parasite, is a film about the disparity between the rich and the poor, and the film uses stairs and sloped terrains as a metaphorical expression of challenges that the poor face while trying to climb up the social ladder. Moreover, there are large windows in the wealthy family’s house that allow them to look at the manicured private landscape; on the other hand, in the low-income family’s house, the windows are narrow and look towards a dirty neighborhood from below the street level. These houses are set designs designed to offer the audience an exact metaphor.

The House in Parasite - Sheet1
Rich Family’s House_ⓒ 2019 CJ ENM CORPORATION
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Window of Poor Family’s House_© news-opinion sight-sound-magazine reviews-recommendations parasite-bong-joon-ho-crime-family-mansion-satire
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Inside of the Poor Family’s House_©

9. The Woodland Chapel 

The Woodland Chapel was located in a cemetery and was designed by Gunnar Asplund in 1920. It has many features that are conceived as a metaphor for death and life. The roof of the chapel reminds the pyramid, which is a space-related death. Inside the chapel, eight columns were raised on two steps to form a circle. They are overlooking the ceremonies and reminding the people the cycles of life. They are also supporting the dome of the chapel, which is an architectural metaphor for the sky. The building can be regarded as an architectural poem since it uses metaphors quite often as a narrative technique.

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The Woodland Chapel_©Chen Hao
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Section and Plan of the Chapel_©Gunnar Asplund, Sigurd Lewerentz

10. Unité d’habitation | Metaphoric architecture

Le Corbusier designed Unité d’habitation in 1952. The most important feature of the project was that it had been produced to meet the mass housing and housing needs that emerged from World War II. Le Corbusier wanted to change collective housing perception seen as shelters, has created common shared spaces, shops, for school for people in vertical architecture with a terrace. Thus, he aimed to fit a city into the architecture. Therefore, in an unusual way in metaphorical architecture, Le Corbusier turned architect into a metaphor, and the architects’ ability to build a self-contained human ordained world metaphorically made them a god.

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Unité d’habitation_©Paul Kozlowski
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Axonometric drawings of the Unite d’Habitation_©
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Roof Terrace of the Building_©Flickr user Guzman Lozano


Simon Unwin (28 March 2019). Metaphor: an exploration of the metaphorical dimensions and potential of architecture. Taylor & Francis. pp. 108–. ISBN 978-1-351-69625-8.



MügeElmas is currently an architecture student studying at Ozyegin University, Istanbul, in the senior year. After graduation, she aspires to continue her masters. She is interested in all forms of art, but is specifically passionate about movies and set designs, and always seeks new experiences to widen her knowledge about art and architecture.