Through architecture, we seek to understand, and contest, what it means to be human. These man-made structures are an embodiment of every epoch’s socio-cultural values and beliefs. And yet, there is an intriguing universality inherent in architecture – one in which we see our modernity intertwined with our past. Thus, so much of our architecture seemingly transcends to encompass a broader cultural meaning, one of enduring significance.

Here are 15 culturally symbolic structures around the world:

1. Lotus Temple – New Delhi, India

The Lotus Temple (also known as the Bahá’í House of Worship) is open to practitioners of all denominations. Through its pristine white exterior, this temple manifests as a beautiful example of architectural biomimicry. However, this gathering place does not just formally interpret the lotus flower, but symbolically, speaks as a space of unity, togetherness, and acceptance.

Lotus Temple - New Delhi, India - Sheet1
Lotus Temple. ©Swapnil Deshpandey
Lotus Temple - New Delhi, India - Sheet2
Lotus Temple.©Ayushi Dhingra
Lotus Temple - New Delhi, India - Sheet3
Lotus Temple. ©Neeraj Nabar

2. Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

This impressive temple complex is considered the apogee of Khmer power and artistry, an empire which spanned over centuries. In its entirety, Angkor Wat also reads like a microcosm of Hinduism, in which the spatiality of elements and the bas-relief sculpture of the complex corresponds to the enshrined beliefs. Today, it remains an important site of religious pilgrimage.

Angkor Wat - Siem Reap, Cambodia - Sheet1
Angkor Wat. ©Jillian Kim
Angkor Wat - Siem Reap, Cambodia - Sheet2
Angkor Wat. ©Taylor Simpson
Angkor Wat - Siem Reap, Cambodia - Sheet3
Angkor Wat. ©Vicky Tao

3. Al Khazneh- Petra, Jordan

Nestled amongst the sandstone cliffs of Petra sits one of the most elaborately carved temples, Al Khazneh (The Treasury). When programmatically contextualized as a royal mausoleum, the relief carvings of Al Khazneh are iconographic symbols of redemption, regeneration, and immortality. To contemporary audiences, this exterior facade of rose sandstone has undeniably become representative of the ancient city itself.

Al Khazneh- Petra, Jordan - Sheet1
Petra. ©Brian Kairuz
Al Khazneh- Petra, Jordan - Sheet2
Petra. ©Emile Guillemot
Al Khazneh- Petra, Jordan - Sheet3
Petra. ©Reiseuhu

4. Machu Picchu – Andes Mountains, Peru

As one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, the citadel of Machu Picchu is a world heritage site of incredible cultural significance. The structures offer a physical tangibility to the Inca Empire; an ancient civilization perpetually shrouded in mystery and enigma.

Machu Picchu - Andes Mountains, Peru - Sheet1
Machu Picchu. ©Abraham Osorio
Machu Picchu - Andes Mountains, Peru - Sheet2
Machu Picchu. ©Natalie Pedigo
Machu Picchu - Andes Mountains, Peru - Sheet3
Machu Picchu. © Adrian Dascal

5. The Pantheon – Rome, Italy

The Pantheon is undoubtedly monumental preservation of the Roman Empire, one that continues to captivate millions of visitors. And for good reason, there is a quietly palpable beauty to the interior as light streams through the oculus of the concrete dome; a testament to the architectural ingenuity of the Romans.

The Pantheon - Rome, Italy - Sheet1
The Pantheon, Rome. ©Insight Guides
The Pantheon - Rome, Italy - Sheet2
The Pantheon, Rome. ©Roberta Dragan, Wikimedia Commons
The Pantheon - Rome, Italy - Sheet3
The Pantheon, Rome. ©Wanted in Rome

6. Statue of Liberty- New York City, U.S

This colossal statue was originally erected in honor of the friendship between France and the United States. However, its cultural importance is perhaps more so cemented through its transcension to a symbol of hope. To a city of emigrants, to those seeking a better life, the Mother of Exiles represents what could be: freedom.

Statue of Liberty- New York City, U.S - Sheet1
Statue of Liberty. ©AussieActive
Statue of Liberty- New York City, U.S - Sheet2
Statue of Liberty. ©Juan Mayobre
Statue of Liberty- New York City, U.S - Sheet3
Statue of Liberty. © Guatam Krishnan

7. The Great Wall of China – Beijing, China

For contemporary western civilization, this physical fortification has emerged as an emblem of China, of both tangible and intangible connotations. For not only was the Great Wall a symbol of physical strength, but also a representation of the emotional barricade to foreign power and influence.

The Great Wall of China - Beijing, China - Sheet1
Great Wall of China. ©Hanson Lu
The Great Wall of China - Beijing, China - Sheet2
Great Wall of China. ©William Christen
The Great Wall of China - Beijing, China - Sheet3
Great Wall of China. ©Violette Filippini

8. Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

Over a century in the making (and still counting), the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família must certainly be recognized as a vision of human persistence and generational collaboration. This Catalan Modernisme architecture is imbued with an abundance of Christian symbolism: the sculptural Glory, Nativity and Passion facades, and the towers envisioning Christ surrounded by the Evangelists – all of which culminate in an architectural masterpiece.

Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain - Sheet1
Sagrada Familia. ©Brandon Gurney
Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain - Sheet2
Sagrada Familia. ©Eleonor Albasi
Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain - Sheet3
Sagrada Familia. ©Ken Cheung

9. Christ the Redeemer – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This monolithic sculpture stands at nearly 40 meters tall above the city of Rio de Janeiro. The open arms of Christ signify openness to the people of Brazil, and others. However, over time, these religious connotations have universally translated to represent Brazil as a whole.

Christ the Redeemer - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Sheet1
Christ the Redeemer. ©Edgar Chaparro
Christ the Redeemer - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Sheet2
Christ the Redeemer. ©Raphael Nogueira
Christ the Redeemer - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Sheet3
Christ the Redeemer. ©Robert Nyman

10. Dome of the Rock – Jerusalem, Israel

Dating back to the late 7th century, the Dome of the Rock preserves the historic and religious heritage for both Muslim and Jewish faiths – respectively believed to be the site of the Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son.

Dome of the Rock - Jerusalem, Israel - Sheet1
Dome of the Rock. ©Mor Shani
Dome of the Rock - Jerusalem, Israel - Sheet2
Dome of the Rock. ©Sander Crombach
Dome of the Rock - Jerusalem, Israel - Sheet3
Dome of the Rock. ©Stacey Franco

11. Pyramids of Giza – Giza, Egypt

Over four thousand years since their construction, the Pyramids of Giza have remained lasting symbols of Egypt’s venerated Old Kingdom era. These monumental tombs were dedicated to Egypt’s pharaohs in preparation for the afterlife, almost mediation between life and death. Built to withstand time, the Pyramids themselves are undeniably a preservation of every aspect of Egyptian life.

Pyramids of Giza - Giza, Egypt - Sheet1
Pyramids of Giza. ©Adam Bichler
Pyramids of Giza - Giza, Egypt - Sheet2
Pyramids of Giza. ©Ricardo Gomez Angel
Pyramids of Giza - Giza, Egypt - Sheet3
Pyramids of Giza. ©Shotaro Hamasaki

12. The Eiffel Tower- Paris, France

Intended as a temporary installation for the Exposition Universelle (1889), the unprecedented iron framework of the Eiffel Tower was immediately sensationalized as a symbol of France’s technological advancement; as a synthesis of architecture and engineering. Over time, the iconic open-lattice structure has acquired a much broader cultural significance, now synonymous with the city of Paris.

The Eiffel Tower- Paris, France - Sheet1
The Eiffel Tower. ©Jad Limcaco
The Eiffel Tower- Paris, France - Sheet2
The Eiffel Tower. ©Liam Martens
The Eiffel Tower- Paris, France - Sheet3
The Eiffel Tower. ©Nil Castellví

13. The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

The Colosseum remains one of the greatest monuments to the power of the Roman Empire. Although the ruins have come to gloriously romanticize Rome’s tumultuous history; the amphitheater, and its gladiatorial traditions are undeniably archetypes of Roman culture – representative of cruel brutality and a society fascinated with death.

The Colosseum - Rome, Italy - Sheet1
The Colosseum. ©David Köhler
The Colosseum - Rome, Italy - Sheet2
The Colosseum. ©Henry Paul
The Colosseum - Rome, Italy - Sheet3
The Colosseum. ©Yoal Desurmont

14. St Peter’s Basilica and Square – Vatican City

Erected over the tomb of St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, St Peter’s Basilica can easily be surmised as one of the most venerated sites in Christendom. The square’s colonnades are often interpreted as the outstretched embrace of the church- which has come to welcome millions of tourists.

St Peter’s Basilica and Square - Vatican City - Sheet1
St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. ©Alan Liu
St Peter’s Basilica and Square - Vatican City - Sheet2
St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. ©Alex Holyoake
St Peter’s Basilica and Square - Vatican City - Sheet3
St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. ©Red Morley Hewitt

15. Taj Mahal – Agra, India

This Indo-Islamic mausoleum manifests as an undeniably romantic, architectonic beauty. Today, the familiar domed profile of shimmering white marble stands as one of the most universally celebrated structures; a national emblem of India, and a true wonder of the modern world.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India - Sheet1
Taj Mahal. ©Krishna Moorthy D
Taj Mahal - Agra, India - Sheet2
Taj Mahal. ©Monica Dahiya
Taj Mahal - Agra, India - Sheet3
Taj Mahal. ©Paul Dufour
Author

Jessica Richardson is an architecture student from the University of Melbourne, with a passion for design histories. She believes that, now more than ever, critical thinking and meaningful discussion is crucial for architecture to be at the forefront of change.

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