9 Stories of Inspiration Behind Famous Architecture


August 15, 2023

Behind every iconic building that decorates our skylines, there lies a story of inspiration. Something that sparked the imagination of visionary architects and moved them to transform their ideas into physical structures.

From the graceful curves of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain to the majestic shells of the Sydney Opera House, each structure in our architectural hall of fame has a special beginning. 

But inspiration alone isn’t enough. How did these architects transform their ordinary ideas into extraordinary structures made of concrete, steel, and glass? 

In this blog post, I’m connecting the dots between finding inspiration and bringing your wildest ideas to life. As we celebrate the spirit of human creativity, learn how to follow in the footsteps of architectural trailblazers.

Quick Takeaways

  • Transforming ordinary ideas into extraordinary structures requires creativity, innovation, and a willingness to connect the dots in fresh ways
  • From the curves of an orange peel to the shimmering scales of a fish, inspiration can come from unexpected sources
  • A simple idea has the power to become a cultural icon, symbol of unity, artistic fusion, or everlasting legacy

Follow your creative sparks and transform your inspirations into remarkable structures that shape the world around us. 

9 Stories of inspiration behind famous architecture

Dare to dream big so you can transform your inspirations into legacies. Here are 9 stories of inspiration behind famous architecture to help you turn creative sparks into tangible ideas. 

1. Sydney Opera House, Australia

Danish architect Jørn Utzon searched high and low for something that would inspire the perfect design for his newest project. 

It was when he peeled his morning orange that he noticed something extraordinary. The orange peel had these cool, curvy shapes that reminded him of sails on a boat. 

Inspiration struck! And Jørn thought, “Why not design the Opera House with the same curvy shapes?”

Jørn started sketching and playing with orange peel-like shapes. He wanted the building to look as vibrant and lively as the orange that inspired him.

Construction began, and piece by piece, the Sydney Opera House came to life. The curved roof sections fit together like puzzle pieces, and as the building grew, it started to resemble a cluster of gigantic orange peels. 

photo shows night view of the Sydney Opera House

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Passersby couldn’t help but be amazed by this architectural wonder. Today, the Sydney Opera House is a building where artists shine and audiences cheer with the same zest that inspired Jørn in the first place. 

2. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain

It all started when architect Frank Gehry wanted to bring the struggling city of Bilbao back to life. He dreamed of creating something that would make people’s jaws drop. 

Frank admired how fish shimmer and twist, and the way their scales glisten in the sunlight. He knew he wanted to build a structure that embodied the same kind of magic. 

So, he used this inspiration and designed his museum’s architecture to curve and twist like the body of a fish. He also used shiny titanium to cover the exterior of his structure, making sure that it would sparkle and catch everyone’s attention. 

photo shows day view of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

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Once the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was finally built, people from all over the world flocked to admire Frank’s incredible creation. 

And just like that, Frank Gehry’s dream came true as he watched Bilbao grow into a hub of art and culture. The unique design of his creation reminds us that inspiration comes from unexpected places – even the depths of the ocean. 

3. Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India

Architect Fariborz Sahba dreamed of creating a place where people of all religions could come together and find peace. Inspiration struck when he saw the delicate beauty of a lotus flower floating gracefully on a pond. 

With passion in his heart, Fariborz sketched and designed the Lotus Temple. He wanted the building to radiate serenity, just like the lotus flower that inspired his idea.

As construction began, workers carefully crafted each petal-shaped section. The building gradually took shape, resembling a blooming lotus ready to embrace visitors.

photo shows view of the Lotus Temple

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Today, the Lotus Temple stands as a symbol of unity and tranquility. It welcomes people of any faith or belief. It’s a place where visitors can find solace, meditate, or simply admire the stunning architecture, just like Fariborz Sahba had hoped. 

4. The Louvre Pyramid, Paris, France

Architect I.M. Pei wanted to create an entrance that would captivate visitors of The Louvre. He looked to the past, and found inspiration in the ancient pyramids of Egypt, standing tall and majestic.

Blending old ideas with the new, I.M. Pei sketched and designed a glass pyramid that would serve as the museum’s entrance. He wanted to pay homage to history while embracing the modern world. 

As I.M. Pei’s design came to life, its transparent walls reflected the surrounding beauty of the Louvre Museum. People passing by couldn’t help but stop and marvel at this magnificent sight.

photo shows night view of the Louvre Pyramid

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Its sleek and modern design still stands in harmony with the historic architecture, serving as a symbol of artistic fusion. I.M. Pei created a truly magical structure that stands as a testament to the power of creativity and innovation. 

5. Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

As he played with toy building blocks, Moshe Safdie found inspiration for his most famous building, Habitat 67. His idea, “What if I designed a building that looked like stacked containers, but contained cozy homes?”

Hoping to create affordable and efficient housing, Moshe sketched a visionary housing complex. Each unit would be like a small cube, perfectly stacked together to form a vibrant community.

The result? A spectacular and colorful arrangement that defied the traditional housing norms.

photo shows day time view of Habitat 67

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As Habitat 67 grew, it became a unique sight. A maze of cubes with green terraces and walkways intertwining like a lively neighborhood.

Habitat 67 is still a place where residents enjoy modern living and a sense of belonging. Moshe Safdie’s design proves that innovation brings people together in a special way. 

6. The Dancing House, Prague, Czech Republic

Remember Frank Gehry? The architect that designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao? His sea-inspired structure wasn’t his first architectural masterpiece. 

In 1994, inspiration struck Frank and Vlado Milunić when they thought of legendary dancing duo, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They wanted to build a structure that captured that same sense of joy and movement. 

Frank and Vlado quickly came up with an outline for their building that appeared to be twirling and swaying, just like two dancers.

As their design came to life, its unconventional form stood out against the more traditional buildings surrounding it. Its playful curves brought joy to the cityscape and became an icon of Prague.

photo shows day view of the Dancing House in Prague

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The Dancing House still serves as a symbol of imagination and artistic freedom. It proves that inspiration can be found anywhere, and that architecture can be a dance of shapes and forms.

7. The Eden Project, Cornwall, UK

Visionary Tim Smit had a love for nature. He dreamed of creating a space that would teach people about the importance of protecting our planet. When Tim saw a soap bubble floating through the air, he noticed how it reflected the colors in his surroundings. 

With excitement, he gathered a team of experts and started designing bubble-shaped biomes. Each one would represent a different climate, like a tropical rainforest or a Mediterranean paradise.

photo shows day-time view of the Eden Project

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Once the biomes were built, they shined like bubbles. Their reflections of nature invited visitors to explore the beauty of plants from around the world. Today, the Eden Project is a place where people come to learn, explore, and reconnect with nature, just as Tim dreamed.  

8. The Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavík, Iceland

Architect Guðjón Samúelsson found inspiration for his masterpiece, The Church of Hallgrimur, when he observed the mesmerizing shapes of volcanic rocks and basalt lava flows. Instantly, he knew he wanted to design a church that echoed the rugged landscapes of Iceland. 

Guðjón began sketching a church with sharp, angular lines, resembling the majestic columns of basalt formations. Construction began, and each stone was laid paying tribute to the natural wonders of Iceland. 

photo shows day view of the Church of Hallgrimur

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Once the Church of Hallgrimur was complete, its unique shape stood as a symbol of faith and grandeur. People still gather there to worship and find peace in a place where inspiration and spirituality come together. 

9. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

More than 40 years after bringing Habitat 67 to life, architect Moshe Safdie saw a deck of cards being shuffled. Another idea popped into his head, “What if I design a building that looks like a deck of cards, stacked and ready to play?”

Moshe designed three towers, each one resembling a card leaning against the others. And right on top, he placed a massive “ship” that seemed to defy gravity.

Soon enough, construction began and towers rose into the sky, just like a deck of cards. People passing by couldn’t wait to explore this mind-boggling marvel. 

photo shows view of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

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Today, Marina Bay Sands is an icon of Singapore. It’s a place where people gather for unforgettable experiences. It’s not just a building – it’s a resort, a casino, a shopping haven, and even a sky-high infinity pool that will take your breath away!

With creativity and a touch of whimsy, even a simple deck of cards can transform into an architectural wonder that leaves everyone in awe.

Still waiting for inspiration to strike?

These stories of inspiration behind famous architecture prove the power of creativity and imagination. They show us we can transform our ordinary ideas into extraordinary structures that shape our lives and captivate our imaginations.

Are you still waiting for your best idea to strike? As the world’s leading Innovation Architect, I can help. Email me and let’s talk about how I can help you can turn inspiration into impact!

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.