10. Harold Washington Library - Chicago, Illinois
Opened in 1991, this is the world’s largest library. Named after a beloved mayor, many believe this honor is an insult. The library is a mix-and-match of architectural styles and found itself on Travel+Leisure’s 2009 list of the top 15 ugliest buildings in the world. The building has been described as “leaden,” “cartoonish,” and containing “all the grace of a shopping mall.”
The building is criticized for its “helter-skelter application of motifs and styles.” It’s a collision of color, building materials, and styles ranging from Beaux-Arts to Mannerism. It’s as if the architects wanted to include design element from every architecture book held in the vast library.
9. Cooper Union's New Academic Building - New York, New York
The brash, new, silver addition to Cooper Union houses the institution’s School of Engineering and School of Art. The building opened in 2009, when The New York Times gushed over its architectural merits. Not all locals agree. The building was derided for being out of place and changing the very nature of New York’s bohemian East Village.
The New York Sun’s architecture critic Francis Morrone calls the building “one of the most violent building designs I’ve ever seen,” and adds that the “giant gash out of its glassy front evokes a bomb blast.” The building is bold and brassy and does look out of place in Cooper’s Square. It’s like a large intergalactic robot opened up his or her bowels and dropped the structure on the city of New York.
8. Markel Building - Richmond, Virginia
This battered-looking silver flying saucepan of a building was built in 1965. It was designed by architect Haig Jamgochian, who drew inspiration from a baked potato wrapped in tin foil. Yep, the architect was eating dinner at an American Institute of Architects event (no joke), looked down at his plate and saw the beginnings of a building.
All credit must go to Haig Jamgochian, who has done a masterful job of recreating the said potato wrapped in foil. The building does indeed look like someone crumpled up pieces of aluminum foil. Jamgochian even personally crumpled the material for the building’s top level. However he has failed to capture the shape of a potato and his building looks more like an over-sized discus or UFO.
7. The Portland Building - Portland, Oregon
This office building in downtown Portland opened in 1982 and houses the City of Portland offices. The design by architect Michael Graves was chosen because of its departure from the modernist style, the so-called “boring” office architecture of the time. The building quickly became an icon of post-modern architecture (some say for the worse) and won an American Institute of Architects honor award in 1983.
While it may be an award-winning building, the office tower’s design has been controversial. It is a hodge-podge of gaudy design with flourishes of neo-classical columns, a depressing color scheme, and “penitentiary-like small windows.” Famed Italian architect Pietro Belluschi snidely remarked, “I think it's totally wrong. It's not architecture, it's packaging. I said at the time that there were only two good things about it: 'It will put Portland on the map, architecturally, and it will never be repeated.'” Ouch! Travel + Leisure magazine named it “one of the most hated buildings in America.” Double ouch.
6. Longaberger Home Office - Newark, Ohio
Imagine turning up to work each day and walking through the doors of a giant basket. Depressing, huh? It’s kind of like the work version of the fairytale about the woman who lived in a giant shoe. Except this is no fairytale. This is real life. The Longaberger Home Office is an exact replica of the company’s signature item--The Longaberger Medium Market basket.
The basket is 160 times the size of the basket collected by housewives across the Midwest. It is seven stories high and weighs 9,000 tons (seriously, who weighs buildings?).
The building is the dream of owner Dave Longaberger who wanted all company buildings to be shaped like baskets. After his death this idea was thankfully vetoed by his daughters.
5. Morris A. Mechanic Theater - Baltimore, Maryland
Photo: Andrew Bossi/Daily Mail
This theater was once the premier stage in Baltimore, home to Broadway shows and boasting a proud history of actors such as Katherine Hepburn and George C. Scott trodding its boards. Now it sits vacant, unloved, and unused. The building is another example of Brutalism and has been described as a “cold war bunker,” likened to the Hoover Dam and called a “zombie redoubt.”
Melvin Greenwald, the owner of the building, is fighting city officials to get permission to knock it down. He says, “They call it Brutalist architecture, I call it a mistake. It’s ugly. I don’t know anyone that likes it. The building was obsolete when they built it.” In its place Greenwald wants to build a residential tower, hotel and retail area. Knowing the architectural merits of most shopping malls, it may actually be more aesthetically pleasing to keep this building.
4. Edward R. Roybal Learning Center - Los Angeles, California
This lovely green and yellow building is the most expensive school ever built in the United States. Yep, this is the kind of design $377 million dollars buys today. The school has a long and troubled history. Construction on the site was halted on two separate occasions. The first delay was caused by concerns over soil contamination (that’s what you get for building over an old oil field). It was again delayed after someone realized the building sat on an earthquake fault line. The school finally opened in 2008, some 20 years after it was first proposed, and was criticized for its expensive dance studio (with cushioned maple floors) and a kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven. It’s sad that there was no money left to actually teach the kids.
3. Xanadu Entertainment Complex - Rutherford, New Jersey
Described by the Governor of New Jersey as the ugliest building in New Jersey and possibly America, the failed Xanadu mall and entertainment complex is a blight on New Jersey. And that’s saying something. The $2 billion unfinished building sits near the New Jersey turnpike and is about 10 miles from New York City. The building’s multicolor exterior cost a cool $40 million, which shows you just can’t buy taste.
Governor Christie has called the building “God-awful ugly” and “an offense to the eyes.” In a recent press conference he said, “How didn't everybody understand that something that ugly would fail?” The governor is so disturbed by the building he has proposed that whoever finishes it must alter the exterior. He says, “I can't take it anymore, and neither can the people of New Jersey.”
2. The Experience Music Project - Seattle, Washington
Frank Gehry is unquestionably one of America’s great postmodern architects, but even the greats get it wrong sometimes. In the case of The Experience Music Project in Seattle, Gehry really got it wrong. The twisted mass of shimmering metal houses mostly rock n’ roll artifacts and includes the largest collection of Jim Hendrix memorabilia in the world. The pricey building was financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The structure also houses the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which was added later to try make the entity profitable.
Gehry has stated he drew inspiration from guitars in designing the building and the Seattle Weekly likened the structure to a series of “smashed electric guitars.” (Hard to gauge whether this is compliment?) The building looks less like guitars and more like a pool of hyper-colored vomit. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described it as “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died.” Others have referred to it as a “blob” or “The Hemorrhoids.” No wonder the structure was recently named one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world by Forbes magazine
1. Boston City Hall - Boston, Massachusetts
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Boston’s City Hall was built in 1962 and is an example of Brutalist architecture. Yes, there is a period of architecture that has brutal in its name. Such a term doesn’t scream aesthetically-pleasing, it screams bloodbath and despair. Such architecture is known for its bland concrete form and repeated, blocky geometric shapes. This could be why the Boston City Hall has been dubbed “The Incredible Hulk” of a building, likened to a jail and described as a “crate.”
The depressing and grim building is considered the ugliest building in Boston. The Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino has proposed tearing it down and building a new City Hall on the South Boston waterfront that would be “architecturally magnificent.” In 2008 website VirtualTourist.com named it the ugliest building the world. Mayor Menino joked this would be a boon for tourism as tourist could come to Boston to see the “most historic places in the world and the ugliest building in the world."