Some of the world’s most highly revered buildings, monuments and other structures are connected to famous architects that made their mark in history through their work.
Some of the architects of the structures in ancient Greece, as well as Egypt are names that live on through the centuries and their handiwork has left an impression on those that have visited these structures or have studied them.
In this article, we’ll examine our selections for the best architects that have ever lived and why they created the structures they are famous for, as well as their influences and education background.
1. Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps the most famous architect in history and was known for his genius in using new and innovative materials to create incredible structures.
It is believed that he was born in 1867 in Wisconsin, but Wright asserted throughout his life that he was born in 1869. His father was a gifted musician, but it’s said that Wright grew up in a somewhat unstable household and continual poverty.
Wright showed a proficiency for construction and building at a very young age and his mother, Anna Wright, was intent on making sure her son was able to develop his skills and talents.
She purchased a set of building blocks called the Froebel Gifts when Wright was 9 years old and her young son excelled greatly in the lessons that were offered in the books related to the set.
In his early career, Wright began working in Chicago in the late 19th century. He went to work for a draftsman named Joseph Lyman Silsbee, but soon moved on to bigger and better projects.
Throughout his career, he would design buildings, homes and other structures all over the world. One of his most famous is a place in Tokyo called the Imperial Hotel.
His style was quite different from other architects during this period and he was known for his used of curved buildings, walls and many other avante garde aspects.
2. Frank Gehry
Many scholars and critics of the greatest architectural works in history regard Frank Gehry as being one of, if not the greatest in history.
Gehry was born with the last name, Goldberg and grew up in his youth to a Russian family who would later change their last name when immigrating to the United States in 1947 when the architect was 18 years old.
His education included studies at the prestigious architecture program at the University of Southern California and he earned a degree after bouncing around to numerous different career paths before settling on architecture.
He started working for Victor Gruen Associates in Los Angeles and soon proved to be one of the most talented young architects in that part of the country.
Gehry’s career spanned the latter part of the 20th century and some of his greatest works include the famous Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis and many other structures throughout the world.
He is still alive today and Gehry’s works and designs are being exhibited at some of the most well known art museums in the world.
3. Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid is regarded as one of the most gifted female architects in history and many of her greatest works are deemed by critics as being some of the most incredible of any from the 20th century.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, she faced a considerable amount of opposition to her aspirations in the field of architecture. Hadid came from a family of gifted individuals as her father was a well-known politician, her brother a prominent writer and her mother was known as a skilled artist.
Hadid worked throughout her career in many parts of the world, designing buildings in countries across Europe, Asia and North America before eventually settling in the United States.
Some of her greatest masterpieces of architecture include the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio; Zaragoza, Spain’s Bridge Pavilion; Glascow, Scotland’s Riverside Museum and many others.
Hadid was known for her unique style of architectural design as it related to both interior and exterior design projects.
She accumulated numerous awards throughout her lifetime and the vast majority of her handiwork can still be seen today all over many countries across the world.
4. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is another architect that is regarded as being among the world’s greatest. Born in the Kingdom of Prussia in 1886, his name was originally Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, but he often was referred to simply as Mies by his friends and colleagues, as well as those within the architecture community.
Mies is often compared to Frank Lloyd Wright and other prominent design experts from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Like most other architects born in Europe, Mies would emigrate to the United States as it held much more promise and opportunity for him early in his career, but it also allowed him to escape the seemingly inevitable war that was brewing within his home country of Germany.
His design style was quite unlike any other architect during his career and Mies described his works using the phrase “skin and bones” due to his minimalist style.
He designed some of the greatest structures in Europe and America throughout his career. Among his best known works are the Seagram Building in New York City, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. and the One Charles Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
5. Le Corbusier
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was born in Switzerland in 1887 and would later become one of the most highly celebrated architects in history.
He grew up in an artistically-inclined family as his father was an artisan who designed watches and other works, his mother was a gifted musician and helped contribute to the family income through work as a piano instructor.
He later moved to Neuchâtel canton, which was a French-speaking part of Switzerland. He began his architectural career designing houses before moving on to larger and more complex structures.
He popularized a style of architecture that has since been used by many other architects throughout the western United States and parts of Europe in large cities.
6. Norman Foster
Noram Foster is an English architect born in Stockport in 1935. He is recognized as one of the preeminent British architects and is widely known as the founder of Foster Associates, which is the largest architecture firm in the United Kingdom.
The beginning of his career involved projects such as the the Cockpit in Cornwall, England, as well as Samuel Beckett Theatre at St. Peter’s College in Oxford. This project was done in collaboration with American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller and the focus was on creating architectural designs that were environmentally sound, as well as aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Later in his career, after he had garnered fame and attention from the architectural community throughout the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, he submitted a design for the London Millennium Tower.
This design was seen as being too tall for the overall London skyline at the time and he instead worked on 30 St Mary Axe, which has later been referred to as “the gherkin.”
In the last several years, Foster has remained active in the architectural world and one of his current projects is planning the rebuilding and recovery of many structures through Ukraine following the military conflict in that region.
7. Antoni Gaudí
Antoni Gaudí is regarded as the most famous Spanish architect in history by many and his works are some of the most influential to architects who came after him in the 20th century.
He was born in Catalonia in 1852 and much of his work has been described by critics and historians as organic and much more naturally-oriented instead of what his contemporaries were producing, which was more in line with the Industrial Revolution norms.
Gaudí’s identity as a Catalan was a great influence on his work and he was known as an architect who was also a devoted Christian.
His most famous works are churches and cathedrals throughout Spain and elsewhere in Europe with many of his masterpieces being recognized for their distinct high-reaching peaks and upward-stretching partitions.
He either designed and built, or remodeled many of the basilicas throughout Europe and his home country of Spain.
Dozens of the worship centers that historians consider to be among the most beautiful of any structures in the continent are the handiwork of Gaudí and still stand as a testament to his devotion to his faith and his craft.
8. Renzo Piano
Renzo Piano is an Italian architect who is among the most celebrated of any in the world. He was born in Genoa in 1937 and was raised in a family of builders and architecturally-inclined individuals.
His grandfather founded a masonry business that was very successful and his father and uncles all were heavily involved in the design and creation of many structures around his hometown.
Throughout his career, Piano has been awarded a slew of recognitions and he is one of the more prestigious architects in Italy to this day. One of the initial works that drew widespread acclaim and criticism from the art and architecture world was his design for the Centre Georges Pompidou.
Since his career began, Piano has been at the forefront of architectural innovation in Italy and throughout the rest of the world.
He has created many structures in his home city of Genoa, including the distinct giant “crane” that’s located in the old port section of the city. The Biosphere in the old port of Genoa is another highly unique piece of architectural mystique and mastery that are among Piano’s greatest works.
9. Eero Saarinen
Eero Saarinen is a was born in Finland in 1910. He was the son of a prominent Finnish architect, Eliel Saarinen, who would move his family to the United States when Eero was only 13 years old.
Saarinen showed an aptitude for creativity and building from a very early age and he excelled during his years as a student of sculpture in Paris, France’s Académie de la Grande Chaumière when he was just 19 years old.
His career includes creating some of the most striking architectural sculptures and monuments in the world.
Many people in the art and architecture community will likely recognize Saarinen as the main designer and architect of the Gateway Arch, which is one of the most striking landmarks in the United States and has since become a symbol of the city of St. Louis since it was constructed in 1965.
Saarinen’s other notable works include the General Motors Technical Center, as well as the Washington Dulles International Airport and New York City’s Trans World Flight Center.
Although he had a relatively short career compared to many of his contemporaries, Saarinen’s name is one of the greatest architects in history due to his flair for creativity and willingness to push the boundaries of what was considered normal during his lifetime.
10. Santiago Calatrava
Santiago Calatrava is another very famous Spanish architect who is widely recognized for his architectural sculptures. Born in 1951 in Valencia, Spain, Calatrava was interested in art and architecture from a very early age.
He would begin to study architecture at the Polytechnic University of Valencia where he received certification, but it wasn’t until he had completed his academic studies at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology when his career truly began.
Calatrava sought to completely focus much of his works on evoking emotion from those that viewed his renderings and designs. He was very heavily influenced by Robert Maillart, who Calatrava said taught him to create a sense of emotion using force and mass.
Some of Calatrava’s masterpieces include the distinct Zürich Stadelhofen railway station’s interior and exterior, Bac de Roda Bridge, the Gare do Oriente and many other breathtaking and incredible works of art throughout the world.
11. Philip Johnson
Philip Cortelyou Johnson (July 8, 1906 – January 25, 2005) was a contemporary and postmodern architect from the United States.
Among his most well-known projects are the contemporary Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut; the postmodern 550 Madison Avenue in New York, created for AT&T; 190 South La Salle Street in Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art’s Sculpture Garden; and the Pre-Columbian Pavilion at Dumbarton Oaks.
He received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978 and the inaugural Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979.
His towers now dominate the skylines of New York, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Madrid, and other cities.
12. Louis Sullivan
Louis Henry Sullivan (September 3, 1856 – April 14, 1924) was an American architect known as the “Father of Skyscrapers” and the “Father of Modernism.”
He was an important Chicago School architect, a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and an influence to the Chicago group of architects known as the Prairie School.
Sullivan is a member of “the acknowledged trinity of American architecture,” together with Wright and Henry Hobson Richardson.
Although he traced the principle to ancient Roman builder Vitruvius, the phrase “form follows function” is attributed to him (as it turns out never said anything of the sort). In 1944, Sullivan became the second architect to be awarded the AIA Gold Medal posthumously.
13. I. M. Pei
Ieoh Ming Pei (April 26, 1917 – May 16, 2019) was a Chinese-American architect who grew up in Shanghai before migrating to America to study.
Pei’s first significant achievement was the Mesa Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado (designed in 1961, and completed in 1967).
His newfound prominence led to his appointment as the lead architect for the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts. He went on to design Dallas City Hall and the National Gallery of Art’s East Building.
He came to China for the first time in 1975 to build a hotel in Fragrant Hills, and fifteen years later created the Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong, a skyscraper in Hong Kong for the Bank of China.
Pei sparked debate in the early 1980s when he proposed a glass-and-steel pyramid for the Louvre in Paris.
Later, he returned to the arts by designing the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the Miho Museum in Japan, Shigaraki, near Kyoto, and the junior and high school chapel: MIHO Institute of Aesthetics, the Suzhou Museum in Suzhou, the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, and the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art, abbreviated to Mudam, in Luxembourg.
Pei received several architectural honors and accolades, including the AIA Gold Medal in 1979, the inaugural Praemium Imperiale for Architecture in 1989, and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
In 1983, he received the Pritzker Prize, often known as the Nobel Prize in architecture.
14. Oscar Niemeyer
Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho (December 15, 1907 – December 5, 2012), better known as Oscar Niemeyer, was a Brazilian architect widely regarded as a pivotal player in the development of modern architecture.
Niemeyer is most known for designing civic structures for Braslia, a planned city that became Brazil’s capital in 1960, as well as his work with other architects on the United Nations headquarters in New York.
His investigation into the aesthetic potential of reinforced concrete was very significant in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Niemeyer was recognized as a brilliant artist and one of the best architects of his age by his fans, who both praised and condemned him for being a “sculptor of monuments.” He said that Le Corbusier had a big effect on his architecture.
15. Rem Koolhaas
Remment Lucas Koolhaas (born November 17, 1944) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist, and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
He is often identified as a Deconstructivist representative and the author of Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan.
Some see him as a really great architectural theorist and urbanist of his age, while others regard him as a self-important iconoclast.
Rem Koolhaas was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2000. Time magazine named him one of the top 100 most influential people in the world in 2008. In 2014, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.