Iconic Buildings

High-Tech By Sophistication Or Simplification



The iconic building principal incentive is to be visually attractive or stand out, for this purpose three main features must be accomplished: have a unique design, disassociate from the surrounding by means of the scale and have a singular form or even an unjustified formalisms in many cases. Manage to accomplish as far as possible this three features is a needed requisite and so have consequences on designing the building facade. However, how the façade detail construction will be resolved is not contemplated in the design process, considering that any façade design proposal will be figured out somehow by complex technologic innovations that will emphasise even more the building attractive. Nevertheless, not always is necessary to resort to this type of technology solutions. This hypothesis is demonstrated through the research of 5 iconic case studies: Abgar Tower, Porta Fira Tower, La Querola, Isla Blanca and Mohamed IV tower; emphasizing on the construction system analysis and the revelation of the “happy idea” of each case. The “happy idea” is an author’s term to define the construction innovation that enables the detail by simplification and no by sophistication. It is demonstrated that not always in necessary a complex technologic innovation but standard systems, or elements, applied strategically, considered little innovations, to make possible the resolution of the façade complexity in the simplest manner. Many of this innovations occur during the visual and constructive prototype progress, which is needed to validate the proposed solution and verify the correct performance. For this reason, is remarkably significant the real scale prototypes development that works as a real scale laboratory where to correct and validate successive solutions.


Photo of Xavier Ferrés Padró

Xavier Ferrés Padró

PhD Architect, Universidad de Navarra (ETSAUN)

Ferrés Arquitectos y Consultores


Photo of Paula Martín Goñi

Paula Martín Goñi

PhD Architect, Universidad Politècnica de Catalunya (ETSAB)

Ferrés Arquitectos y Consultores




Charles Jenks in his book “The Iconic buildings” talks about Le Corbusier’s Ronchamps Chapel, 1955, as the first iconic building in contemporary era (Jencks 2005). The same architect that stood up for the possibility of housing to be iconic architecture and, on top of this fact, contemporaneously finished the first housing bloc that will become later on in a landmark: La Unite d’Habitation in Marsella. However, thereafter the construction of the Guggenheim museum, due to the economic benefit and urban regeneration it caused in the Bilbao city, the iconic buildings are seen as a consumer good and so from then on a significant number of architectonic landmarks are built all over the world (Cajide, Javier, and Cobo 2011).

Iconic buildings stands out from the city with a conspicuous form and style, and sometimes in high contrast with its surrounding (Davarpanah 2012). Most of these buildings are so fascinating because of ideas being materialized for the first time in an extraordinary manner thus making them a novelty, especially when they are made by a distinguished architect. They are mainly built to be visually attractive before being used with the proposed function (Elhagla, Nassar, and Ragheb 2020), thereby special characteristics elements should be present in any iconic building: unique design, large scale and form singularity (K. Yildiz 2018).

Form singularity. Formalism, form complexity based on an abstract form or due to the relation the architect establish with a specific objects form. This fact is evidenced in Figure 01, illustrate buildings whose form was determined or inspired by a particular object. The first, a beach hat as the building brisoleil, and the second a stratify stone as the complete building façade.

Figure 01: Examples of the singularity forms in the iconic buildings shown in this paper
Figure 01: Examples of the singularity forms in the iconic buildings shown in this paper

Large scale. Surrounding disassociation to stand out or highlight through lack of environment integration. This fact involve, usually, to be large scale buildings. As an example, high rise buildings that stand out among the surrounding (Fig.02) or buildings that break the existing urban pattern. Furthermore, the disassociation is empathised by the public space that usually goes along with this type of building.

Figure 02: Examples of the large scale importance in iconic buildings
Figure 02: Examples of the large scale importance in iconic buildings

Unique design. Buildings must be visually attractive, this implicate the building facade design and treatment. The façade involve the external image that the project has and thus has influence on how the people perceive the building. The façade purpose is to demonstrate the singularity of the project supplying a unique and original image by means of technologic innovation, use of new materials… with the conviction that will be resolved somehow constructively.

Case Studies

The analysis of the case studies purpose is to verify if, in spite of the innovative image the facade projects has, the buildings can be resolved with standard construction systems

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If the construction systems of each case study is examined single-handed, it could be related to any type of construction without having to be an iconic building (Table 02). This

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Conclusion and Future Work

The construction technification is involving complex construction systems including multitude of components, usually with standard system permutations, and so forgetting about system simplicity. An excessive complexity and, in some cases

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Rights and Permissions

Cajide, Beatriz Villanueva, Francisco Javier, and Casas Cobo. 2011. “El Edificio Icónico Como Comunicador de La Arquitectura Contemporánea. Estudio de Las Repercusiones Sociales Del Edificio Icónico a Través de a Casa Da Música de Porto.” In Actas Icono14.

Davarpanah, Sayena. 2012. “A Query on the Impact of Place on the Formation of Iconic Buildings in Architecture.” Eastern Mediterranean University.

Elhagla, Khaled, Dina M. Nassar, and Mohamed A. Ragheb. 2020. “Iconic Buildings’ Contribution toward Urbanism.” Alexandria Engineering Journal 59 (2): 803–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aej.2020.01.020.

Ferrés Padró, Xavier. 2017. “Fachadas Ligeras: Un Proceso Hacia El Límite. Diseño y Construcción de Fachadas Ligeras, Del Concepto Arquitectónico y El Detalle Técnico a La Obra Construida.” Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.

Jencks, Charles. 2005. “The Iconic Building.” Book. New York: Rizzoli.

K. Yildiz, Emine. 2018. “The Importance of Iconic Buildings for the City Image: Konya Science Center Example.” Iconarp Int. J. Arch. 6: 461–81.