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23 Amazing Museum Buildings You Need to See This Year

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When building a museum, every single factor—from what’s inside to the building itself—has to be considered. In fact, these decisions can make the difference between an engaging experience and a trip as dull as that Ben Stiller museum movie. But these 23 museums have gone above and beyond, making buildings that are works of art in themselves.

1. Royal Ontario Museum

Location: Toronto, Canada


Over 1 million visitors stop by this Canadian museum each year. We get why, as it is one of the largest in North America with over 6 million items on display. The museum underwent a $270M major renovation in 2001, where architect Daniel Libeskind and Bregman Hamann Architects added 300k SF, plus a beautiful crystalline entrance

2. Guggenheim Museum

Location: Bilbao, Spain

SF: 24k 

Starchitect Frank Gehry designed this building, which was inaugurated in 1997 by former King Juan Carlos I of Spain. It's one of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation museums and cost $89M to build. Part of the objective of the museum was to revitalize the city of Bilbao and make it a prime tourist destination. 

3. The Kunsthaus Graz

Location: Graz, Austria

SF: 141k

With a total construction cost of $50M, the Kunsthaus Graz has the affectionate nickname of the "Friendly Alien" thanks to its blob-like shape and florescent-lit facade.

4. Niterói Contemporary Art Museum

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, this museum looks more like a UFO since it hovers over an 8.79k SF reflecting pool. The strange, yet alluring, atmosphere of the museum has resulted in what some call a small-scale "Bilbao Effect," where the impressive architecture draws in visitors. 

5. Museum aan de Stroom

Location: Antwerp, Netherlands

SF: 210.5k

The 10-story "Museum at the river," incorporates technology by providing scannable QR codes next to exhibits. 

6. Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth

Location: Fort Worth, TX

SF: 53k

Once granted as a Charter from the State of Texas in 1892, Japanese architect Tadao Ando took the museum to the modern century in 2002 with a $65M renovation that created pavilions set onto reflective ponds.

7. The Whitney Museum of Art

Location: New York

SF: 50k indoors and 13k outdoors

Architect Renzo Piano designed the new sleek building set in New York's trendy Chelsea neighborhood. The New York Times described the experience of the building as "walking on air." 

7. Aspen Art Museum 

Location: Aspen, CO

SF: 33k 

This four-level art museum has eight exhibition spaces and was designed by architect Shigeru Ban. The entire $72M cost of the museum was funded by the private donations of 27 locals with deep pockets.

8. Centre Pompidou

Location: Paris

SF: 80k

Built in 1977, the Centre Georges Pompidou is a cultural center that houses a library and modern art collection. Renzo Piano, before his fame, designed the building with Richard Rogers. The most astonishing part of the building is its colorful skeleton-like exterior, which stands out in the short classic architecture of Paris. 

9. Biomuseo 

Location: Panama City, Panama

SF: 43k

Just like Spain's Guggenheim, this colorful building was designed by Frank Gehry. The Biomuseo took 15 years of development and 10 years of construction, outliving four Panamanian presidential administrations. With a cost of $100M, one square foot goes for nearly $3k. Culture has no price tag, right?

10. Salvador Dalí Museum

Location: St. Petersburg, FL

SF: 20k

Thanks to its two domes, the Salvador Dalí is Michelin-rated as the top museum in the American South: the 75-foot-tall geodesic glass "Enigma" and the 45-foot-tall "Igloo." And no two of the undulated glass panels are the same. 

11. Mercedes-Benz Museum

Location: Stuttgart, Germany

SF: 178k 

Visitors follow a swirling interior to learn about the history of iconic car brand Mercedes-Benz. The curvy building was designed by UN Studio with a triangular atrium in the shape of a Wankel engine. (A German car engine, in case you were wondering.)

12. Weisman Art Museum

Location: Minneapolis

SF: 47.3k

Sure, it may look like something out of an industrial Dr. Seuss book, but it was actually designed by Frank Gehry for the University of Minnesota. 

13. Milwaukee Art Museum

Location: Milwaukee

SF: 341k

It's a bird, it's a plane—no, it's the Milwaukee Art Museum with its iconic design by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001. It is now the largest museum in Wisconsin.

14. Museo Soumaya Plaza Carso

Location: Mexico City

SF: 60k

Designed to hopefully resurrect grand Mexican architecture, this aluminum-tiled museum opened in 2011 in the new real estate development called Plaza Carso. Does the sun shine off this thing?

15. Hedmark Museum

Location: Hamar, Norway

SF: 17.4M

Not only does this museum house the largest photography collection in Norway, but it is also an active archaeological site built on a medieval town, protected by glass structures. Oh yeah, and there's also an herb garden.

16. Musée d'Orsay 

Location: Paris

SF: 617.85k

Once an old railway station on the Seine River, this museum is the product of three architects: Lucien Magne, Emile Benard and Victor Laloux. You may have seen it in Orsen Welle's Kafka adaptation of The Trial.

17. Potala Palace

Location: Lhasa, Tibet


The former winter palace for the Dalai Lama (dating back to the 7th century!), the Potala is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a beautiful museum housing Tibetan art. 

18. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 

Location: Boston

SF: 65k

The ICA moved to its new building on Fan Pier, which was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in 2006. The building made some records, being the firm's first structure in the US and also the first new art museum to be constructed in Boston in over a century. The ICA announced plans this past May to move into an adjacent office tower that would add 19k SF for up to $12M. 

19. Akron Art Museum

Location: Akron, OH

SF: 83k

The latest addition to this Midwestern museum is the Knight Building designed by Viennese firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. The expansion allowed for more traveling art exhibitions to make stops in the City of Akron. 

20. Museu Oscar Niemeyer

Location: Parana, Brazil

SF: 376.7k

Oscar Niemeyer finished this project at the age of 95 with collections focusing on architecture, visual arts and design. Based on its design, it's known as the "Museum of the Eye." I guess you can see why (no pun intended).

21. Denver Art Museum

Location: Denver, CO

SF: 210k

This seven-level structure has the biggest collection of Impressionist art on the West Coast of the US. 

22. Clark Art Institute 

Location: Williamstown, MA

SF: 280k

Known simply as "The Clark," it's one of three significant art facilities north of the Berkshires, opening up its Tadao Ando-designed Stone Hill center in 2008. It also features a water management system represented by tiered pools that reduce water consumption on the campus. 

23. M.H. de Young Museum

Location: San Francisco

SF: 293k

This fine arts museum was built on an old structure destroyed by earthquakes. Herzog and de Meuron created a modern structure using elements of copper, wood and stone to fit into the natural and sunny landscape of California.