Most often people go to museums to see what’s inside of them and don’t always take notice of their exterior. It could be that the most simple architecture from the outside will conceal the surprise of what treasures a museum holds inside, but sometimes the shell is as impressive as the contents.
Bored Panda took a stroll through the internet and picked some photos of museums that are truly striking from the outside and undoubtedly are works of art in themselves.
Which of them have you seen in real life and which ones you would like to visit? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to upvote the museums whose architecture stunned you the most.
#1 State Historical Museum, Russia
The State Historical Museum in Moscow was established in 1872 and it is located on Red Square’s north side.
The easily recognizable building was designed by Vladimir Osipovich Sherwood in Neo-Russian style.
It is a historical museum with the goal to preserve Russia’s past. Among the interesting things that the museum has is a longboat excavated from the banks of the Volga River and manuscripts from the 6th century.
Image credits: Jorge Láscar
#2 Zeitz Mocaa, South Africa
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa was opened on September 22, 2017 in Cape Town and it is the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world.
The museum was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, London-based designer. It was born by transforming a grain silo that was no longer being used.
The museum houses art by sculptors, photographers, and painters that work all across Africa.
Image credits: marchehaute
#3 Shanghai Museum Of Astronomy, China
The Shanghai Museum of Astronomy just opened to the public on July 18 of this year and it is the largest astronomy museum in the world.
It was designed by Thomas J. Wong and the building doesn’t have any straight lines or right angles to reflect shapes of orbits and the geometry of the cosmos.
People visiting the museum will be able to see both temporary and permanent exhibitions exploring instruments and artifacts related to astronomy. It also has a 78 foot (24 meters) tall solar telescope, an observatory, a youth observation camp, and a Digital Sky Theater.
Image credits: Shanghai Astronomy Museum
#4 Museo De Arte Tigre, Argentina
The Museo de Arte Tigre in Buenos Aires was first built in 1912. Originally, it was a luxurious club for the rich and famous, but now it is an art museum that was opened in 2006.
The elegant building was designed by Pablo Pater and Luis Dubois following French-Italian architecture styles.
The main collection consists of Argentine art from the 19th and 20th centuries but the interior is a work of art in itself too with Venetian mirrors and French chandeliers.
Image credits: Tigre Municipio
#5 Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, Spain
Guggenheim Bilbao Museum is a contemporary art museum located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. It was opened on 18 October 1997 and it is still one of the biggest museums in the country.
The architect of this innovative design was Frank Gehry. The exterior has curvy lines that were meant to seem random. It is all covered in 33,000 extremely thin titanium sheets that, to some critics, resemble fish scales, which is appropriate as it is built alongside the Nervion River.
The museum is always changing up its exhibitions and likes to choose a theme, like Russian contemporary art. What you can see the most is Avant-garde art, 20th century abstraction, and non-objective art. The only permanent exhibit is The Matter of Time, a sculpture installation of eight pieces by the US sculptor Richard Serra.
Image credits: David Baron
#6 The Museum Of Islamic Art, Qatar
The Museum of Islamic Art was opened in 2008 and in its collection there are pieces dating back 1,400 years. The exhibitions include metal work, ceramics, jewelry, wood work, textiles, glass and manuscripts.
The building was designed by Ieoh Ming Pei. He suggested that it should be built on the human-made peninsula so that it would not have other buildings overshadowing it. The architect was mostly inspired by the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt.
Image credits: Jan Smith
#7 Erawan Museum, Thailand
The Erawan museum in Bangkok was opened in 2003 and it is well known for its three-headed elephant shape.
The museum is the vision of Lek Viriyapant that came true. The elephant is made of bronze and weighs 250 tons. And part of the museum is actually in the elephant.
There are things to see inside too: Chinese vases from the Ming and Qing dynasties, arts like ceramics from Europe, relics and statues of Buddha.
Image credits: Binder.donedat
#8 Salvador Dali Museum, U. S.
The Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida was founded in 1982. The new building with the glass entryway and skylight was opened on 11 January 2011.
The addition to the museum was designed by Yann Weymouth. The glass bubble is called the enigma and it is made up of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass.
At the museum visitors can find 96 oil paintings, over 100 watercolors and drawings, 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and other items. One of the most famous Dali pieces, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, is housed in this museum.
Image credits: CityofStPete
#9 Art Gallery Of Alberta, Canada
The museum was first established as the Edmonton Museum of Arts in 1924. The modern building where the gallery is was opened in 2010.
The architect chosen to design a building for the gallery was Randall Stout. The curves of the stainless steel are meant to look like northern lights which are characteristic to Alberta.
The collection of the gallery focuses more on works, which include sculptures, paintings and photographs, created in Alberta or western Canada and most of them were produced after the 1950s.
Image credits: IQRemix
#10 National Museum Of Qatar
National Museum of Qatar was opened in 2019 and is dedicated to showcasing the story of Qatar and its nation.
The intricate building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, who was inspired by the desert rose, which can be found in Qatar’s desert regions.
The museum has 11 galleries and each one will be a different experience. The stories are told by triggering people’s senses by combining sound, images, videos and even smell.
Image credits: Gilbert Sopakuwa
#11 Milwaukee Art Museum, U.S.
The Milwaukee Art Museum was founded in 1888 and now has gathered a collection of 30,000 works of art.
The most intriguing part of the museum is the Quadracci Pavilion designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2001. The building has moving wings that change position depending on the time of the day to provide shade.
The works of art in the collection range from works from antiquity to the present. That includes paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, decorative arts, photographs, and folk and self-taught art.
Image credits: Gary Denness
#12 Museum Of The Future, UAE
Museum of the Future is due to open later this year and it is expected to be a new landmark for the UAE, located just a seven-minute drive away from the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.
The torus-shaped building was designed by architectural firm Killa Design. It is 77 meters high (253 feet) and it is covered in Arabic calligraphy. But it’s not just random. They are actually lines from a poem by ruler Sheikh Al Maktoum.
The UAE is always striving to develop and a museum dedicated to the future is a perfect symbol for that. It will be an incubator for ideas: you will be able to see technology that will hopefully be turned to reality in the future, benefiting people and making our lives better.
Image credits: chai_pioge
#13 Andalusia Museum Of Memory, Spain
The Andalusia Museum of Memory is located in Granada and was finished in 2009. The museum focuses on the history of Andalusia as the inhabitants of this land were once called the most educated of the Iberians.
The project was designed by Alberto Campo Baeza. The architect describes his work himself: “It is organized around a central courtyard of elliptical traces in which helical ramps develop that connect the three levels and create a spatial tension of great interest.”
After visiting this museum, you will leave with detailed information about Andalusia’s history.
Image credits: archist____
#14 City Of Arts And Sciences, Spain
The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is a cultural and architectural complex opened in 1998. It houses a planetarium, a cinema, a museum and auditoriums for events.
The complex was designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. The museum that is part of the complex is reminiscent of a skeleton of a whale.
The museum is dedicated to science, technology and the environment. It’s a very interactive museum where you learn through touch and experience.
Image credits: Pxfuel
#15 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, U.S.
The museum which houses Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art was first founded in 1939 by philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim. At first it stayed in rented spaces, but in 1959, it moved to the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan in New York.
The building to which it moved to was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was the architect’s last project and one of his longest works, but also one of the most popular ones.
The Guggenheim museum is definitely a spot of attraction and it is actually a UNESCO site as part of The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright since 2019.
Image credits: ajay_suresh
#16 Museu Do Amanhã, Brazil
The Portuguese name Museu do Amanhã means “The Museum of Tomorrow” and it is a science museum that was opened in 2015 in Rio de Janeiro.
The structure was built according to the designs of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Its shape was inspired by bromeliads, which are an attraction in the city’s Botanical Garden.
The museum’s collections explore what challenges humans will have to deal with in the future, like sustainability, but also have a focus on what opportunities the coming days hold.
Image credits: Rodrigo Soldon Souza
#17 Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan
The Heydar Aliyev Center was opened on 10 May 2012 in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. It is named after Heydar Aliyev, who was the first secretary of Soviet Azerbaijan (1969-1982) and president of the Azerbaijan Republic (1993-2003).
It was designed by Zaha Hadid, who decided to make the structure seem fluid and almost undulating. It is definitely a unique building as in 2014, the Center won the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award. It was an important win as that meant that the designer Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the top prize in that competition.
The Center is complex and it has a conference hall, a gallery hall and a museum. The former is the most interesting part of the establishment and it showcases Azerbaijan’s history as well as the impact the leader Heydar Aliyev had on it.
Image credits: Dmitry Karyshev
#18 V&a Dundee, Scotland
V&A Dundee was opened on 15 September 2018 and it is the first design museum in Scotland. It is a sister museum to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and V&A Dundee is the first one to be opened outside London.
The building was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma who also designed the newly completed stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The museum doesn’t have straight outside walls and is made of 2,500 panels that weigh 3,000 kilograms (6,614 pounds) each.
The temporary exhibitions showcase the very best design from around the world from the past and the present. The permanent exhibitions feature Scottish designs. In the galleries you can see examples of architecture, engineering, fashion and furniture, ceramics, healthcare, jewellery, textiles, video game design and more.
Image credits: Alex Liivet
#19 Museum Aan De Stroom, Belgium
The Museum aan de Stroom, which, translated from Dutch, means ‘Museum by the River,’ opened in May 2011 and it is the largest museum in Belgium’s port city Antwerp.
The museum was a project designed by Neutelings Riedijk Architects. The building is an example of postmodern Art Deco architecture with the Indian red sandstone and curved glass inserts.
Its collection is assorted as you can find maritime objects, artifacts telling the history of the city as well as art exhibitions.
Image credits: Rick Ligthelm
#20 Luma Foundation, France
The Luma Foundation in Arles was opened on June 26 this year and it is not only a contemporary art museum but also a cultural center with seminar rooms, exhibition spaces, research facilities, an auditorium and a cafe.
The architect of the museum Frank Gehry was inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting.
The part of the building that catches the eye is the tower. It’s 56 meters (184 feet) high and is made out of 10,752 stainless steel panels arranged irregularly.
Image credits: Howard Stanbury
#21 Ordos Museum, China
The Ordos Museum in China is an art and history museum that was opened in 2011.
It was designed by MAD Architects to be an amorphous building which was inspired by the Gobi desert where the museum is built.
The museum’s collection presents the surrounding area’s history as well as Mongolian history in general.
Image credits: Robert James Hughes
#22 M/S Maritime Museum Of Denmark, Denmark
The M/S Maritime Museum of Denmark was established in 1915 and moved in 2013. The museum is dedicated to showcase Danish trade and shipping from the 15th century to the present day.
The new museum was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). What is interesting about this museum’s location is that it’s kind of underground as it is built in a former Helsingør dry dock. The dock itself remains empty and the museum space is on the ramps and bridges crossing the dock.
For its unique design the museum has received a few awards, including Architizer A+ Award, 2014 RIBA EU Award, AIANY Design Award 2014 and others.
Image credits: Tina K
#23 National Museum Of African American History And Culture, U.S.
The National Museum of African American History And Culture is located on the National Mall, which is a park in Washington. It was opened on 24 September 2016 and President Barack Obama led the ceremony.
The museum was designed by Ghanaian-born David Adjaye and the shape of the building was inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa. The outside of the building is covered in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice which is to pay homage to ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans.
This museum is the largest museum dedicated to African American history and culture. At this museum, you can dive into African American history and learn how it impacted the present of this nation. The collection includes more than 36,000 artifacts of the arts, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, athletics and more.
Image credits: Mobilus In Mobili
#24 Studio Bell, Canada
The Studio Bell in Calgary, Alberta, Canada is the museum space of The National Music Centre. It was opened in 2016 and its exhibits include more than 2,000 rare instruments and artefacts including one of Elton John’s pianos.
The building was designed by Allied Works Architecture and it is constructed of nine interlocking towers. The shiny panels are actually glazed terra cotta.
Image credits: Bernard Spragg. NZ
#25 Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Brazil
Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum is located in Niterói and is one of the city’s main landmarks since it opened in 1966.
The unusual and futuristic shape that resembles a flying saucer was an idea by the designer Oscar Niemeyer. The architect himself described his work as a ‘flower growing from the rocks.’
The main chunk of the museum’s collection is 1,200 pieces that were gifted by art collector João Sattamini. They are mostly works of Brazilian artists from the 1950s to the early 1990s.
Image credits: Rodrigo Soldon
#26 Jewish Museum, Berlin
The Jewish Museum Berlin was opened in 2001 and it is the largest museum in Europe that focuses only on Jewish history. Even before it was finished in 1999, the museum design was awarded the German Architecture Prize.
The building consists of two parts: a Baroque building and a newer building that came to reality from the designs of Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. What is characteristic to the building are the voids, empty rooms, dead ends and dim lighting, all creating an atmosphere of loss and absence which the Holocaust caused.
The museum mainly focuses on the history of Jews in Germany and the story they are telling goes back to the Middle Ages and continues to the present day.
Image credits: Lauren Manning
#27 Neue Nationalgalerie, Germany
The Neue Nationalgalerie or the New National Gallery is a museum for modern art in Berlin first opened in 1968, then closed in 2015 for renovations, and will be reopened on 22 August 2021.
The designer for this building was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The building was described as a modern glass temple.
The biggest part of the collection features art from the 20th century. The museum has pieces by artists like Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Joan Miró.
Image credits: Manfred Brückels
#28 Soumaya Museum, Mexico
The original building of the Museum Soumaya was opened in 1994, and in 2011, the new one was opened.
The newer building was designed by Fernando Romero. The museum’s peculiar form is a rotated rhomboid covered in 16,000 hexagonal mirrored-steel pieces.
The Soumaya museum is a private one and it has an impressive collection of 70,000 pieces, including works of Salvador Dali and Tintoretto. The collection also includes sculptures from Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, 19th- and 20th-century Mexican art.
Image credits: Nan Palmero
#29 Royal Ontario Museum, Canada
The Royal Ontario Museum was established in 1912 and it is the largest museum in Canada.
The Crystal part was added to the museum in 2007 and was designed by Daniel Libeskind. The entrance to the museum was moved to the Crystal and it’s a perfect example of combining the old and the new.
The museum has an impressive collection of more than 6,000,000 items that include dinosaurs, meteorites, historical artifacts from all over the world, fossils and art pieces.
Image credits: Dennis Jarvis
#30 Denver Art Museum, U. S.
The very beginning of the Denver Art Museum can be considered 1893, with the establishment of the Denver Artists Club. But the building in the photo was built a lot later, in 2006.
It is called the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and it was designed by Studio Daniel Libeskind and Denver firm Davis Partnership Architects. The building has an easily recognizable angular shape and is clad with glass and titanium.
The Hamilton Building houses collections of contemporary and modern art. You can also find collections of Oceanic and African Art.
Image credits: Jacqueline Poggi
#31 Hanoi Museum, Vietnam
The Hanoi museum was opened in 2010 to celebrate the 1,000th birthday of the capital of Vietnam.
It was designed by GMP Architekten and it looks like an inverted pyramid. This shape helps it to save energy as the top floors provide shade for the bottom ones.
The museum has a rich collection as there are over 50,000 artifacts in its possession that date all the way to a thousand years ago. They showcase Vietnam’s history, culture, heritage, and architecture.
Image credits: kleshnin_ivan
#32 Design Museum Holon, Israel
The Design Museum Holon was first opened on 3 March 2010. It is the first museum in Israel dedicated to design.
It was built according to Ron Arad’s designs and it has a distinctive exterior: five colorful steel bands are undulating at parts together, then later separating.
The interior looks less fluid with rooms reminiscent of boxes where Israeli design from the 1930s to today is exhibited. Also, there are some exhibitions on fashion and trends that are changed regularly.
Image credits: אילנה שקולניק
#33 MAXXI National Museum, Italy
The full name of the museum is Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, i. e. “national museum of 21st-century arts.” It opened its doors in 2010 and it’s the first one in Italy that focuses on contemporary art.
The building’s design was created by Zaha Hadid. The walls look quite heavy from the outside but they feel dynamic with all the curves and intersections.
The design of the museum was awarded The Stirling Prize for architecture of the Royal Institute of British Architects the same year it was opened.
Image credits: Fred Romero
#34 Centre Georges Pompidou, France
The contemporary art museum in Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, was opened in 1977 and it is an example of “inside out” design.
The project was a result of two architects, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. The most recognizable part of the building is the escalator that is called the “caterpillar” and it is the main way to go up and down.
The Pompidou Centre is not only a contemporary art museum which is the largest of its kind in Europe, but also houses the Public Information Library and a centre for music and acoustic research. At the top of the building there is a restaurant that has one of the most beautiful views.
Image credits: Fred Romero
#35 Louis Vuitton Foundation, France
The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris opened for the public on 27 October 2014 and it is an art museum with a culture center.
The building is another work of the architect Frank Gehry. He was inspired by the 19th-century glass gardens. The facade is formed from 3,600 glass panels and 19,000 concrete panels.
The collection is owned by LVMH, which sponsors the Foundation and by Bernard Arnault. There you can find pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gilbert & George and Jeff Koons.
Image credits: yourhavenonearth
#36 Museu De Arte Do Rio, Brazil
The Museu de Arte do Rio was opened on 1 March 2013, located in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, showcasing contemporary arts and hosting performances.
There are two parts to the building that was created by architects at Bernardes + Jacobsen. The first is the Dom João VI Mansion, where the exhibitions are placed, and the other is a more modern building that was originally a bus station and now is the place where workshops are held, as well a library and the administration.
In 2013, the year it was opened, the museum won a prestigious award for its design, the Architizer A+ Awards.
Image credits: Mariordo
Photography – Bored Panda