Built to Thrill

The top 12 must-visit new buildings, built in the past five years

Ten years ago, the idea of cutting-edge architecture as a massive popular draw was ludicrous--it was the domain of private residences and the occasional corporate headquarters. Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao changed everything: Now great buildings are popping up everywhere. What's even more remarkable, many are open to the public. We've picked the 12 best of the last five years.

Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, Italy

Architect: Renzo Piano, 2002 What it looks like: "Three giant armadillos."--John L. Walters, The Guardian Why people love it: The complex of three gently curved concert halls is a musical paradise. The roofs, covered in lead strips like traditional Roman buildings, curl over the buildings' sides--giving them each a bug-like carapace. Inside, the auditoriums, each a different size, are crafted of cherry wood. Even if you're not attending a concert, you can stroll the plazas and park, and lounge in an outdoor amphitheater. (The complex is north of the city center, behind the Stadio Flaminio.) During construction, workers found an ancient archaeological site; a new museum contains the artifacts. How to get in: Viale Pietro de Coubertin 30, 011-39/06-8024-1281, auditoriumroma.com. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (closing at 6 p.m. after October 31, when daylight saving time ends). To get there by metro, take line A to Flaminio, then take tram 2. Admission to the grounds is free. Guided tours of the grounds and music halls cost $9; tours in Italian run hourly Saturday and Sunday but must be booked in advance Monday through Friday. All tours in English must be booked in advance. The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia performs classical and symphonic concerts from October to June. Parco della Musica also features jazz, pop, and rock concerts year-round. Buy tickets at the box office, online, or by calling 199-109-783 within Italy.
Tip! A special Musica bus, the M, runs between the auditorium and Termini, Rome's main rail station, from 5 p.m. to after the last show.

Greater London Authority Headquarters (City Hall) London, England

Architect: Norman Foster, 2002 What it looks like: "A glass testicle."  --Mayor Ken Livingstone Why people love it: Everything about London's new City Hall is innovative. Its strange shape is designed for maximum energy efficiency, with the most volume for the least surface area. The upper floors jut out slightly to shade the lower ones--that's why it leans--and it consumes about a quarter of the energy of a standard office building. How to get in: On the south bank of the Thames, near Tower Bridge, 011-44/20-7983-4100, london.gov.uk/gla/city_hall. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and two weekends a month (the website lists dates). Admission is free, but you must pass a security check at the entrance. Weekdays, visitors can look down on assembly meetings from a second-floor exhibition space. Weekends offer access to some areas that are usually restricted, including the Chamber and London's Living Room.Tip! If you position yourself on the right spot of the lovely plaza, you can be photographed so that you appear to be holding up the tilted building, just like at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Architect: Zaha Hadid, 2003 What it looks like: "A giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle."  --Barry M. Horstman, Cincinnati Post Why people love it: The Rosenthal Center, new home of the CAC, is the only building in the U.S. by the Baghdad-born, London-based Hadid, who just became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize. At first glance the building seems quite polite--it sits neatly on a downtown corner without overpowering its neighbors--but look closer. See how the concrete sidewalk unrolls right into the glass lobby, then curves up to become the back wall. Or how the boxy shapes on the outside cantilever and zoom. Inside, the floors aren't conventionally aligned: Galleries and performance spaces jig and jag, as if they weren't so much constructed as scooped out. Enormous black steel beams, containing the stairs, slash diagonally through the interior. Tough stuff. How to get in: 44 E. Sixth St., 513/721-0390, contemporaryartscenter.org. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday (free after 5 p.m.); 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $7.50, seniors $6.50, students $5.50, kids $4.50, under 3 free.Tip! There's a lull in the crowd from noon to 2 p.m. Also, most hotels and restaurants downtown sell tickets (a good way to avoid lines).

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