Starchitects in Unlikely Places

Frank Lloyd Wright goes with Chicago, Antoni Gaudi with Barcelona,. Certain pairings in architecture are a given. But sometimes I’ve made pilgrimages to seek out the strangest, most high-tech (titanium this, LED glass that) beings in the most unlikely locales — Daniel Libeskind in Denver and Steven Holl in Kansas City come to mind.

Here, as a new Zada Hadid pops up in Rome of all places, are some great cities with surprising examples of works — in today’s preferred forms of showstopper arts palaces, towering oddities, and commercial one-offs — by our leading starchitects.

About that Hadid. The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper says that this new contemporary art museum joins the, er, “pantheon” of the greats. Some may quibble with that judgment, but the CAD-created swoops and curves that mark the work of the world’s most famous women architect (ever!) are all here at the MaXXI (get it?). Twelve years in the making, it’s a lot more accessible, conceptually and geographically, than a lot of other Hadid works.

• “Ginger and Fred,” Prague, Frank Gehry. Among the pastel-hued stucco facades and tiled roofs of this beautiful city these snuggling apartment towers — officially dubbed “Dancing House” — stick out, well, like a sore toe that’s been stepped on by an oafish partner. Constructed, or rather “deconstructed,” of 99 concrete panels, this 1996 project offers a lesson in contemporary architecture — or at least a reason to step outside of old Prague, get to the river, and see where modernity has taken the city.

KKL, Lucerne, Jean Nouvel. A tiny, picturesque Swiss town is the last place you’d expect to stumble upon leading-edge modernity.  A too-die-for lakefront setting and Nouvel’s signature preference for cut-outs make for a stellar pre-show or intermission experience. From across the water, the low-slung black building avoids looking menacing, thanks to some judicious placement of dramatic fountains and sophisticated exterior lighting.

Maison Hermes, Tokyo, Renzo Piano. Elegance marks everything this Italian architect touches, so it’s no wonder he’d design a rare retail project for the most elegant of all manufacturers. Its stacked glass facade glows in the evening, hiding the upstairs offices and turning a spotlight the burnished leather treasures encased at ground level. h

Morimoto, New York City. Tadao Ando. Pritzker Prize-winning architects designing Iron Chef restaurants in seedy urban neighborhoods? Only in New York kids, only in New York. There’s not much Ando stateside, so for aficionados of his masterful way with concrete, stepping through the noren (Japanese parted curtains) of this Chelsea spot is a real treat. For a couple of hundred bucks more, you can gorge on fine cuisine and sake.