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World's coolest buildings

March 2, 2009

Being cutting-edge doesn't always mean scraping the sky. These 10 amazing buildings reflect the current cool in architecture.

It's no surprise that the crowds pushing through New York's Soho neighborhood make it difficult to pause and admire the view. But plenty of pedestrians risk trampling -- or worse, scorn -- from harried locals to gawk at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

In Pictures: World's Coolest Buildings
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Looming like a mysterious obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the boxy tower hovers above ho-hum brick walkups. With minimal windows, the building's flat walls are dolled up with chain-mail mesh, and a subversive touch comes from what seems to be an oversized refrigerator magnet spelling out "Hell Yes!" in rainbow lettering. The building practically forces you do a double take.

Such is the charm of cool architecture, which may be influenced by its setting, but mostly transcends it. And as numerous blue-ribbon edifices popped up across the globe in recent years, there's more of it to enjoy than ever. "The last decade has definitely been a fertile and inventive period," says Carol Willis, an architectural historian who heads New York's Skyscraper Museum, which she founded in 1997.

In Pictures: World's Coolest Buildings
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But mere images can't do these buildings justice. As with any famous painting or photograph, cool architecture is best savored up close and personal, from multiple angles, in the flesh. Sometimes, these pilgrimages can include a journey inside the buildings, as most are open to the public. Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, for example -- whose genre-busting curvy forms kicked off this recent design Golden Age -- presents a wealth of art.

The de Young Museum also begs for a thorough top-to-bottom exploration, if only to see the ninth-floor observation deck's panorama of San Francisco, which renders the city's landscape as if some type of living, breathing atlas.

In Pictures: World's Coolest Buildings
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Text: Travel+Leisure, CJ Hughes | Photograph: John Liu

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