From Reviled to Revered

It can take time for an architectural monument to go from being the disgrace of a city to becoming a world-famous icon

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At its best, great architecture exalts the human spirit and encapsulates history. But many buildings that the world has come to love weren't well received when their doors first opened. Indeed, some of today's most beloved monuments were particularly detested.

It's a testament to the courage and vision of their designers that radical structures such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Louvre Pyramids, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. have come to be so appreciated by the public.


Buildings of perhaps lesser architectural merit, such as San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid and the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York, made the transition from abhorred to adored and became visual shorthand for their respective cities. Others have become icons, plain and simple. Think of the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, or Bavaria's "Sleeping Beauty" castle, formally known as Neuschwanstein Castle.

They all had tumultuous histories. Most were initially rejected by the public for being too weird or iconoclastic. Hard to believe now, but late-19th century Parisians were apoplectic over the Eiffel Tower, which they saw as a gigantic machine-age violation of their city's graceful elegance. Now it lies at the core of the city's enormous tourism industry and every street-corner souvenir shop sells replica key rings, candles, earrings, and snow globes.

Some once-reviled buildings drew ire for their budget overruns. The Washington Monument and the Sydney Opera House share that distinction, though their costs have long since been forgotten. Some buildings struck negative emotional chords, such as the controversy that greeted Maya Lin's low-key design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or the allegations of bad Feng Shui that dogged I.M.Pei's Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.


Perhaps no building received a worse reception than Pei's bold proposal to add glass pyramids to the courtyard of the Louvre. Purists cried foul over the desecration of the museum's Renaissance style. But conspiracy theorists also got into the act with allegations that French President François Mitterand, who oversaw the makeover, was a Satan-worshipper who had ordered Pei to design the main glass pyramid with 666 panes -- a number that had no basis in reality.

Overcoming rumor and revulsion turned out to be short work for many of these monuments, but others required decades to win over the public. Check out our slide show to learn more about how some of the world's most famous and admired structures made the transition from reviled to revered.

Check out our slide show

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