Seven or so “modern wonders” of architecture (according to Sarah Kay)

Imagine you’re asked to distil all that has inspired you in your professional life to just seven must-see experiences. It isn’t easy, as Woods Bagot’s Sydney Studio Chair Sarah Kay can attest. She and six other leaders across entertainment, hospitality, art, design and culture were asked by Traveller magazine to nominate “seven modern wonders” in their chosen field, 49 in all. What a task. Here are Sarah’s architecture choices (plus two she had to leave out) and why she thinks they should be on your design bucket list.


Institut du Monde Arabe


It must be nearly 20 years ago that I visited, and I still remember the amazing, mechanized apertures for shading on the façade. I think it was the first attempt at sustainable architecture that I had ever experienced. It is also the perfect embodiment of its vision – a dialogue between western culture and the Arab world.  The building was designed and executed by a team of architects including Jean Nouvel, Architecture Studio (Martin Robain, Rodo Tisnado, Jean-François Bonne, Jean-François Galmiche), Gilbert Lèzenes, and Pierre Soria. 

Image: Peter Bucks via Unsplash.

Image: Mauro Lima via Unsplash.


Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum

Rio De Janeiro

There is so much incredible architecture in Rio de Janeiro, from the favelas to beautiful 60’s brise soleil houses – and then there is Oscar Niemeyer. I think Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum is my favourite of his because of its audacity – he could, so he did.


Kaufmann House

Palm Springs

I have never been, but I studied this house (designed in 1946) by Richard Neutra whilst a university student and so I feel like I know it inside and out. It has inspired every renovation and decision I have made about my own homes. I think it is the indoor / outdoor flow that is so relevant to today’s style of living and – but was so ahead of its time then. This house represents, to me, the modernist marvel that is Palm Springs, Airbnbing a modernist house in Palm Springs would be my ultimate architectural holiday.

Image: Finn via Unsplash.


Any Brownstone in Park Slope

Brooklyn, New York

I lived in one of these for three years and love the sense of community they engender the density creates a closeness of neighbours that is so ‘New York’. Twice a year the block we lived on in Brooklyn shuts down and a street party takes place. If you can stay in this part of New York over Manhattan you will get a very authentic experience.

Image: Avi Werde via Unsplash.


Vitra Conference Pavilion, Vitra Campus Basel


The only Tadao Ando building I have ever actually visited – so by default my favourite Ando building. The pavilion lived up to my Ando expectations and has inspired me to seek out others. It is also on the Vitra Campus so surrounded by other curious architectural delights. And Basel is the best town ever – you never know if you are in Switzerland, Germany or France.

Image: Peeradontax via Adobe Stock.

Image: Suitcase House Hotel via Edge Design Institute.


Suitcase House Hotel, Shui Guan


Designed by Gary Chang, it has secret compartments and hidden rooms all intricately crafted. It is a very extravagant experiment that would rarely get past sketch stage. As an architect, to see this idea actually built is just so unusual – so frivolous. The hotel is a collection of five (or seven) architecturally designed villas, in dense forest within walking distance of the Great Wall. You can walk there before breakfast. The bamboo pavilion is another favourite – serene and beautiful.


TWA Terminal at JFK

New York

I used to fly out of JFK pretty regularly and there were two or three amazing modernist buildings near that airport, standing empty behind fences, until recently the TWA terminal was one of these. They inspired such strong feelings of nostalgia and sadness that they were no longer relevant. Happily, TWA Terminal has reopened as a hotel. It would be amazing to stay in such an iconic building – if you had a JFK layover.

Image: Josh Withers via Unsplash.


Crochet sculpture, Hakone Open Air Museum


Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam has created the best playground in the entire world bar none – so deserves a mention in this list. It is so aesthetically pleasing and equally pleasing to the kids (and their parents) who play in it. 

Image: Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park Japan via

Image: Sheats Goldstein Residence via


John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein Residence

Los Angeles

Incredible use of materials and geometries – it is an example of “American Organic Architecture”, but it really just feels like James Bond level lux! How can something feel so luxurious and decadent well into its 60th year. So enduring and so inspiring. Oh, and the view from the tennis court! 

Click to read the article by the Sydney Morning Herald.

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