ARCHITECTURE is an influential career. The most imaginative architects have a keen understanding of the power of their designs.
From single homes to the grandest of public buildings, architecture has a lasting impact on the way we live, the way we view ourselves and our environments. The visionary designs can alter people’s moods.
Of course, bad architecture can affect people’s moods negatively and the worst municipal architecture can drag entire towns down, and produce living spaces that frame a gloomy introspective view of the world.
But inspired designs can lift the spirits, and for those architects that have the talent to change our vision of life for the better, the rewards can be great. They are showered with honours, have the respect of their peers, and the very best are extremely wealthy.
Here we take a look at those who have made the big bucks with a countdown of the 10 richest architects in the world.
10: Sir David Adjaye
Estimated worth: €10 Million
BORN in Tanzania to a Ghanaian diplomat and living in London since the age of nine, Sir David Adjaye has made a career out of designing iconic public buildings. The 56-year-old was knighted by the Queen in 2017, and awarded the 2021 Royal Gold Medal for his services to architecture.
Perhaps his best known work was as lead designer for the $540 million National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Its 2016 opening was named ‘the cultural event of the year’ by The New York Times.
9: Maya Lin
NOT just an architect but also a highly regarded sculptor, Maya Lin, is renowned for her vision and for pushing boundaries. The 63-year-old American draws on memories of her rural upbringing, and blends traditional Chinese architecture into the landscape.
Exemplifying this approach is the Vietnamese Veterans Memorial in Washington, perhaps her most famous work.
8: Kara Mann
NOT one, not two, but three: That’s the number of national architecture firms founded by Kara Mann (in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles) – and she is still just 39. The American is viewed by her peers as highly talented, with a hint of the maverick about her. It is a combination that has made her the darling of the art, fashion, finance, music, and entertainment worlds.
She is inspired by European architecture, and while she eschews the more ‘modern’ designs of many of her contemporaries it hasn’t stopped her making her fortune.
Her firm was chosen by Gwenyth Paltrow to develop a facility for Goop in Chicago. One of her best known works is the Chicago Lake House .
7: Kongjian Yu
FARMER’S son Kongjian Yu has had a revolutionary impact on Chinese architecture, with his ideas used in urban planning across 200 cities, mainly in China.
His ‘Sponge City’ theory and practices have been globally recognised as revolutionary nature-based solutions for climate adaptation. The 59-year-old uses waterways and parks to mitigate the negative impact of urban development.
Most of his projects are commissioned by the government, and include the Qinhuangdao Red Ribbon, Haikou Fengxiang Park, and Quzhou Luming Park.
6: Bjarke Ingels
BORN in Denmark, Bjarke Ingels’ career could be described as a slow burner.
But having put in the hard yards early on, he is now – at the age of 48 – one of the most influential architects in the world.
He worked on housing projects for VM Houses and Mountain Dwellings before setting up Bjarke Ingels Group – known, appropriately, as BIG. Iconic Copenhagen project 8 House was one development that put him firmly on the map.
He is currently designing a futuristic Joint Research Centre in Sevilla.
In 2009, The Architectural Review said Ingels ‘has abandoned 20th-century Danish modernism to explore the more fertile world of bigness and baroque eccentricity,’ adding: ‘BIG’s world is also an optimistic vision of the future where art, architecture, urbanism and nature magically find a new kind of balance’.
5: Renzo Piano
HAVING a construction worker for a father gave Renzo Piano an interest in all-things-building from a young age.
The 85-year-old Italian’s interest blossomed into an exceptional career as an architect and made him a €25 million fortune – a far cry from his humble roots.
His list of credits is stellar, including collaborating and designing Hermes Maison in Tokyo, The Pompidou Centre in Paris (with Richard Rogers), and the Morgan Library in New York.
2=: Santiago Calatrava
WHILE those already featured in the list are not exactly paupers, it is those in the top four spots who are really in the big league – and three of them can’t be separated.
Spanish painter, architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava, 84, is particularly known in architecture for bridges supported by single leaning pylons, and for his railway stations, stadiums, and museums. His work is notable for sculptural forms that often resemble living organisms.
Among the most famous are the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York, Twisting Torso Tower in Sweden, Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Tenerife Auditorium.
But his masterpiece is arguably the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, a stunning achievement and testimony to his unique talent.
2=: Moshe Safdie
THE Israeli-Canadian-American Moshe Safdie hit the big time internationally with the stunning Habitat 67 in Montreal.
This was an adaptation of his thesis, and the first project of his company Safdie Architects.
He saw it as a way of re-imagining urban living and it certainly caught the imagination of the world’s architects.
The 84-year-old has had non-stop success ever since, with notable structures, including the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art ; The National Gallery of Canada; and Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
2=: Frank Gehry
AT 93-years-old, American Frank Gehry can be viewed as the ‘grandfather’ of all current architects, or maybe a big brother to the octogenarians who share the limelight with him in the top five.
His seven decades of work, mostly in Europe and the United States, have helped redefine cityscapes with his unique designs.
A number of his buildings, including his private residence in Santa Monica, California, have become world-renowned attractions.
His projects include the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Marques de Riscal winery in La Rioja, Spain.
He is also the man behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, widely regarded as one of Spain’s most important modern buildings.
1: Lord Norman Foster
HE may have his equals (though very few) when it comes to architecture, but in terms of cash, Britain’s Lord Norman Foster (he was made Baron Foster of Thames Bank in July) is in a league of his own.
He founded his firm Foster + Partners in 1967 with a remit to create elegant modern buildings from steel and glass.
The 87-year-old’s most notable projects include the Citibank Headquarters located in Hangzhou, China, and, of course, the Gherkin in London. These are just two of hundreds of projects world-wide that he has been involved in over the decades.
He has multiple awards, is still setting trends, and remains in high demand. His work is highly regarded in Spain, and includes the Cepsa tower in Madrid, the Palacio de Congresos of Valencia, Faustino’s Portia de Burgos winery, the Collserola communications tower and the Bilbao metro.
The Norman Foster Foundation in Spain – based in Madrid where his Galician-born wife Elena Ochoa lives – is active in nurturing community architecture that makes an impact on people’s everyday lives.
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