Architecture has the ability to instinctively make us turn left or right when we enter a space or building. It also has the ability to alter our mood, inspire us, foster a community and elevate our living. This is the power architects have. Below we summarize and celebrate some of the world’s most distinguished architects.

10. Rem Koolhaas

Rem Lucas Koolhaas is a Dutch architect who graduated from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.  

He is often associated with the Deconstructivism movement and has written “Delirious New York:  A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan”, which examines the development of architecture and urban design throughout New York’s history from the founding of New Amsterdam by the Dutch to the design of the Headquarters of the United Nations by Le Corbusier.

Born November 17, 1944, Koolhaas is another recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 2000, and practises under the firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA).

Famous works by OMA include Casa da Musica in Porta, Portugal, De Rotterdam, a complex of three towers near the Rotterdam Cruise Terminal in Rotterdam, the Seattle Central Library, in Seattle, the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin and more recently the iconic China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing.

In 2015, OMA designed The Interlace in the western part of Singapore and was awarded the World Building of the Year title at the 2015 World Architecture Festival.Rem Koolhaas has accumulated approximately $5 million in personal wealth.

9. Philip Johnson

One of the best known and instantly recognizable work of Philp Johnson is the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.  This Pritzker Architecture Prize winning architect (1979) was born July 8, 1906 in Cleveland Ohio.

Although he studied languages and philosophy for his undergraduate studies, Johnson later did his graduate work also at Harvard in design. On finishing his studies, Johnson went to Europe on a series of trips and met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a meeting that would form a lifelong relationship of collaboration and competition.

Johnson joined the architecture department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York initially and later in around 1941, he enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Design where he studies with Breuer and Walter Gropius.

After his military service in 1946, Johnson started to build his own architectural practice. One of his early works, the Glass House became the landmark of modern architecture and launched Johnson’s architectural career.  Johnson and Mies van der Rohe then collaborated on the Seagram Building finished in 1956. Mies designed the building and Johnson the interiors of the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants inside. Following Seagram, Johnson would go on to partner with architect John Burgee and go on to win (after a few smaller projects) commissions for the Lincoln Center, the IDS Center in Minneapolis, and the matching bookends-like towers of Pennzoil Place in Houston Texas.

In the 80s and 90s, Johnson would complete buildings like The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, The Williams Tower in Houston, Texas, 550 Madison Avenue, New York, and PPG Place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Later works of Johnson were the Gate of Europe towers in Madrid completed in 1996 and the Urban Glass House condominiums in New York completed in 2006.Throughout his long career and life, Johnson accumulated wealth that at his death was estimated to be $5 million. 

8. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Regarded widely as one of the pioneers of modernist architecture, Mies van der Rohe was the last director of the Bauhaus, a seminal school in modern architecture.  Many young aspiring and successful modern-day architects have all cited Mies as the source of their inspiration.

For Mies, he was concerned with being able to express the spirit of the modern era. He often made use of industrial steel and plate glass for his buildings, evident in works such as Barcelona Pavilion, Crown Hall, Lakeshore Drive, Villa Tugendhat, and the Seagram Building which he collaborated with Philip Johnson. Indeed, the Barcelona Pavilion (a temporary structure, actually called the German Pavilion built for the Barcelona exposition of 1929) and Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic are two works that have earned the title of European Masterworks in contemporary architecture.

Mies’s philosophy is based on his understanding and interpretation of ideas developed by theorists and critics who led the thinking that the traditional design styles at the time was in decline. Mies adopted as his aesthetic credos the tenets of “efficient” sculptural assembly of modern industrial materials. The use of simple rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of color, and the extension of space around and beyond interior walls appealed to Mies.

Born March 1886 and passed on in August 1969, Mies once famously said: “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.”.At the time of his death, Mies had accumulated a personal wealth of approximately $5 million.

7. Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano is the Italian architect behind the Shard, one of London’s most spectacular buildings. In France, Renzo Piano is credited for his work on The Pompidou Center, in Genoa, Italy, the Biosphere in the Old Port, in Japan, the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also, in Tokyo, he designed the scintillating Maison Hermes, the flagship store of the French Luxury brand Hermes. The building has a façade composed of some 13,000 pieces of glass which when illuminated at night resembles a “magic latern”. The Maison Hermes was started in 1998 and completed in 2001.

Renzo Piano was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Price in 1998. He practises under RPBW Architects.  

Born on September 14, 1937, Renzo Piano was born into a family of builders. He studied architecture at the Milan Polytechnic University and upon graduation taught at the university for 3 years.  After his teaching stint, he worked for the modernist architect Louis Kahn in Philadelphia and for the Polish engineer, Zygmunt Stanlislaw Makowski in London.

For the Expo 70, in Osaka, Japan, he worked with his family firm and designed a Pavilion of lightweight structure composed of steel and reinforced polyester.  Indeed, his dissertation when he graduated in 1974 was about modular coordination and he experimented with lightweight structures and basic shelters.

Renzo Piano has a net worth of about $30 million.

6. Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most innovative American architects, designer, writer and educator the world has known.  In his 70 years of architecture practice, he has designed more than 1000 structures. Wright was an adherent to the philosophy of being in harmony with humanity and its environment which Wright called organic architecture.

One of his most beloved work is the Fallingwater house in rural southwestern Pennsylvania which has also been widely recognized as one of the best all time American architecture. With a cascade of rectangular balconies, cantilevered over a natural waterfall, the house was built for the Kaufmanns family.

This prolific architect has designed numerous residential and commercial buildings, all of which exhibit Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture.  Of his commercial works, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo is one of his best-known work outside the U.S. 

Born June 8, 1867, Wright studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin and then apprenticed with a famous architect firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee and Louis Sullivan in Chicago.  Of the buildings designed by Wright, one of the most well-known the world over is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which is testament to Wright’s brand of architecture.At the time of his death in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate was valued at approximately $3 million, which is equivalent to about $30 million today.

5. Santiago Calatrava

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is famous for designing buildings that look like living organism. The Milwaukee Art Museum or the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge are two well-known examples of “living organisms” or the rib cages of dinosaurs. His projects have gained worldwide attention and have made him one of the most distinguished working architects today, although it is widely acknowledged that his bridges represent his signature architectural expression.

If you want to bathe in the effects of his brand of architecture, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub completed in 2016 is ethereal in white with interiors dominated by a glass occulus allowing daylight to filter into its main hall. 

Santiago practices under his name Santiago Calatrava and has offices in New York, Doha and Zurich, where he designed the Zurich Stadelhofen railway station.

Mies studied first at the Higher School of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Valencia where he received his diploma in architecture and he later obtained a second degree in civil engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. In 1981 he was awarded a doctorate in the department of architecture, after completing his thesis on “The Pliability of three-dimensional structures.”

With such prominent works in some of the world’s best cities, Calatrava has reportedly built himself a personal fortune of some $35 million.

Born in 1951, in Valencia, Spain, Calatrava is an architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter.

4. Frank Gehry

The 1997 Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is perhaps the finest example of the style Gehry applied to numerous of his works like the Disney Hall in Los Angeles and MIT’s Strata Center in Cambridge Massachusetts. Along with the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Gehry is also best known for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA, the Louis Vuitton Foundation building in Paris, the Art Gallery of Ontario and 8 Spruce Street in New York. 

Among the most notable of residential buildings designed by Gehry must be his Santa Monica home which he still lives in.

Born on February 28, 1929 as Frank Owen Goldberg, Gehry studied at the University of Southern California and practises under Gehry Partners LLP.  Frank Gehry’s architectural style is said to defy categorization. At times, his works may appear unfinished, and, therefore, sometimes thought to have an element of deconstructivism.

No matter, Frank Gehry is arguably the most famous architect right now following his extraordinary success with the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which has not only produced a work of contemporary art and the finest example of architecture, but has also revitalized Bilbao as a city both economically and culturally.

Frank Gehry has accumulated a personal fortune of approximately $100 million.

3. Moshe Safdie

Completed in 1967, Habitat 67 is arguably Moshe Safdie’s most iconic building. As a debut project, Habitat 67 is a model community and housing complex in Montreal Canada whose units are stacked on top of one another and made from prefabricated concrete.

Of course, his more recent landmarks are Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and Jewel at Changi airport.

Born on July 14, 1938, Safdie studied architecture at McGill University and Habitat 67 was his master’s thesis, which turned out to be the design that launched his international career.

Buildings credited to Safdie include the National Gallery of Canada, Yad Vashem and the Alrov Mamilla Quarter in Jerusalem.  Practising under Safdie Architects, Moshe Safdie has also designed famous civic buildings like the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City.

Although there is no publicly available information, we estimate Moshe Safdie to have built an estimated personal net worth of $150 million.

2. Norman Foster

Sir Norman Robert Foster was awarded the Priztker Architecture Prize in 1999, celebrating his contribution to the industry and the genius of his works. The Priztker Prize is like the nobel prize of architecture. As the founding partner of Foster + Partners, most of us will have seen examples of his work such as The Gherkin building at 30 St Mary Axe, London and The HSBC Building in Hong Kong, both highly distinctive buildings which are architecturally ahead of their time. Over the span of his illustrious career, Norman Foster has won over 470 awards in architecture and designs.

Born in 1935, Foster studied at the School of Architecture and City Planning of the University of Manchester.  Upon his graduation in 1961, Foster won the Henry Fellowship to Yale School of Architecture in the US and earned a master’s degree.

Sir Norman Foster first started his own architectural practice in 1963 called Team 4 with his business partner Richard Rogers, which was disbanded when the four architects helming the practice separated in 1967.  Foster than started Foster Associates in 1967 which was later renamed Foster + Partners, the architecture practice that is world famous today.

Early works of Foster + Partners included The Willis Building in Ipswish, which had open plan offices long before open plan was the norm for offices.  A more recent work is Apple Park, the headquarters of Apple Inc which was opened to employees in 2017. Foster has also worked with Philippe Starck and Sir Richard Branson on the Virgin Group’s Virgin Galactic Plans.

Over the course of his career, Sir Norman Foster has built himself a personal fortune of approximately $200 million.

1. Zaha Hadid

Known for the curvaceousness of her designs, this Iraqi-British architect was the first woman architect to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004.  She also received the most prestigious Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011 and was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.

Hadid’s buildings are unmistakably feminine in their undulating curves and unusual geometry. From the London Aquatics Centre to the Galaxy SOHO complex in Beijing, this celebrated architect was a sought-after architect for both residential and commercial builds. 

Born on October 31, 1950, Hadid first studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut before moving to London to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. She studied with architectural greats like Rem Koolhaas who described her as “a planet in her own orbit”.

She practised under Zaha Hadid Architects until her death in 2016.  Her brand of architecture is also loved in the Far East in examples like d’Leedon condominium and the Nassim Villas in Singapore. 

At the time of her death, Zaha Hadid had an estimated net worth of $210 million.

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