At its best, amazing architecture stokes the imagination, challenges notions of space and generally rocks onlookers' worlds.
From buildings noted for soaring heights to structures with mesmerizing shapes -- like the so-called "Marilyn Monroe" tower pictured here -- we've selected 30 buildings that showcase the world's most extraordinary architectural designs.
Click through to see these amazing buildings.
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE
The world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa towers an astonishing 2,717 feet in the Dubai sky. The building holds a number of records: It contains the world's highest occupied floor, the tallest service elevator and the highest outdoor observation deck, which resides on the 124th floor.
The design was inspired by the Hymenocallis flower and developed by the Chicago-based firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. The building includes luxury residences, a hotel, a library, a supermarket, children's daycare and a cigar club.
Burj al Arab, Dubai, UAE
High-end travelers, take note: At Dubai's Burj al Arab hotel you'll have butlers on call at all hours, reception desks on every floor and a fleet of Rolls Royces at your disposal.
One of the Middle East's most recognized landmarks, the opulant Burj al Arab is the world's fourth-tallest hotel. But thanks to the 590-foot-tall ground-floor atrium and duplex suites, it's technically only 28 stories high. Designed to mimic the sail of a dhow (a type of Arab boat), the structure was built upon an artificial island off Jumeirah Beach and is connected to the mainland by a private bridge.
Beijing National Stadium (Bird's Nest), Beijing
Designed for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Bird's Nest, as Beijing National Stadium is known, cost $423 million to build and took less than five years to complete.
The 80,000-seat stadium hosted the Olympic Games' opening and closing ceremonies as well as many athletic events, and has since hosted international soccer games, including the Supercoppa Italiana.
The design and development of the stadium is owed to many, including architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, project architect Stefan Marbach, artist Ai Weiwei, and the Central Asia Development Group.
Beijing National Aquatics Building (Water Cube Building), Beijing
The Beijing National Aquatics Building, affectionately known as the Water Cube Building because of its rectangular, bubble-like exterior, was built adjacent to the Bird's Nest. It housed the 2008 Olympics' swimming and diving events.
The cube-like shape is meant to represent earth, while the circular shape of the Bird's Nest symbolizes heaven. Today, the building has been redesigned for use as a water park, complete with water slides, rides and a wave pool.
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dominating the Kuala Lumpur skyline, at 1,483 feet the twin Petronas Towers are the tallest twin buildings ever built. They ranked as the tallest buildings in the world until 2004, when they were overtaken by Taipei 101 in Taiwan.
The buildings feature 29 double-decker, high-speed elevators in each tower, and are connected by a two-story skybridge stretching between the 41st and 42nd floors. The towers were designed by César Pelli of Argentina and Filipino-Malaysian engineer Deejay Cerico.
Visitors can purchase tickets to the skybridge and an observatory on the 86th level.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
Considered one of the most architecturally innovative and important buildings of the 20th century, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao stunned the world when it opened in 1997.
The behemoth, curving structure is composed of titanium, glass and limestone. It was designed to blend into its location alongside Bilbao's Nervion River. Its curves, according the Gehry, were intended to appear random.
The building's 256,000 square feet of exhibit space features art spanning the mid-20th century through the present, as well as ever-changing special exhibitions.
Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Canada
Those sexy curves you see gracing the Mississauga skyline belong to the aptly nicknamed "Marilyn" building (yes, that Marilyn) and her more masculine counterpart. The twisting, curvaceous towers are a part of the five-building Absolute World residential apartment complex. In June 2012, the two buildings were named Best Tall Buildings in the Americas by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
Empire State Building, New York City
The Empire State Building is one of the most recognizable buildings on the New York City skyline. A mere glimpse of it can put even the most jaded locals and travelers in a "New York state of mind." Incredibly, the 1,454-foot building opened its doors in 1931, only one year and 45 days after construction began.
Still one of Manhattan's most popular tourist attractions, the building features observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors.
Aqua Building, Chicago
The undulating exterior of Chicago's 86-story Aqua Building makes the structure the city's most striking residential design. It's the world's tallest structure designed by a woman-owned firm, Jeanne Gang's Studio Gang Architects. The building's rippling exterior is an effect created by white, curving balconies, the construction of which posed particular challenges because each floor's plan differs slightly from the others.
Dancing House, Prague
Designed by Czech architect Vlado Milunic and American architect Frank Gehry in the early 1990s, Prague's Dancing House gained its moniker when Gehry referred to it as "Fred and Ginger."
The building overlooks the Vltava River and resides in the midst of a Baroque and Art Nouveau-style neighborhood. Its construction provoked controversy. Still, Time magazine gave it the 1996 Design of the Year award and in 2005 the Czech National Bank issued a coin featuring its facade.
Taj Mahal, India
The white marble Taj Mahal is a mausoleum constructed during the 17th century in memory of the Emperor Shah Jahan's third wife, who died during childbirth. Her death left the emperor heartbroken, which is why the Taj is widely considered to be the world's most stunning monument to love. It may well be one of the great wonders of the world, leaving countless visitors awestruck.
8 Spruce Street, New York City
Rising 76 stories above New York City's Financial District, Frank Gehry's 8 Spruce Street residential tower awes passersby with its wrinkled, stainless steel exterior. More than 10,000 steel panels comprise the building's skin. Each is shaped differently from the others to give the facade its undulating appearance. The first five floors of the building house a public elementary school, while the remainder of the building contains 898 luxury rental apartments.
Institute for Sound and Vision, Hilversum, The Netherlands
Home to the Netherlands' national broadcasting archives, the Institute for Sound and Vision has earned enormous praise for its unusual design by architects Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk.
The cube-shaped building features an exterior of cast-glass panes. Each is imprinted with an iconic image from Dutch television, including a soccer player scoring a goal and the justice minister riding a bike.
Graz Art Museum, Graz, Austria
Nicknamed "The Friendly Alien," the Graz Art Museum looks like an enormous, undulating blob -- or slug -- with a series of protruding arteries. It's in stark contrast to the neighborhood's Baroque architecture. The exterior skin is composed of blue acrylic panels that can be illuminated in patterns by a computerized system; the "arteries" are, in fact, windows.
Built as part of the 2003 European Capital of Culture celebration and designed by London architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, the museum houses a collection of contemporary art.
Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai
Designed by Shanghai Modern Architectural Design Co. Ltd., Shanghai's Pearl Tower is a 1,536-foot-high radio and television tower that ranked as China's tallest structure from 1994 to 2007, when it was eclipsed by the Shanghai World Financial Center. Visitors can travel up the towers to multiple observation decks, as well as to the Shanghai Municipal History Museum.
Lotus Temple, New Delhi
The Bahá'í House of Worship is popularly known as the Lotus Temple because of its flower-like shape. The temple has attracted more than 70 million visitors since it opened in 1986, making it one of India's most visited attractions.
Though formally built as a temple for members of the Bahá'í faith, it welcomes visitors of all religious denominations. Designed by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba, the structure consists of 27 free-standing "petals" arranged in clusters to form a nine-sided temple.
Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi
Move over, Leaning Tower of Pisa. Abu Dhabi's Capital Gate has earned the distinction of being the most "leaning" building in the world -- in fact, it was designed to have an 18-degree tilt. Dreamed up by architectural firm RMJM, the 520-foot-tall building houses offices and a luxury Hyatt hotel.
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia church, which is Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi's unfinished tour de force, rises above Barcelona like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Construction on this UNESCO World Heritage Site began in 1882, and though progress slowed after Gaudi's death in 1926, it continues today. The projected year of completion is 2026, exactly a century after Gaudi's death (though some estimate it will be finished closer to 2040).
Turning Torso, Malmö, Sweden
The 623-foot-tall Turning Torso building is Sweden's tallest skyscraper and the third-tallest residential complex in Europe. The building's shape is based on a sculpture called "Twisting Torso" by artist, architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the tower. The 54-story building comprises nine cubes that twist 90 degrees from the base to the top floor.
Hearst Tower, New York City
The first skyscraper to break ground in New York City after Sept. 11, 2001, Hearst Tower houses the headquarters of the Hearst Corporation publishing empire. The building's six-story base was originally commissioned by William Randolph Hearst in 1928 to be used as the foundation for a skyscraper, but the Great Depression caused plans to grind to a halt.
The new 46-story glass and steel tower, designed by architect Norman Foster and built above the original base, was completed in 2006, almost 70 years after Hearst's vision was born. It has the distinction of being New York City's first "green" office building.
Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, Singapore
The striking Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay waterfront building cost some $600 million to build and helped cement Singapore's place among architecturally cutting-edge Asian cities. The spikey structure has been likened to everything from a durian fruit to a fly's eyes. In fact, the "spikes" covering the exterior serve as sunshades -- a helpful addition given Singapore's steamy climate. The building contains a concert hall, theater, public library and outdoor performance space.
CCTV Building, Beijing
Construction of Beijing's CCTV Building was completed in May 2012. The unique structure designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren houses the headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV).
The building's complex design consists of six horizontal and vertical sections that leave a central void. CCTV's unusual design has stirred controversy and praise: Detractors claim it resembles female genitalia, while some critics are calling it the greatest building of this century.
Antilia, Mumbai, India
The towering, 27-floor Antilia is the most expensive private residence in the world. It cost the home's owner, businessman Mukesh Ambani, at least $500 million to build.
The design of each floor differs, and the house reportedly has 600 staff members, 168 parking spaces, nine elevators, three helicopter pads, three floors of hanging gardens, and an ice room complete with man-made snow flurries.
The house's ostentation has caused great controversy, with many arguiing that its presence is inappropriate in Mumbai, which is home to some of Asia's worst slums.
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada
The Royal Ontario Museum's brick and terracotta building first opened its doors in 1914, but what makes it unique is the addition in 2007 of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, a dramatic new entrance for the museum.
The glass, aluminum and steel crystal has a deconstructionist design with jagged, sloping walls. The new structure features an atrium, restaurants and a "Spirit House," which was designed to be a place of reflection for visitors.
Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada
An experiment in pre-fabricated, modular housing, Habitat 67 was constructed for Expo 67, the 1967 world's fair. The building was originally conceived by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for a thesis project at McGill University.
Stacks of 354 concrete forms make up Habitat 67. It originally held 158 apartments with balconies and gardens. Today, many of these apartments have been combined to form larger units.
The design was revolutionary at the time, though Safdie's experiment in affordable urban housing ultimately failed: High construction costs caused prices for units to soar.
Nord LB Building, Hanover, Germany
Appearing as teetering stacks of glass and steel boxes, the Nord LB Building may seem an unlikely candidate to house a bank, but it does. A restaurant and exhibition center are located on site, allowing visitors partial access to the building. The eco-friendly structure was designed to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and make use of natural light.
Fallingwater, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania
Designed by legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Fallingwater house not only blends into the landscape but appears to be suspended above a 30-foot waterfall.
It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and has become Wright's most famous design, capturing the imagination of America after it was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1938. Located 90 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, the house is now open to visitors.
Crooked House, Sopot, Poland
The whimsically sagging structure called Krzywy Domek, or Crooked House, is tucked into a shopping center in downtown Sopot. Designed by Szotynscy Zaleski, an architect inspired by the children's fairytale drawings of Jan Marcin Szancer, the three-story structure was built in 2004 and houses restaurants, shops and offices.
Next: Breathtaking Rainbows Across the World
Longaberger Basket Building, Newark, Ohio
The people at the Longaberger Basket Company love their products so much that they had their headquarters designed to mimic their "medium market basket." Built of stucco over steel, the building features a seven-story interior atrium and two enormous "handles" on the exterior, which are heated to prevent ice from forming in winter.
Fun fact: The building is exactly 160 times larger than an actual market basket.
The World's Most Amazing BuildingsTake a tour of the most incredible structures from Chicago to Dubai