Behind the Scenes: Iconic Structures of the World

Architectural brilliance sometimes strikes with a sudden flash of inspiration. Yet, beyond inspiration, the creative forms and innovative functions of outstanding architecture around the world are in essence the product of our everyday construction tools and materials. Indeed, the greatest of buildings, the tallest of skyscrapers and the most iconic of architectural structures around the world are built one brick at a time, one steel bar after another, one aluminium panel over the next.

In this blog article, we explore some of the most notable structures that make up the diverse architectural landscape of our world today. Classic, modern or avant-garde, each of these iconic buildings showcases what it means to combine the creative powers of ingenious architects with the versatility of today’s building materials.

Empire State Building, New York

A 102-story skyscraper towering over New York City, the Empire State Building is arguably the most recognisable landmark that makes up the city’s skyline. This Art Deco structure was a widely lauded architectural feat when it was completed in 1931. Today, it is the 28th tallest building in the world.

The Empire State Building was one of the earliest high-rise buildings to utilise aluminium extensively in its build, notably, its tower and spire. Also, its Art Deco-inspired ceiling and wall murals – a major calling card of the building – were given exceptionally vivid depiction with the use of gold and aluminum leaf.

In 1993, as part of a major rejuvenation programme for the skyscraper, all of its approximately 6,500 windows had their iron frames replaced with aluminium frames. With the windows making up almost one third of the building’s facade, this upgrade from iron to aluminium effectively ensured a 16% savings in energy consumption per annum.

Bolshoy Ice Dome, Sochi, Russia

Between the Caucasus Mountains and the shores of the Black Sea lies the Sochi Olympic Park. A highlight amongst the eleven purpose-built winter sports venues specifically constructed for the 2014 Winter Olympics is the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

With its elliptical shape aptly inspired by both the ornate Fabergé egg and a single frozen water droplet, this giant dome structure fascinates with its innovative colour-changing curved top. As much as 22,000 square metres of tapered aluminium standing seam sheets were used to form the weatherproof roof cover of the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

Covered entirely with pearly aluminium over-cladding, the domed roof reflects the surrounding environment and the magical colours of the changing light in the day. During the night, this same aluminium-wrapped roof, ambitiously integrated with almost 40,000 LED lights, illuminates the arena like a giant colour-changing, egg-shaped jewel glittering in the dark.

The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore

Purpose-built as an arts and cultural centre, the Esplanade is a sprawling complex located between Marina Centre and Marina Bay. Its centerpiece – twin theatre buildings named Theatres by the Bay – has to be one of Singapore’s most eye-catching buildings, not least because to the locals the two shiny domed roofs resemble spiky halves of the durian fruit.

What ultimately led the theatre domes to resemble the durian shell was purportedly entirely by accident. Architects needed to provide the two glass domes with appropriate sunshades in tropical Singapore to shield the buildings from both sunshine and heat radiation.

The solution? Aluminium panels. Over 7,000 pieces of modular triangular aluminium panels covered the two rounded glass shell structures of the domes. Each panel was precisely angled according to the position of the sun, giving them the appearance of spikes. The result? A fun yet artistic façade in the form of shiny “durian shells” that sparkle silver in the day. This is indeed form and functionality at its most serendipitous.


Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, Malaysia

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, commonly known as the blue mosque, is the State Mosque of Selangor. Built to fit up to 24,000 people, this mosque is the largest in Malaysia and one of the largest in the world. The mosque complex is also the site of a cultural museum and comprises a medley of art galleries, library and halls for seminars and conferences.

Its “blue mosque” nickname came about due to its striking and massive blue dome that reaches a height of 107 metres and measures over 51 metres in diameter. This dome is erected from aluminium tubes that utilise a triangular module space-frame due to its lightweight characteristic, making the material ideal for the massive dome construction.

In terms of design, the verandah walls of the mosque are famed for its display of intricate Islamic patterns. Here, malleable cast aluminium was utilised to produce an artistic rendition that combines both Islamic and Malay traditions.

Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia

No other building defines Kuala Lumpur’s skyline more than the literally sky-scrapping Petronas Twin Towers. Recognised the world over as Malaysia’s architectural icon, the towers symbolise the pride of Malaysians due to their sheer magnificence. With twin spires that pierce the clouds, the Petronas Towers span 88 stories each and reach a height of more than 451 metres.

While largely constructed from reinforced concrete in order to reduce the cost of importing a massive amount of steel for the project, the towers’ façade nevertheless incorporated stainless steel extrusions, laminated glass as well as lightweight and durable aluminium cladding sheets in order to achieve the creative vision of the architect.

Envisioned as “a multi-faceted diamond sparkling in the sun”, the Petronas Towers evoke motifs of Islamic art, a reflection of Muslim Malaysia. Hence, one could notice that the plant of each tower was geometric in design and represents an eight-pointed star, bringing to mind Islamic symbolism.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Malaysia

One of the world’s top-ranked airports, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, affectionately known to travellers as KLIA, is the Malaysian capital’s main international gateway to the world. In its iconic design, famed architect Kisho Kurokawa fluidly merged traditional Malaysian aesthetics with both nature and technology.

Largely geometrical and grid-like in design, KLIA’s functional layout opens up to large swathes of spaces, punctuated by imposing pillar rising to the roof canopy akin to huge trees reaching for the skies. This design simulates a forest and gives the airport a sense of natural openness.

To this end, aluminum cladding sheets were moulded on the pillar structures because of their workability, rust-free and durable characteristics, making them suitable as cladding material for both indoor and outdoor pillars.


Over the decades, aluminium has quietly taken its place on the world architectural stage as one of the most versatile materials an architect can trust to bring their creative ideas from imagination to fruition. Explore this website to discover a modern material that’s lightweight, malleable and endlessly flexible in its diverse applications.

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