“What’s your favorite building?”

Architects are asked this a lot. Probably only second to who our favorite architect is (besides ourselves, of course). I never had a good answer for this. How do you decide? By era? By style? Maybe we haven’t seen our favorite building yet.

However, no one stops to ask which building we like the least. Which one we look at and just scratch our heads over. Which one makes us question architecture as a profession. Which building do we just detest. I never gave this much thought until I came across a CNN article in June talking about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Montparnasse Tower in Paris.

Montparnasse Tower is currently the only skyscraper in the city, although the second is expected to be completed in 2026. The tower went up in 1973, and Parisians decided that was enough. And in the 50 years of its existence, apparently no one in Paris has warmed to the building. According to a quote in the article, the best view of Paris is from the observation deck at the top. Not because you have a commanding view of the city, but because it’s the only view where you don’t see the tower.

All which made me start to think – is there a building I just don’t like? Is there a place that makes me cringe every time I see it?

Turns out there isn’t. However, like most architects, there are a couple of buildings I just don’t like, and oddly, both sports stadiums.

Look at American Airlines Center just outside of downtown Dallas, and you’ll notice a building that looks very out of place. As in it belongs in downtown Ft. Worth. And for too long, the arena was the only building in the area, which made its awkwardness stand out even more. The promised development from when the new arena was pitched to voters has finally come about but looks nothing like the arena. So we now have a little bit (or a lot considering the size) of Cowtown in our front yard.

Or you can drive a short distance away to visit Globe Life Field in Arlington, home to the Texas Rangers. Also home to the world’s largest airplane hanger/barbecue grill/sardine tin, depending on which meme you come across. Surrounding it with vast amounts of parking didn’t help any as you can’t possibly miss the structure.

But am I the only architect that feels this way about some buildings? I reached out to a few friends to see about their least favorites, and as it turns out, no.

A friend in Atlanta almost got whiplash while visiting a friend in Charlotte, NC. An experience one might have when noticing a 310-foot-tall pink building out of the corner of your eye. And yes, you read that correctly. The Arlington is a mixed-use high rise with pink glass, although technically the color is called Desert Rose. Over time, though, she’s developed a love-hate relationship with The Arlington, if for no other reason than how gaudy the color is.

Then there was the response I received when I asked a friend in Austin. “Does it have to be in Texas?” When I said no, he directed me to an office building in Omaha, Nebraska that in his mind looks like a block of Swiss cheese. The architect selected two different tones for the metal panels that cover the exterior and arranged them in what looks like a random pattern. If you stand back far enough, Swiss cheese is what you get. Perfect if you’re a mouse, but less so if you’re an architect.

But what about building types versus something specific? My podcast partner and friend Matthew opted for what he calls “Revit” buildings. Driving down the freeways in Dallas, he can usually pick out the ones where the building wasn’t so much designed as put together on the computer. The architect found a block he liked and simply stacked it one on the other until he had a building. Which he doesn’t hate but is disappointed in.

A position I think most architects find themselves in. We don’t necessarily hate buildings. However, when you look at one and realize the missed potential, you can’t help but feel let down. The owners of American Airlines Center were presented with many opportunities that felt appropriate for Dallas but somehow, those ideas never made the cut. And Globe Life Field feels like the designers were too caught up in the engineering required to slide the roof open to step back and address the overall aesthetic. 

I would like to think people in Paris feel the same way about the Montparnasse Tower. They don’t hate it. Just disappointed enough that it took 50 years before anyone would allow construction of another tower. I just hope when that one is complete, Parisians will enjoy it more. Because standing on the observation deck of either won’t give them respite from looking at a building they hate.