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12 Times When Architects Defied Gravity with Incredible Cantilevers

by Rick Anderson

Just like any artist, architects have the opportunity to shock, provoke, and entertain with designs that upend ideas of what a building should be. This includes more straightforward understandings of physics and engineering, which can result in cantilevered structures that seem impossible to build, let alone remain standing. But with a bold idea and modern technology to support it, a precarious-looking overhang is not only structurally sound but also a defining feature that can turn an otherwise conventional building into a global conversation piece. Some of the most prominent architects have provided examples of just that, like Rem Koolhaas with the Seattle Central Library, Zaha Hadid with the MAXXI museum, and Jean Nouvel with the Guthrie Theater. Each of these buildings, and others around the world, go out on a limb to demonstrate the gravity-defying effect of a well-placed extension.


Known as Torre Mare Nostrum, this office building in Barcelona features a horizontal block that juts out from the main structure at a seemingly precarious length. This physics-defying building, the work of architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, was completed in 2008.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

A feat of engineering, this Abu Dhabi tower known as Capital Gate bows outward at an 18-degree angle thanks to an anchored core of concrete and steel. Completed in 2011 by architectural firm RMJM, the structure was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the farthest-leaning man-made tower.


Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus, the Seattle Central Library opened in 2004 with a geometric arrangement, including an overhang that appears to be connected only to the very top edge of the building. With the help of expert engineering, this clever design is the result of the architects’ plan to let the building’s interior floorplan inform the exterior shape.

Rotterdam, Netherlands

With the appearance of stacked blocks, the De Rotterdam building in its namesake city includes a top tier of towers that sit off-center from those below, creating floors that appear to be unsupported. Completed by OMA in 2013, the unconventional design increases the structure’s wind stability.

Manchester, England

Beetham Tower, with a top half that appears to be too large for its skinnier bottom half to hold, was completed in 2006 by architect Ian Simpson. The top-heavy structure is meant to symbolize the renewed strength of the city following economic hardship and a bombing in 1996.


OMA’s Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren designed the CCTV headquarters in Beijing with two towers that lean in toward each other, connected by a cornerpiece overhang. Finished in 2012, the seemingly unbalanced building was a structural challenge, especially considering it’s built in an area known for seismic activity.


Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum in Rome features a gallery that stretches out over the roofline of the main entrance. This protruding design, a prominent feature of the 2010 building, include a wall of windows for panoramic views.


Known as the Endless Bridge, this daring architectural feature projects outward from the main building of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, providing views of the Mississippi River. Designed by Jean Nouvel, the performance venue was opened to the public in 2006.


Steven Holl’s residential and commercial complex Linked Hybrid, so named for its snakelike skybridges, features a modular design that includes boxy protrusions from its uppermost floors. Completed in 2009, the Beijing structure includes bright pops of color, like an orange underside of a cantilevered portion.


A landmark structure of Norway’s capital city, the Holmenkollbakken is a ski jump the stretches up to 197 feet at its highest point. Finished in 2010, the Julien De Smedt–designed structure is a modern, cantilevered update on the hill that has been in that same spot—and rebuilt 19 times—since 1879.

Bergamo, Italy

Though it’s known for its bright red main structure, the Kilometro Rosso Science and Technology park includes this glazed section with a top floor that extends far beyond the floor below, without any support directly underneath. Designed by Jean Nouvel and completed in 2007, this Italian building is home to the automotive company Brembo.

Suffolk, U.K.

Named for its cantilevered design that looks as if it’s delicately balanced on the edge of a hill, The Balancing Barn is a steel-clad rental house by Dutch firm MVRDV. Opened in 2010, the Suffolk, U.K., structure features a seemingly daring swing at its outermost edge.

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