10 Most Copied Architects

What counts as inspiration and what counts as plagiarism? And how do you clearly draw the line? The difference between enthusing over someone else's work and flat-out copying it can be a difficult one to rationalize and interpret. Flattery? OK, cool deal. Stealing? Get out!

But with architects in particular, this has been a major point of contention for centuries. Temperaments matter between the "glass half full" guys and the "glass half empty" guys. The style-assured and the paranoid. Maybe even the introvert versus the extrovert. Regardless, architects have -- throughout the ages -- borrowed and adapted one another's work. It's just sort of their thing.


So whether you consider them innovators, or victims of envious imitators, here are some of the most influential architects of all time.

10: Filippo Brunelleschi

To kick off the list, we're going to go back. Way back. Filippo Brunelleschi, born in Florence, Italy, in 1377, was one of the early masters of modern architecture. His innovative work would have an enormous impact on many of the great Renaissance men to follow, as Brunelleschi's real brilliance lay in his engineering. When the Florence Cathedral was in need of a new dome, Brunelleschi was confident he could accomplish something that had never been done in modern times: Erect a completely self-supporting dome.

He was hampered by two seemingly minor (to us, anyway) complications. First, the recipe for mixing concrete had gotten misplaced during the whole Falling of Rome fiasco. And second, there was the decided lack of giant forests in the area, from which vast amounts of scaffolding could be made. So not only was Brunelleschi trying the unthinkable, he didn't even have the two main raw materials that would have made the entire thing seem remotely doable.


Nonetheless, a mere 4 million bricks and 16 years later, the Florence Cathedral had a dome, one so awesome for the era that the pope[ himself came to consecrate it on Easter Sunday in 1436 and it's still a architectural landmark to this day [source: PBS].

9: Michelangelo Buonarroti

St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican

Next up: none other than Mr. Michelangelo Buonarroti, born in 1475 and perhaps best known for his work as a painter and a sculptor. But in addition to decorating the Sistine Chapel and sculpting works like "David," Michelangelo did architectural work for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, as well as other projects such as the Laurentian Library and the Medici Chapel.

His designs helped usher in the age of Mannerist architecture, while adding flourishes that would later influence the artists and architects of the Baroque period. Many post-Renaissance architects -- some even students and assistants of Michelangelo -- would find inspiration in his work, which was never constrained by the stringent doctrines of classical design.


8: Louis Sullivan

A Louis Sullivan creation, circa 1887
Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty

Next on the docket: Louis Sullivan, sometimes heralded as the Father of the Skyscraper. Sullivan could almost make this list based on who worked for him: He had at least one very famous architect serve as his chief draftsman for many years, an architect we'll encounter later on in this list. But Sullivan's impact went far beyond this one pupil.

Born in 1856, Sullivan worked with a variety of architectural firms, and as his career progressed, the buildings designed by those firms became increasingly lofty. A true believer (and by many accounts the originator) of the now common axiom "form follows function," Sullivan had no problem helping envision, design and build many a structure that soared above those of his contemporaries. Once the functional aspect was taken care of, Sullivan also had no qualms about adding rich ornamentation to the interiors and exteriors of he and his partners' unique projects.


As many an architect hesitated to transition to modern developments like steel structures and electrical lighting, Sullivan and his compatriots helped blaze the trail, while still respecting the tried-and-true properties of the commonly used materials of the day. On the next page, someone who followed in his footsteps, and pushed the boundaries even further ...

7: Le Corbusier

If Sullivan was sometimes dubbed the Father of Modern Skyscrapers, Le Corbusier could be considered the Father of Urban High-rises. He designed and philosophized about public housing projects that featured elements often prominent in high-volume living to this day. Among them, loft-style rooms free of partitions or ornamentation and large banks of windows for increased illumination. Reinforced concrete also figured prominently in his design plans.

Born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret in 1887, Le Corbusier didn't dwell on living spaces from the sentimental perspective of "home is where the heart is." Instead, he saw them in the functional sense: as places whose sole purpose was to expedite an orderly and almost mechanical lifestyle. This philosophy of efficiency would be hugely influential on architectural styles to follow. Le Corbusier also helped develop the mass-produced prefab model, in part to accelerate residential building following World War I and to improve standards of living for those of more modest incomes.


6: Joseph Eichler

Joseph Eichler, born in 1900, wasn't technically an architect, but he had a massive influence on mid-20th century suburban development. During his heyday, his real estate development firm built more than 11,000 homes designed on the principles of modernist architecture, mostly in northern California. His work in the field of modernist architecture helped propel it to the forefront of the design world, and while some of the features prevalent in his homes aren't standard now, like floor-to-ceiling windows and an exposed post and beam design, some of his concepts did stick in a major way -- like open floor plans and the necessity of a master bath, a fixture in most homes of today.

The idea was to bring fancy-looking homes -- with stylish and luxurious features -- to the masses. (And Eichler really meant masses -- he'd sell his homes to buyers often discriminated against for their race or religion.) Nowadays, buying an Eichler is out of reach for the original target demographic, however. Some now sell for -- wait for it -- $2 million and more [source: Rafkin]. And they're as trendy looking now as they were when he built them. Jealous!


5: Philip Johnson

The Transo Tower in Houston, later renamed the Williams Tower, is a Philip Johnson design.
Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty

Philip Johnson, a Harvard graduate born in 1906, helped bring Le Corbusier's high-rise, concrete-heavy style over to America. Whether it be steel monoliths or glass megaliths, the International Style arrived in North America in a big way, in large part thanks to Johnson.

A big portion of Johnson's success and influence, however, also lay in his eventual return to more traditional architectural motifs. It had become somewhat of an anathema for architects to adhere to the tried-and-true classics of design, but he helped pave the path back to traditional looks with projects like the AT&T corporate headquarters in New York City. That building embraced both function and fanciness, the latter an aspect that had been ignored -- or at least overshadowed -- for quite some time.


4: Ieoh Ming Pei

The Louvre
Calude Paris/AP Images

Ieoh Ming Pei, more commonly known as I.M. Pei, was born in 1917. Shortly after finishing his schooling, Pei was thrust into the spotlight with large-scale projects. Soon, he was receiving international acclaim and his firm became one of the most renowned in the world. Pei was also known for working out difficulties with tricky projects when other architects' relationships with their clients likely would have led to a project collapse. (Pun intended. These were architectural projects, after all.)

It's a tad irreverent perhaps, but many more pedestrian architectural fans will likely be familiar with the Louvre pyramids of "The Da Vinci Code" fame. That's I.M. Pei. In fact, many modern museum designs have been awarded to his firm over the decades. After years of prolific designs and developments on loads of prominent, large-scale projects, many in America, Pei began to focus on China and other East Asian countries. The shift in location also affected his style: When he returned to China to work, Pei carefully toed the line between tradition and modernity -- something the Chinese take very seriously.


3: Renzo Piano

The new California Academy of Sciences building, another Renzo Piano work

With a name almost as delightful as his architectural projects, Renzo Piano, born in 1937, has designed and constructed many important commissions over the years -- enough to get loads of other architects all worked up with envy. He got his major first gold star in the world of architecture for his work on the George Pompidou Centre in Paris. A melding of technological imagery, artistic flair and unique form, the Centre instantly became wildly popular -- both among visitors and other architects.

Piano's buildings aren't all harsh edges and edgy harshness. Rather, his style is often flowing and tranquil, delicate and airy. His attention to details -- lighting in particular -- has been admired and imitated by many. And perhaps most notably, he brings that soaring style and detail obsession to all types of projects, whether it's a museum, music park, airport or even a bridge.


2: Frank Gehry

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, illuminated at dusk
Murat Taner/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Frank Gehry, born in 1929 and still operating primarily out of Los Angeles, has been heralded for experimenting with different materials and helping pioneer the incorporation of unique substances and textures into iconic modern masterpieces. Gehry often uses corrugated metal, concrete, chain link fencing, titanium, glass and plywood in projects. His buildings feature sharp angles, sweeping facades and dramatic spaces filled with oversized and sensational elements. It just takes a quick survey of contemporary projects to see Gehry's influence on other architects.

Among Gehry's most influential buildings are the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He was also responsible for the California Aerospace Museum, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park and the Grand Avenue Project in Los Angeles, among many others.


Perhaps, though, Gehry's most-imitated attribute (or most coveted) is the sort of celebrity recognition he's achieved. Vanity Fair, for example, surveyed 52 architectural experts in 2005 to determine the most significant structures built in the preceding 25 years. An astonishing 28 nominated the Guggenheim Museum for the top spot [source: Vanity Fair].

1: Frank Lloyd Wright

One of Wright's most famous works, Fallingwater
Archive Photos/Getty Images

At long last, we reach the architect so hugely influenced by the work of Louis Sullivan, the man who worked for more than six years as his chief draftsman. Were you starting to wonder if we'd managed to leave Frank Lloyd Wright off the list? Never fear, he's in the top spot of honor. Wright's projects, such as Fallingwater, the Robie House and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to name a few, were characterized by organic lines and open, flowing spaces. Many of his fellow architects would seek to imitate Wright's nature-inspired elegance and iconic cantilevers.

Born in 1867, Wright's work alone would have had a major affect on the architectural world, but his biggest impact likely comes from having founded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. Over the years, the fellowship, which was run from Wright's summer home Taliesin in Wisconsin and his winter home Taliesin West in Arizona, has trained an army of promising new architects through an apprenticeship-style program. Among them were William Wesley Peters, Henry Klumb, Edgar Tafel and Jack Howe. Now known more officially as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Taliesin is still a thriving institution dedicated to preparing potential architects in the ways of the trade.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Most Copied Architects

I loved writing this article because I got to see photos of so many amazing works of architecture. It was also fun because the timeframe was so expansive. It's not often I get to write an article that encompasses centuries worth of interesting and expressive celebrities.

It was also cool that I got to revisit the article "How Frank Lloyd Wright Worked" in the process, which could easily make the list "Top 10 Articles I've Enjoyed Writing for the Site" if I were ever asked to compose such a thing. Wright, like many of the architects on this list, led a rich and fascinating life that was fun for me to explore in depth.

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