Friday, March 25, 2011

World's Most Beautiful Architecture (Part 1)

1. Guggenheim Museum.
The Lonely Planet web site has identified its top ten "most beautiful buildings."  (Link above.) The article starts with a reasonable disclaimer. "...this isn't a top 10 list. There are just too many styles of buildings, each worthy of a top 50: sacred buildings, homes, skyscrapers, theaters..." Fair enough. However, without criticizing the choices, it is hard to resist commenting on them. In the same order cited by Lonely Planet:

2. Guggenheim interior.
Frank Gehry's Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain

This is one of the most popular modern buildings in the world. It revitalized interest in architecture and set off a worldwide building boom in museums by Gehry and other star architects. Gehry's work is definitely dramatic, with cockeyed geometry and unexpected twists. His computer-generated forms inevitably produce original spaces but, somehow, they always seem contrived and willful.  This building gets an A+ for orginality and a D- for coherency.

3. Potala Palace, former seat of the Dalai Lama.
Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet.

This is an interesting choice. Exotic and evocative, this palace and seat of government is a sad reminder of the Chinese onslaught against Tibetan culture. The Chinese army has replaced the Dalai Lama. Military tanks dominate the courtyards where religious ceremonies took place. As architecture this immense building is an abstract extension of the hill upon which it sits. It is organic and mystical despite the recent history that defiles it.

4. Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Biblioteheca Alexandrina, Egypt. 

An architectural homage to the original Alexandrina library, this saucer-shaped building has flown in under my radar. I don't have much to say about it, but it looks like a worthy site for architectural junkies. The "vast rotunda space can hold eight million books" according to Lonely Planet. It does not say how many it actually holds. The original Alexandria library was burned to the ground in 48 B.C. by Julius Ceasar. It was one of the greatest institutions of the ancient world.

5. Interior of Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
6. Sagrada Familia with construction cranes.
This is Antonio Gaudi's masterpiece: a grand exuberance of stone. The (still unfinished) interior is a procession of angled columns and knobby connections that look like trees and branches under the influence of extreme weight. That is not far from the truth. Unlike Gehry's unusual forms being completely arbitrary, the strange angles at Sagrada Familia are a direct response to the structural forces playing on them. Think of Sagrada Familia as a three dimensional diagram of the mathematics behind the engineering. Viewed this way, the building is not art nouveau (as it is usually classified) but the last logical extension of Gothic architecture. A completely original work of art, Sagrada Familia belongs on this list of beautiful buildings.

Taj Mahal

7. Taj Mahal at dawn.
It is the sublime proportions, the spacious setting, and its ethereal whiteness (the marble cosntruction is luminescent) that make this builidng beautiful.  It is impossible to criticize a builidng that people stare at like a teenage boy in love with a beautiful girl.  Rising out of (polluted) mists the Taj Mahal seems like a mirage. Add the back story of its purpose (a monument to love lost) and this building becomes irresistable.

Photo credits:

1. Rob Munger
2. Rob Munger
3. Ondrej Zvarcek
4. Barcex
5. Charles Curling
6. Rob Munger
7.Dan Searle


  1. My big goof: The pictures at the top of this entry, identified as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, are actually of the Disney concert hall in Los Angeles. Both projects are by Gehry and have marked similarities. I guess this underscores one of the issues I have with Gehry. He has developed a one-hit stylistic schtick and just won't let go of it. Thanks to Bill McD for alerting me to the mistake by private email.

  2. Most of the houses of the richest people in the world were based on such unique building architectures. They have all the money to make their houses different and exemplary. Today, everything seems to be changing and evolving! Even interior designs, architecture and arts are developing. I think people will have more clever ideas regarding those in the near future.