Thursday, March 31, 2011

World's Most Beautiful Architecture (Part 2)

The previous post listed five of ten Lonely Planet's "world's most beautiful buildings."  Here we continue with comments on the final five of Lonely Planet's selections.

Imam Mosque, Iran

2. Blue Mosque.
1. Iman Mosque.
I've never been to Iran (yet). So, I can't speak with firsthand knowledge about the architectural qualities of the Imam mosque. From pictures, the pale blue mosaics of the interior remind me of many mosques I have seen. In particular: the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. In both cases light is refracted and becomes mystical in its effects.

Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Also on my "to do" list. Much documented in pictures and tales of palace intrigue, there are many layers of interest here.
3. Hermitage

Crac des Chevaliers, Syria

Why would Lawrence call this the "finest castle in the world"?  My vote goes to the fortress city of Carcasonne. Crac des Chevaliers is a lonely little castle. Carcassone is a vast medieval compound. The later was spectacularly restored by Violette-le-Duc in 1853 and stands largely intact to this day.

4. Crac de Chevaliers.
5. Carcasonne.
Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil
6. Museu Oscar Niemeyer.

Any building by architect Oscar Niemeyer is worth studying. His best-known works are for the capitol city Brasilia where (like Walter Burley Griffin in Canberra) he created an "ideal" city out of nothing. Niemeyer's contribution to twentieth (and twenty first) -century architecture is his skill in combining mid-century modern aesthetics with the sensuous forms of Brazil. His buildings look as if the undulating sidewalks at Copacabana coalesced into three-dimensional structures.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

This vast enclosure is always near the top of my list of great buildings. (See March 4, 2010 blog entry.) There are other great mosques, like the Blue mosque and the Imam mosque, but Hagia Sophia was the first of the greatest. Intended as the center of Christendom when built by Justinian in 360 A.D. it became a prototype for hundreds of mosques and is now a museum. Keep in mind that for a millennium it was the largest enclosure in the world.
7. Hagia Sophia.

Photo credits:

1. Nick Taylor
2. Classical geographer
3. Robert Broadie
4. Xviun
5. Jean-Pierre Lavoie
6. dani.sonksen
7. Philz

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