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Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Ten Most Beautiful Buildings in the World

As much as I love "top ten" lists, and enjoy creating them; I realize that virtually no one is likely to totally agree with my choices, nor the order in which I have listed them. My choices are unavoidably subjective to some degree, but I like to think they are also both knowledgeable and reflective of at least a modicum of good taste. In listing the ten most beautiful buildings in the world, I have screened out those structures which, though once quite beautiful (such as the Parthenon in Athens), but which now lie in ruins. I've also not considered architectural/engineering structures, build entirely for show (such as the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, or St. Louis' Gateway Arch. Beyond that, I've also not considered buildings that, while they may be architecturally daring, perhaps even pointing the way toward the future in architecture, are at this point problematical, and in some cases even downright ugly (here I'm not going to cite examples). The buildings I've selected, without exception, serve a purpose. They were built to house human activities. Only two are more than a hundred years old. If that shows a bias for the contemporary over the classical, then so be it. The same applies to the fact that two of my choices are works by the same architect. I've already written about several of the buildings listed so I've created links to them so as not to be redundant. I'm hoping some of my choices may be surprising, thus bringing to light some very beautiful creations which thus far may have slipped beneath the architectural radar (so to speak). By the same token, I've no doubt left out some excellent possibilities with which the reader may take issue. If so, by all means make your feelings known in the comments section at the bottom.
10. The "Gherkin" Building, London
This one was a difficult choice. There are people, especially in London, who love it and an equal number who hate it (as indicated by it's nickname). Officially it's called 30 St. Mary's Axe. Completed in 2003, the gracefully curved structure rises some forty-one stories, or 591 feet (180 meters) above the street level. The architects were Norman Foster and the Arup Group. The top level contains a bar open only to those using the building and their guests (above, left) while a restaurant occupies the 40th floor just below. Incidentally, despite appearances, the only piece of curved glass in the entire building is the oculus seen capping the dome's pinnacle. The highly energy- efficient "Gherkin" is currently occupied by the Swiss Re, a global reinsurance company, who commissioned the structure.

9. The United Nations Building, New York, NY.
In a city filled with iconic, often exquisitely beautiful architecture, the United Nations Building on the banks of New York City's East River, built during the early 1950s, has stood the test of time by several definitions of that phrase, not the least of which would be architecturally. Designed by an international team headed by American architect, Wallace K. Harrison, French architect, Le Corbusier, and Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the complex is the ultimate in "form follows function" design without resorting to bland, cost-efficient, "glass-boxiness" despite its monolithic secretariat building. One of the criteria I've used in selecting buildings for this list is whether the structure looks good from all angles and whether it is as attractive inside as it is outside. The UN Building manages both in is striking simplicity and noble form.

8. Colonial Architect James Hoban's near perfect classical proportions have withstood fire, numerous remodeling, rebuilding, and additions, not to mention the ravages of time from the 1790s until today, with remarkable grace becoming more beautiful with every passing century.
Some buildings are considered great or beautiful because of the remarkable genius of their architects combined with the patient acquiescence of their owners. Others have become symbols of governmental, religious, or financial power, which color our feelings as to their physical presence. With no building is this more the case than the White House, the home/office of the President of the United States of America. Ever since our first president chose the site along the wooded banks of Tiber Creek in 1790, chose the architect, and then, in the role of "owner," heavily influenced and guided him (and the builders) in creating what we see today, virtually every temporary occupant (or his wife) of what may be the most beautiful public building in America, has left his mark on this American architectural icon. Tastes change, needs change, new technology supplants old, still classical beauty, in the protective embrace of men and women of refined tastes, not only survives, but thrives.

7. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, NY.
I've often criticized the Guggenheim Museum, not architecturally, but functionally. It's not that it doesn't serve its purpose. It does, extremely well, in fact. The problem is it's too beautiful for an art museum. I don't care what anyone says, no art museum should compete visually with the art it houses. But...having said that, as a work of art itself, the Guggenheim may well be the most beautiful museum in the world. It's final architectural masterpiece of Frank Lloyd Wright, whom I consider the greatest American architect of all time (which is only a little over two-hundred years, but who's counting). Completed in 1959 after his death, it contrasts sharply with every other museum in New York, both in style and its stunningly daring, swirling masses. Moreover the 1992 slab-like addition which myself and others have found rather jarring, in a more contemporary light serves as a visual backdrop, functional, relatively unobtrusive, and something of a guardian, blocking out the disturbing clutter of Manhattan "architecture." Its benign presence is welcomed simply because it is such a departure from the curvilinear lines of Wight's frontal showpiece. It's a museum wing that doesn't appear to be a wing.

6. It's only appropriate the one Wright masterpiece should only be surpassed in its beauty by an earlier one.
No house ever dominated its environment, yet looked as if it had "grown" from that environment like Wright's Fallingwater. Imagine a house, that doesn’t even appear to stand on solid ground, but instead stretches out, hovering weightlessly over a 30′ waterfall. Such a structure captured everyone's minds even in the darkest hours of the Great Depression, foretelling a future brighter than even the most optimistic could imagine. Designed as weekend retreat for Pittsburgh's Kaufmann family, and finished in 1934, it continues to appear futuristic even some eighty years later. Since 1963 it has been open to the public. You know you have a thing of great architectural beautiful when you can buy a Lego building kit allowing kids to re-create and appreciate their own Fallingwater.

5. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Some, myself included, have called the Taj Mahal most beautiful building in the world. In fact I headlined it in those terms when I wrote about it three years ago. Obviously, I've reconsidered that judgment in lieu of some more recent entries into this imaginary "contest," but that doesn't change the fact that this is the oldest dowager of architectural beauty on the list. Begun in 1632 and finished some twenty-two years later, if love was an architectural term, this temple/tomb would be its embodiment. I've traveled all over the world and seen many of the structures on this list. There's not much which would persuade me to travel to far-off India, but this ageless tribute to undying marital love is most tempting.

4. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
I would someday love to see the Sydney Opera House in person. The problem is, like the Taj Mahal, it's on the wrong side of the world, and my "somedays" are starting to shrink down to a dismal few (I'm really not all that fond of opera, anyway). Rising out of the Sydney Harbor, the Sydney Opera House is not only the center of the arts scene in Australia but also stands out as a must-see for anyone visiting the area. In the late 1940’s Eugene Goossens, the Director of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music lobbied for a new venue for large productions. In 1955 a design competition was held by NSW Premier Joseph Cahill, and by 1958 construction had begun. Completion wasn't until 1973 When the Queen of England cut the ribbon. The winning design features several concrete shells and houses a concert hall, the opera theater, the drama theater, a studio, the Utzon room (named for the Danish architect, John Utzon), a broad forecourt, as well as a recording studio, five restaurants, four souvenir shops, and a guided tour operation. Hey, tourist attractions can be beautiful too.

3.The Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India.
Lotus Temple can be found near New Delhi, India. As you may have guessed, the temple is built to resemble the lotus flower. It has twenty-seven "petals" created using white marble. It also has had over fifty-million visitors. Its twenty-seven, free-standing, marble-clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three, form nine sides of a structure some forty meters tall, and capable of holding 2,500 Bahá'í worshipers. Along with its nine surrounding ponds and the gardens, the Lotus Temple site comprises 26 acres in the village of Bahapur, a suburb of New Delhi. The architect was an Iranian, named Fariborz Sahba, who was approached in 1976 to design and oversea construction until completion in 1986.

2. Dupli Casa, J. H. Mayer H. Architects, Ludwigsburg, Germany
My dream home...or perhaps more accurately, my fantasy house; and to my way of thinking the most beautiful house in the world. As hard as it might be to believe, what you see above is a remodeling of a pre-existing, already heavily remodeled house dating from 1984. Completed as it now appears in 2008, the villa has three floors. On the top level, each bedroom protrudes, from the core of the house. On this floor the windows are angled to reveal specific views of the surrounding landscape and buildings – one being David Chipperfield’s Museum of Modern Literature just across the valley. There are both outdoor and indoor swimming pools. The building’s middle floor is treated as a public space, with a big atrium in the lobby and large panoramic windows creating a sense of spectacle in a very futuristic style. White and dark colors are used hand by hand in the interior. Inside or out, it's impossible to take a bad photo of the place.

1. Burj al Arab, Dubai, UAE
And finally, the moment you've all been waiting for, the most beautiful building in the world--the Burj Al Arab (Tower of the Arabs). This impressive thing of beauty is a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It claims to be the only seven-star hotel in the world. At 1,053 feet (280 meters) tall, it is only the fourth tallest hotel in the world. Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 920 feet from Jumeirah beach and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. The shape of the structure is designed to mimic the sail of a ship (right). Designed by the London architect, Tom Wright (no relation to Frank Lloyd Wright), only superlatives are permitted by the Arabs in describing it. The lobby is the tallest in the world at 590 feet in height. Despite its size, Burj Al Arab holds only 28 double-story floors which accommodate 202 bedroom suites. The smallest suite occupies an area of 1,820 sq. ft. The largest suite covers 8,400 sq. ft. The Royal Suite, is billed at $18,716 per night.

--Incidentally, I considered including Barcelona's La Familia Sagrada on the list but didn't inasmuch as it's still under construction and will be for the foreseeable future. I also considered St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Oscar Niemeyer's National Congress Building in Brasilia, the old TWA terminal at JFK, and Bob Hope's former home in Palm Springs; but eliminated each on for a variety of reasons.


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