From Florence’s Renaissance movement to Dubai’s stunning contemporary skyscrapers, the architectural makeup of a city is often its most defining features.
Throughout human history, architecture has come to represent human interaction as something that links individuals to society, and societies to the world. At its core, architecture seeks to evoke raw human emotion and feeling, achieved through engineering breakthroughs and feats of the time period. When it comes to travel, there are few distinctive elements that better channel the connection we have to a particular place than its architecture. Whether it’s Athens’ Parthenon, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa or Barcelona’s Park Güell, the visual monuments of a city often transport you through time, giving adventurers a glimpse into its history, culture and locals.
Athens, Greece: Classical
No city can give you a greater appreciation for the infant stages of architecture and early civilization in general than Athens. The birthplace of democracy itself remains home to some of the world’s most enduring cultural monuments and archaeological ruins like the Acropolis and Greek Parliament, while preserved temples and theatres that date back to 400 BC make for an unparalleled glimpse into an ancient civilization. At the core of the Ancient Greeks philosophy lies rationalism, order and logic, which they implemented using advanced mathematics, geometrics and optical illusions. Witnessing the harmony and simplicity of Athens’ architecture up close will almost certainly bring new appreciation for the truly remarkable feats given the time period.
Must-See: The Parthenon, Greek Parliament, Temple of Hephaestus, Theatre of Dionysus
Miami, USA: Art Deco
In an effort throughout the 1920s and 1930s to transform Miami into an ultramodern luxury tourism destination, the city turned to Deco’s symmetrical patterning, pastel colours, and floral and animal motifs. After nearly being knocked down by condo developers in the 1970s, the iconic South Beach skyline was just barely saved by a group of activists who went on to found the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). Today Miami remains to have the highest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, with many hotels and nightclubs maintaining their original facade and preserving the beloved style to this day.
Must-See: The Webster, The Carlyle, Versace Mansion, The Breakwater, Colony Theatre
Dubai, UAE: Contemporary
Dubai is home to some of the most groundbreaking architectural achievements and daring engineering feats to date. After a massive influx of money, the world has watched in awe of what Dubai has managed to achieve in such a short period of time, from spectacular man-made islands to the most innovative technological infrastructure. Today the desert city is home to architectural marvels such as the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which stands at 830m tall, the famous sail-shaped Burj al Arab and defiance of physics that is the Cayan Tower.
Must-See: Dubai Marina, Burj al Arab, Mall of the Emirates, National Bank of Dubai, Cayan Tower
Florence, Italy: Renaissance
Art in the early 15th century was known as a “rebirth” of Classical Era design principles and philosophical ideals that began in Florence and spread throughout Europe. Truly a city of the past, Florence showcases the harmonious angles and perfect mathematical approach to Renaissance architecture. The embellished columns and domes, and emphasis on realism and the human form will explain how artists like Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Raphael collectively advanced the artist’s social status from “skilled labourers” to “creative geniuses.”
Must-See: Florence Duomo, Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti
Brasília, Brazil: Futurism
Typical of the limitless dreams that have come to define the 1950s, Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek set forth a plan to create a brand new capital city in the barren centre of the country. He went on to famously boast that Brasília was going to achieve fifty years of progress in just five. With a 60,000 strong workforce, split into three shifts that spanned 24 hours per day, Brasília undertook the ambitious construction project and embraced super modern ideals defined by dramatic lines, sharp contrasts and the use of materials like concrete and glass.
Must See: Ibirapuera Park, Cathedral of Brasilia, National Museum, Palacio Itamaraty, Palacio da Alvorada, Sanctuary of Dom Bosco, Templo da Boa Vontade
Istanbul, Turkey: Byzantine & Ottoman
Straddling both continents of Europe and Asia, Istanbul is historically known as the meeting point civilizations. Once known as Byzantium, then Constantinople and considered capital of the mighty Roman Empire at its height, Istanbul has always been a major hub of conquest and commerce. The three consecutive lavish empires that it graced has given the modern landscape an unmatched cultural legacy, with a truly diverse population and dynamic culture that is apparent in its architecture.
Must-See: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Square, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern
Barcelona, Spain: Catalan Modernism
With a distinctive style that remains a major source of pride for Catalans, Barcelona’s unmistakable architecture strikes a playful mix between modern Gothic and creative decorative techniques. The colourful, imaginative yet brash style brought by Antoni Gaudí in the 19th century is apparent in the stained-glass mosaics, ceramics and extravagant shapes and curves. The urban spaces throughout Barcelona have a certain playful energy and organic feel to them.
Must See: La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Vicens, La Pedrera, Colonia Güell, Casa Batlló
Chandigarh, India: Mid-Century Modernism
Following the partition of India in 1947, a master plan was set forth to create the city of Chandigarh. In order to create the dream city that many including India’s first Prime Minister Sh. Jawahar Lal Nehru, had hoped, a number of international architects were brought on, most famously Le Corbusier, who worked on the master plan and capital buildings from 1951 until his death in 1965. Sitting at the picturesque foothills of Shivaliks, the mission of Chandigarh was to create a progressive and organized city that would break away from past traditions altogether. One of the greatest architectural experiments in recent history, the urban planning and modern techniques, the “Garden City” opted for no vertical or high-rise buildings and took into consideration the socio-economic conditions and living habits of the people.
Must-See: Punjab and Haryana High Court, Palace of Assembly, Tower of Shadows, Capitol Complex
Budapest, Hungary: Art Nouveau
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes an Art Nouveau building, but Budapest’s architecture remains marked for its flourishing colours, imaginative forms, curved shapes and use of iron and glass. A vibrant visual record of the ornate style, Budapest’s architecture and decoration was an important part of shaping the nation’s cultural identity at the beginning of the 20th century.
Must-See: Gellért Hotel and Spa, Gresham Palace, Museum of Applied Arts, Parisiana Club
Tel Aviv, Israel: Bauhaus
Established as a garden city on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean in 1909, Tel Aviv’s “White City” boasts 4,000 International Style buildings. Mostly built throughout the 1930s and 1940s to accommodate a massive influx of Jewish refugees, it was German Bauhaus architects that integrated the affordable and functional building style. The curved edges and colour palette blend nicely for the local culture and Mediterranean climate and make for an interesting stroll.
Must-See: Pagoda House, Dizengoff Square, Bruno House, 61 Rothschild Boulevard, Dr Leon Pines House
Words by Braeden Alexander.