These are the world’s most beautiful buildings? Are you kidding?
A hundred years ago, naming the world’s most beautiful buildings was easy: the Parthenon. Sure. The Taj Mahal. Absolutely. Hagia Sophia. No argument. But now, in part because the whole notion was chewed up and spit out by those troublemaking Modernists, we’re just learning to think about architecture in terms of beauty again. It’s open season.
We readily admit our choices for the world’s most beautiful buildings are questionable. They include Gaudí’s controversial Sagrada Família cathedral (arguably a top sight) in Barcelona—a building that teeters on the boundary between love and hate. We see that edge as the exact place where beauty happens. Beautiful is not the same as pretty; it’s a strong word, suggesting big emotions.
Beauty also elicits reaction, like the goose bumps you get when you see another of the world’s most beautiful buildings: the tremendous curl of the Akron Boys and Girls Club II roof rising from its flat, dusty small town Alabama surroundings. Or the dumb “Wow!” you might utter when you first step into the soaring atrium lobby of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. The 60-story sail-shaped hotel is one of the most talked about properties on the planet because of its sheer size and unique architectural vision. It’s no surprise the hotel is a national icon, a source of local pride that also lures thousands of travelers to the Middle East’s most forward-looking city each year.
Yes, certain themes are evident in our choices of the world’s most beautiful buildings. We love buildings surrounded by water; the interaction between water and daylight is always magical. (Why do you think the Lincoln Memorial has a reflecting pool at its doorstep?) And we are head over heels for flamboyant uses of pattern and color. The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, for example, is positively psychedelic.
So are we consistent? Nope. But however capricious our choices may seem, we don’t take beauty lightly. After all, the ongoing search for beauty is what travel is all about. It’s certainly the best reason we know to leave the house.