4 Cities I’d Visit Mainly For The Architecture

The thought of lugging myself on a purpose planned architectural tour makes me feel a bit queasy, uneasy and a bit….bleurgh. It just doesn’t feel natural to me. 

Each time we return from an adventure, folks tend to ask us if we saw this or that prominent architectural attraction, and more often than not, we don’t even know what they are talking about. Sure, some people think we are missing out – of course, we don’t agree.Otherwise we would never discover the marvels that have touched our travel memories so profoundly.  Remember when we hung out in this incredible car park? Or saw the abandoned human zoo rotting away in a Parisian park? Or closer to home, how about all our tower block adventures in London? All these places are rarely mentioned in travel guides yet are so much more interesting to us than the places that are.

But there are exceptions, even for us! And there are a fistful of places that I would LOVE to visit just so we can take in their incredible architecture. That said, in the way we view the world; no architecture can be appreciated fully without seeing the structures in context with their location and human stories.

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I have tonnes of respect for Oscar Niemeyer. I think he was ah-may-zing both for his work ethic and of course his architectural style and vision. His career spanned a staggering 78 years. 78!! Years!!! Anyway I won’t get into his story just yet. Let’s stick to his mind-blowing work in Brasilia. The buildings on my hit-list would include: The Cathedral of Brasilia, The National Congress of Brazil, The Complexo Cultural da Republica and The Palacio do Planalto. Brasilia is a city planned and built from scratch on an empty plain in the heart of the country. With Niemeyer as the primary architect and Lucio Costa as the urban planner, a visually striking, optimistic modernist city was born. I am certain that it is largely due to Niemeiyer’s buildings that Brasilia was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987.

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Niemeyer, like droves of other architects, was influenced in one way or another by Le Corbusier, and so we come to a Marseilles. The city that holds a Le Corbusier work that tower block obsessives like I all want to see in the flesh.  Unité d’Habitation. Often cited as one of the initial inspirations of the Brutalist movement, it is first and foremost beautiful in my eyes. Seeing it in person would be an extraordinary experience for us I am sure.

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Why Le Corbusier’s attempt at materplanning is located in the unlikely city of Chandigarh still baffles us. I am sure that his ego had much to do with it, for it is astonishingly out of context and at odds with its location on so many levels. All this adds to the fascination that I have with the city and I long to visit and walk along the shadows of the High Court, the assembly and the Secretariat. As for the Tower of Shadows, I maybe I’d camp out there for a whole day – just to see how sunlight and moonlight move within it.

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I don’t think I personally gave a hoot about architecture till Hiro told me Tadao Ando’s story. I was just fascinated by the tale of the man who was once a truck driver and a boxer before he acquired a book on architecture by Le Corbusier and BOOOOOOM. I love so many of his buildings. The way he works with concrete and makes something so cold and unforgiving seem sensuous and tactile is of course incredible but it is how he plays with light within his buildings that really moves me. It is no wonder then, that Naoshima in Japan is on this list. Designed largely by Ando, Naoshima is mostly known for its concentration of art galleries and museums.

If someone offered me a ticket to one of these places leaving tomorrow, I would pick Chandigarh. Or maybe Brasilia. No, definitely Chandigarh 🙂

| Links for the curious |

BBC discuss is Niemeyer’s Brasilia works as a city with  Lord Foster, Lucy Jordan and Professor Ricky Burdett 

Naoshima Benesse Art Site Website

FT film showing footage of a visit to Chandigarh 50 years after the architect’s death.