In Style + Design

World’s Most Fascinating Cities For Architecture Fanatics

While calling a city beautiful is subjective, most people can agree that one with remarkable architecture and great design is a feast for the mind. Between the bold buildings, unique colour palettes and striking interiors, there will always be a new style to study or a new detail to detect. And while there are certainly more than a few cities around the world that live up to those expectations, we’ve handpicked some of the best.

Tulum, Mexico

The town with the newest architecture on this list, Tulum, Mexico showcases sustainability at its finest. Resorts, restaurants and even private homes in the Mayan port city-turned-tourist hotspot are built to create the least damage to the environment as possible and to blend as seamlessly as they can with their surroundings.

Two such structures that do this best is luxury, eco-resort Azulik and its neighbouring art gallery IK Lab. Both designed to respect nature and built using bejuco wood and other materials collected from the area, the buildings’ intertwining with the dense jungle is a surreal sight to see.

For the design lovers, a visit to Casa Malca is a must. More like a family mansion or contemporary art gallery than a boutique resort, the ocean-front property features eclectic sculptures (including a rusted electric chair), framed photography and artisan-crafted furniture. Not far from it, restaurant and mezcal bar Gitano, with its beautiful interiors inspired by the Yucatan Peninsula’s colonial architecture, is also worth a look.

Vienna, Austria

Though European cities are filled with juxtapositions between old and new, the contrast is particularly noticeable in Austrian capital city Vienna. Here, sights like postmodernist, glass-and-steel building Haas Haus built opposite the eye-catching Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the norm.

The city also provides excellent examples of Baroque – the best example being Schonbrunn Palace. The former imperial summer residence, occupied most famously by the Hapsburg family, is a magnificent maze of ornate rooms. The Great Gallery, Mirrors Room and Hall of Ceremonies, all decorated with actual gold rather than just painted, are the most extraordinary.

Among the modern, Hundertwasser is a highlight. Designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the apartment block’s colourful, quirky façade of asymmetrical windows and randomly-placed balconies is often likened to the work of Antoni Gaudi.

San Francisco, California

Though the architecture in San Francisco varies as much as its landscape (read: a lot), generally-speaking, it’s a mix of Victorian and modern.

Aside from the Golden Gate Bridge and former prison Alcatraz Island, the most iconic sight in the city is the Painted Ladies. A row of Victorian and Edwardian houses, they’re a prime example of the city’s 1970s colourist movement, which saw artists experimenting with bright colours on home façades and resulted in the transformation of entire neighbourhoods.

Other buildings of note include Transamerica Pyramid, a Futurist skyscraper made of concrete, glass and steel, Xanadu Gallery, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed retail space and the Palace Hotel, once the largest luxury hotel in the world.

Lima, Peru

Struck by earthquakes again and again, Lima, Peru, the country’s capital and largest city on its Pacific Coast, has been forced to rebuild itself again and again. As a result of that however, it’s become one of the most contemporary cities in Latin America, and easily one of the most lauded too.

Its historic city centre Plaza San Martin, all colourful, colonial buildings and elaborate churches, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its Casa Republica hotel in bohemian neighbourhood Barranco was a Continental Winner of Prix Versailles, a UNESCO architecture and design award.

An excellent example of colonial architecture can be found in The Aliaga House, a mansion from the 16th century. The Monastery of San Francisco, built in Spanish Baroque style, and the Municipal Palace are both examples of buildings rebuilt after earthquake damage.

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana has to be up there among the most architecturally-diverse cities in the US. Its style, influenced by French, Spanish and Caribbean architecture, but designed to help its locals withstand the city’s heat, is entirely its own.

Creole cottages, known to be one-and-a-half stories high and with steeply-pitched roofs, and Creole townhouses, constructed after the Great New Orleans Fire in 1788, are mostly found in the French Quarter. Double-gallery houses, built between 1820 and 1850 and featuring a framed, second-floor balcony, can be found in neighbourhoods off the main strip.

But it’s the city’s plantation homes, a form of antebellum architecture that blends everything from Greek and Classic Revival to Victorian, Georgian and Colonial together, found on the city’s outskirts that are most exquisite.

Dubai, the United Arab Emirates

The fastest-changing city on this list, Dubai is a place where imagination becomes reality. The former fishing village not only has the world’s tallest building, but also the world’s only seven-star hotel and artificial archipelago. Modelled after the seven continents and appropriately called The World, the astonishing work of art was made from sand dredged from coastal waters.

The city’s building boom only began in the 1970s when the discovery of its oil brought about a big financial boost. The opening of The World Centre in 1979, far from the city’s Old Town, helped to expand the city from its simple, low-rise building centre to the swanky cityscape it’s known for today.

Not to be missed though is said Old Town, a lively, charming pocket of narrow alleyways and sand-coloured, classic Arabian-style abodes, it allows visitors a peek into authentic local life. Homes here were built close together to keep their inhabitants as cool as possible in the dry, desert heat. Spot the covered, shaded pathways between them, called sikkas.

Published 28 September, 2018