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Successfully assembling your barbecue can feel like an architectural triumph, but creating skyscrapers, buildings and housing units that inspire street conversation as easily as conversation inside them is tremendous. To honor architects’ efforts, we’ve put together a list of the top 7 architecture capitals in the world. These are the cities whose architecture either has a strong, classic, ancient style, a modern or post-modern style, or a mix of both. Those architecture capitals that have a good balance of classic and modern style appear higher on our list.
7. Athens, Greece
The Acropolis, the site of early Greek civilization that also includes inspiration for our modern civilization, gives this city its architectural strength. You’ll see classic Greco-Roman columns supporting the Parthenon, plus ornate designs drawn into the tops of them. You’ll probably want to focus all your time here, but if you’re still hungry for more after this, check out the Academy of Athens -- a more modern version of classic Greco-Roman style -- plus the newly updated Athens Olympic Stadium. It’s no secret that this city’s attraction is its ancient architecture; for that it has earned a spot on our architecture capitals list.
6. Rome, Italy
Like Athens, Rome is an architectural highlight of early Western civilization. You know the classics: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, and the Temple of Venus and Roma. These compete with slightly newer (but not by much) buildings like: St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, and the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II. While it’s not greatly known for modern buildings, Rome’s abundance of ancient, classic and renaissance architecture is more than enough to give this city a deserving place on our architecture capitals list.
5. Shanghai, China
China’s whipping its wheels of industry and Shanghai is one of its projects. The current scale of development is so extreme that construction approvals and decisions are being made in a matter of hours compared to months in Western countries. This explains the city’s Pudong district, considered the downtown core that includes the city’s tallest building, the Jin Mao Tower, plus the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is a mall, hotel and observation spot.
You’ll see more of the city’s past along its waterfront in The Bund area with more colonial architecture styles. Increasingly, this style is being displaced by modern pieces like the Shanghai Grand Theatre, and the future claim to the “world’s tallest” building -- the World Financial Center.
4. Berlin, Germany
Since the Wall fell in 1989, Berlin focused on transforming its buildings. Some of the most notable include: the Reichstag, the one-time Nazi parliament that was recreated with a glass dome on top; the once -abandoned Potsdamer Platz district was redesigned and now includes the impressive Sony Center; and the DaimlerChrysler quarter that was built from new in five years. Other additions are a new, modern British embassy, and Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind.
There is also plenty of classic architecture to see, like the neoclassical Altes Museum, the Bode Museum (a historically preserved building), and Das Rotes Rathaus (an old town hall).
3. Chicago, Illinois
More than just a great place for yummy hot dogs and die-hard sports fans, The Windy City is also considered the birthplace of modern American architecture. After the Great Fire in 1871 torched over 2,000 acres of buildings, Chicago largely had a blank slate to work from. Architects moved in and created some of the most memorable buildings in the world. To give you an idea what the city looks like, note that the word “skyscraper” was coined in this architecture capital.
The city’s landmarks include: the Sears Tower -- the U.S.’s tallest building; Wrigley Building -- a triangular office building that is the HQ for the chewing gum company; and Marina City -- the aptly named “corn on the cob” building that was featured on the album cover of alt-rock Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Additionally, “Starchitect” Frank Lloyd Wright has his Home & Studio here plus a large collection of his homes, and Frank Gehry created the centerpiece for the city’s huge Millennium Park.
2. Paris, France
Walking this city’s streets can feel like you’re in the middle of one big art museum. For all its medieval, renaissance, neoclassic and art nouveau buildings, Paris is also remarkable for its modern pieces that mix with its classic ones to remind people it is more than just a museum. In fact, former French President Francois Mitterrand felt so strongly about the idea that he sanctioned a modern architecture project called ”Grands Travaux” in the ‘80s to update the city’s classic style. The results include the Louvre’s glass pyramid entrance, plus other modern projects.
2008’s Pritzker Architecture Prize (considered architecture’s Nobel Prize) was awarded to Parisian architect Jean Nouvel. His pieces include Musee du quai Branly, a quirky modern building. If you’re a sucker for the classics, however, the list is endless: the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, Musee d’Orsay... You may need a few trips to this architecture capital to see it all.
1. Barcelona, Spain
Are you snap happy with your camera? Then you’ll need to pack another memory card for this visit. Some of the greatest architects in the world, from past to present, have made this city’s bricks and mortar look like nothing else in the world. Start with the Hospital de Sant Pau and Palau de la Musica Catalana where you’ll find traditional work from late Catalan architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner. These buildings have both been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
You should also check out work from the city’s other celebrated Catalan architect -- Antoni Gaudi. His more famous pieces include: Casa Mila, Park Guell and Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia. From there, see the contemporary work of Santiago Calatrava at the Montjuic Communications Tower, plus Frank Gehry’s “Fish” at the opening of the city’s Olympic Port. Finally, stroll down Las Ramblas, a huge market street in the Gothic Quarter, and view its ancient buildings. For its variety of classic and modern architecture, Barcelona tops our architecture capitals list.
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