Architecture stands at the cross-section of art, technology, and humanity. At the most basic level, it shelters us, and on the grandest level, it seeks to inspire and awe.
Whether inspired to honour their religious beliefs, house their pursuit of knowledge, or pay tribute to the grandeur of their monarchs, mankind has for centuries been dreaming up the most beautiful buildings.
We encounter many of these structures throughout our life’s travels, seeing rich culture reflected back to us in landmarks that serve both to teach us about the past and the future.
Above is the stunning Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan, built in 1692 and accessible only by a four-mile trek on foot or horseback, and read on to find more of the most beautiful buildings to add to your world travel ‘bucket list’.
Church of the Light in Osaka, Japan
This modern study of light and worship in Osaka, Japan, was designed by respected Japanese Architect Tadao Ando in the 1980s. The main chapel, which features a design striking in its simplicity and profound symbolism, showcases Ando’s use of Zen philosophies and his interest in the dual nature of existence.
Light enters the chapel from behind the alter through a large cross cut in a concrete wall. At this intersection of light and solid, the visitor is meant to become aware of the spiritual and secular within himself.
“In all my works, light is an important controlling factor” Architect Tadao Ando once said.
Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran
This masterpiece of Persian architecture was constructed in the 1600s during the Safavid dynasty at the orders of Abbas I of Persia with the goal of centring political, economic, religious and cultural activities in Isfahan. The seven-coloured mosaic tiles and ornate calligraphic inscriptions give the site its grand beauty and splendour.
Today when visiting the mosque, it is not unusual to see visitors lying down to contemplate the beauty of the mosaic-domed ceilings without straining their necks. In Iran, the Imam Mosque is pictured on the reverse of the 20,000 rial banknote.
Taj Mahal in New Delhi, India
A list of beautiful architecture can’t afford to skip the Taj Mahal, a title which literally translates to “Crown of the Palaces”. This ivory-white marble mausoleum, situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River in the city of Agra, India, was built by some 20,000 artisans at the order of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 1600s as a fitting tomb for his wife.
Many regard the Taj Mahal as the best example of the architecture of its period and see it as a symbol of India’s rich history. Annually, the universally admired site receives between seven and eight million visitors. One legend has it that the emperor was so pleased with the grandeur of the tomb constructed for his wife that he had the hands of the architect cut off after the Taj Mahal was completed, ensuring that they would never build another of its kind.
Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal
This 19th century castle stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains. Its bright colours make the site easily visible from the neighbouring city of Lisbon on a clear day.
The castle was completed in the mid-1800s, built out of the remains of a monastery that had been severely damaged by several natural disasters. Initially painted in bright red and yellow, over time the castle faded until it was entirely grey. At the end of the 20th century, it was repainted and the original colours restored.
Jardin Majorelle in Marrakeech, Morocco
This two-and-a-half acre botanical garden and artist’s landscape in Marrakech, Morocco, was created by French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle in 1923. The development of the gardens spanned over 40 years, as the artist slowly acquired more land and was able to commission an architect to design parts of the property.
In 1947, Majorelle opened the garden to the public with an admission fee to offset the costly maintenance needed to run the property. However, following his divorce in the 1950s, Majorelle was forced to sell the house and the land. After this, the garden was neglected and fell into disrepair, until the 1980s when fashion designers Yves Saint- Laurent and Pierre Bergé rediscovered it and set about restoring and saving it. Today, the gardens are a major tourist attraction in Marrakech and draw more than 700,000 visitors annually.
Chrysler Building in New York City, New York
Anyone visiting the city that never sleeps will have a laundry list of sites to visit, but they must make sure that the Chrysler Building is on their itinerary. The Art Deco masterpiece, located in the heart of Manhattan, is considered to be one of New York’s most iconic and beloved skyscrapers.
The structure was built in 1930, and held the honour of being the world’s tallest building for a full 11 months, before it was surpassed by the completed Empire State Building. Yet even without this distinction, the structure is a sight to behold and a symbol of the remarkable growth of New York City during the roaring ‘20s.
Today, the Chrysler building stands as recognisable feature of the NYC skyline, remaining one of its most appealing and awe-inspiring skyscrapers.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California
This independent, non-profit, scientific research institute was designed by architect Louis Kahn, working with researcher Jonas Salk, who is most well known as the developer of the polio vaccine.
Salk and Kahn wanted to design a beautiful campus in order to attract the world’s best researchers. Both men were descendants of Russian Jewish parents who had immigrated to the U.S., and their commonality bonded them much closer than that of just of professional collaboration. This connection of friendship can be seen in the design that resulted from their collaboration.
In 1991, the Salk Institute was designated as a historic landmark.
The Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India
This architectural marvel was opened in 1986 as a continental House of Worship for the Bahá’í community, a worldwide religion that believes in the unity of mankind and equality of all its people. It is one of eight edifices of its kind throughout the world, all of which strive to embody the concepts of harmony and oneness in their design.
The spectacular place of worship is composed of free-standing marble “petals”, which are arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Because its inspiration from the Lotus flower is apparent in the design, it is often referred to as the Lotus Temple.
Today, the site has been the recipient of numerous architecture awards and is one of the most visited buildings in the world.
Owing to the astonishing number of visitors to the Temple, a new metro line with a stop in close proximity was opened this year.
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
This historic mosque, also called Sultanahmet Camii, is known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue-coloured tiles that surround the interior walls. The mosque was built in the early 1600s, and in the Islamic style of that time, is characterised by its ornate calligraphy and tall minarets.
Besides being a tourist attraction, the Blue Mosque is still a functioning place of worship, and it closes to visitors for half an hour during the five daily prayers so worshippers may find peace and calm while they pray. Even while open to tourists, visitors often find people praying inside, and so are asked to remain quiet and respectful.
Basilica of our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukri, Ivory Coast
This Catholic basilica in the capital city of the Ivory Coast is the largest church in the world, with an area of 30,000 square meters that can accommodate 18,000 worshippers. The designs of the dome and its encircling plaza are inspired by the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace was opened in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. Ivory Coast President Félix Houphouët-Boigny at the time believed the site would become a place of pilgrimage for African Catholics.
This feature was originally published in the spring edition of Arts and Collections, which you can also read here.