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Downtown Designs

Article by Anuja Madar 09.19.2016

To learn about a city’s past and get a glimpse into its future, you could simply look up. Around the world, architecture reveals history and hope and offers a different way to discover a destination.

1. Matthias Church, Budapest

Things are different since the first church rose on this site on 1015, changing hands, religions and architectural styles over the years. What stands today, named after King Matthias, is not only a church but an homage to Hungarian artistry. Colorful Zsolnay tiles adorn the roof, and inside you’ll see beautiful frescoes, stained glass windows and an impressive main altar with a Neo-Gothic tryptic. Learn More >


2. Hundertwasser House, Vienna

Inspired by the vision of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and realized by co-creator Josef Krawina and architect Peter Pelikan, this residential building is a reflection of Hundertwasser’s stance against the grid-like style of construction. Completed in 1986, the building houses apartments, offices, private and communal terraces and living features including a grass-covered roof and large trees growing from inside the rooms. Learn More >


3. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Holding the title of world’s tallest building is impressive on its own, but for the 160-story Burj Khalifa, that wasn’t enough. Inspired by the regional spider lily, the tower is topped by a 656-foot telescopic spire and houses residences, a hotel, offices, wellness facilities, lounges, pools and observation decks. It took six years to complete, and no detail was overlooked. Common areas are scented with bespoke fragrances, elevators feature a soundtrack that builds in intensity as you climb and the ceiling of the 125th floor features a large mashrabiya (traditional Arabic latticework). The observation decks offer incredible views of the city and the Dubai Fountain. Learn More >


4. Casa Battlo, Barcelona
The brilliance of Barcelona’s Antoni Gaudí can be found throughout the city, but some say this is among his best work. Built between 1904 and 1906 on the famous Passeig de Gràcia, the whimsical former residence of the Battló family is hard to miss. The wavy exterior walls are adorned with glass and ceramic mosaic, and the roof, reminiscent of a dragon’s back, features iridescent “scales.” Inside, Gaudí’s creativity, including a cozy nook with a mushroom-shaped fireplace and a series of arches evoking an animal’s ribcage, is on full display on the Noble Floor (where the Battló family lived), in the loft and on the roof terrace.   Learn More >

Casa Batllo in Barcelona

5. Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai

In its former life, the Long Museum West Bund was a wharf for coal transportation and then a parking lot. How things have changed. The four-story concrete building features an umbrella-vaulted design, rejecting the typically closed museum layout with one that is open, industrial, inviting, sleek and grand. The museum highlights contemporary art, ancient Chinese artifacts and Chinese art, and features a courtyard, café, bookshop, concert hall and restaurant overlooking the Huangpu River. Learn More >


6. Reichstag Dome, Berlin

In stark contrast to the building it tops, the dome of the Reichstag Building brings light and transparency to the government building. Replacing the original, which was destroyed with the entire building in a 1933 fire, the dome sends light into the representatives’ chamber below and offers a 360-degree view of the city. Visitors can reach the dome’s observation deck, above a restaurant, via spiraling steel ramps. Learn More >


7. Blue Mosque, Istanbul

In Turkey, only two mosques have six minarets; this was the first. Built between 1609 and 1616, “the last great mosque of the Ottoman Empire” was created in honor of Sultan Ahmed, whose tomb rests in the still-active mosque. Popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the more than 20,000 blue tiles that line its interior, the structure combines Byzantine elements and traditional Islamic architecture. In addition to the tiles, which feature more than 50 different tulip designs, the mosque’s interior includes hundreds of intricately designed stained glass windows, chandeliers and a marble mihrab. Learn More >


8. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

In New York City, it’s not enough for a building to house art; it should be museum-worthy itself. The Whitney Museum of American Art, designed by architect Renzo Piano, fulfills this “requirement,” drawing visitors for its collection as well as its construction. Located between the High Line and the Hudson River, the building borrows from its Meatpacking District neighborhood with a design that is industrial and contemporary. The cantilevered entrance creates a covered gathering place with views of the river, and outdoor terraces look down over the High Line. Learn More >


9. Tokyo Tower, Tokyo

There are certainly newer structures popping up in the Tokyo skyline, but the Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, remains popular as ever. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower stands tall at 1,093 feet, 43 feet taller than the one in Paris. Symbolic of the city’s rebirth after WWII, the communications and observation tower is hard to miss (and not just because its height): it’s painted white and “international orange” to comply with aviation safety regulations. Learn More >


10. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

After a major transformation, the SFMOMA reopened its doors in May 2016, revealing an expanded, eco-conscious design with more than double the exhibition space. Pairing the original building with a new one, the redesigned museum features a free-to-the-public street-level gallery, a light-filled entrance thanks to a large oculus, a sculpture terrace, a vertical garden and a distinct exterior inspired by rippling water. The expansion includes the new John and Lisa Pritzker Center, the largest exhibition space for photography in any art museum in the US. Learn More >


11. Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago

Chicago’s first central public library was built in 1897; today, it’s one of the city’s most visited attractions. Designed to establish the Windy City as a cosmopolitan destination, the building today hosts free art exhibitions, lectures, films and music, dance and theater performances. Crafted with luxurious materials, including Favrile glass mosaics, mother-of-pearl and rare marble, the landmark houses two spectacular domes: the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome and another with an intricate Renaissance pattern.  Learn More >


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