If You Build It… Must-Visit Cities for Architecture Buffs

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No matter where you go in the world, you’re bound to stumble across incredible architecture. From the colourful domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow to the distinctive boulevards of Paris, and even the variety of building styles right here in the UK, it’s not hard to find a feast for the eyes in building form. Here are a few of our favourite cities for architecture – some may be obvious, but others are slightly more off the beaten track.

Baku, Azerbaijan

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Visit many cities formerly occupied by the Soviets, and you’ll be greeted with concrete square apartment blocks and grey as far as the eye can see. And while Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, does have its fair share of Communist-era buildings dotted around its landscape, it also plays host to its fair share of both ultra-modern and ancient architecture. Baku’s Old City dates back to at least the 12th century, and boasts ancient baths, mosques and fortress walls. Meanwhile, recently built futuristic architecture looms high above the old part of town. The Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre’s flowing, curvaceous architecture houses a museum, gallery and conference centre, while the Flame Towers are a trio of skyscrapers with LED screens on their exteriors, displaying flames and other graphics.

Chicago, USA

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Speaking of flames, most of Chicago’s architecture was destroyed in a fire in 1871, but just because it’s not old, it doesn’t mean that what’s been built since isn’t impressive! The city was home to some of the world’s first skyscrapers – it was so famous for its tall buildings, that those built to emphasise their verticality were said to be built under the Chicago School of architecture. See the Chicago Building for an example of this. Fast forward 100+ years, and the city has developed a modern approach to architecture. Millennium Park is famous for its Anish Kapoor-conceived ‘Cloud Gate’ sculpture, and its buildings are Avatar-esque. The Carbide & Carbon Building and Chicago Motor Club Building are great examples of the city’s Art Deco architecture, while famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark on the city with the Robie House and the Rookery.

Barcelona, Spain

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When we think of Barcelona’s architecture, one name springs to mind: Gaudi. The Catalonian architect’s fingerprints are all over the city, from the spires of the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia to the wackiness of Parc Güell. Like something from a fairytale or particularly vivid dream, Gaudi’s concepts are colourful, distinctive and far from derivative. Get a glimpse of the undulating surfaces of La Pedrera, and the dragon-esque gates of Finca Güell. Gaudi aside, the city’s buildings are famous for their vibrantly tiled facades and the uniformity of the blocks they sit on.

Dubai, United Emirates


You’d expect the home of the world’s tallest building (the rocket ship-like Burj Khalifa) to have pretty great architecture game – and you’d be right! Until the ’90s, Dubai was little more than a slowly expanding fishing village, but now it has some of the most extravagant architecture of any city in the world. There’s the sail-like Burj al Arab (also one of the most luxurious hotels in the world), the pyramid shape of the Raffles hotel, and Cayan Tower, which twists 90 degrees, and stands at 306 metres tall while it does so! And don’t even get us started on the palm-shaped manmade island off the city’s coast.

Shanghai, China


China’s wealth is on the increase, and nowhere is this more evident than in its fast-rising architecture. Beijing and Chengdu are hot contenders for the title of the country’s best architecture cities (the latter will soon be home to an extraordinary one kilometre-high skyscraper), but we like Shanghai for its whimsy. Take the Oriental Pearl Tower, which sits on the riverbank and is made up of 11 spheres. Or the Fosun Foundation building, with brass pipes hanging like curtains across its façade. Like older architecture? Head to Yu Garden where you’ll find traditional Chinese buildings (think good feng shui, lots of red, and upturned corners). Shanghai also has one of the largest collections of Art Deco architecture in the world – head to The Bund for numerous examples.

Asmara, Eritrea


Much like Havana, a city cut off from the rest of the world thanks to its isolationist government, the architectural gems of Eritrea’s capital have only recently been revealed to those who live outside the city. Pre-WWII colonisation by Mussolini’s Italy – and said dictator’s encouragement of Italian migrants and radical architecture – means that Asmara has some of the best-preserved Art Deco constructions on the planet. Half of the city’s population was Italian by the late 1930s, so it’s not unusual for buildings to have Italian names – think Cinema Impero and the Fiat Tagliero building. There’s an Art Deco bowling alley, and the ‘Bar Zilli’ building looks like an old-fashioned radio. Asmara was made a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this year for its uniquely preserved architecture.