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The World's Most Beautiful Buildings (PHOTOS)

Posted: 10/14/2012 9:40 am

These are the world's most beautiful buildings? Are you kidding?

A hundred years ago, naming the world's most beautiful buildings was easy: the Parthenon. Sure. The Taj Mahal. Absolutely. Hagia Sophia. No argument. But now, in part because the whole notion was chewed up and spit out by those troublemaking Modernists, we're just learning to think about architecture in terms of beauty again. It's open season.

We readily admit our choices for the world's most beautiful buildings are questionable. They include Gaudí's controversial Sagrada Família cathedral (arguably a top sight) in Barcelona--a building that teeters on the boundary between love and hate. We see that edge as the exact place where beauty happens. Beautiful is not the same as pretty; it's a strong word, suggesting big emotions.

Are we consistent? Nope. But however capricious our choices may seem, we don't take beauty lightly. After all, the ongoing search for beauty is what travel is all about. It's certainly the best reason we know to leave the house. --Karrie Jacobs

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  • Gresham Palace, Budapest, Hungary

    <a href="" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Most Beautiful Buildings</a><br><br> A $125 million restoration brought this 1906 gem by Art Nouveau architect Zsigmond Quittner back to life. Originally built as a status symbol for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of London, it was battered by WWII and abused by the Communists. Now it’s a Four Seasons Hotel, and a reconstruction of the dazzling, glass-covered shopping arcade—once a destination for Budapest’s elite—serves as the hotel lobby.<br><br> <em>Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace</em>

  • Christian Dior Store, Omotesando, Tokyo

    <a href="" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Most Beautiful Buildings</a><br><br>Omotesando is a shopping strip more famous for its architecture than for the designer merchandise sold there. Herzog & de Meuron did Prada, Toyo Ito did Tod’s, and Tadao Ando designed the local mall. But our favorite is SANAA’s diaphanous showcase for Dior. In a district where every building is a spectacle, the Pritzker Prize–winning firm built a deceptively simple box of light. The effect is magical, especially at night.<br><br> <em>Photo: VIEW Pictures Ltd / Alamy</em>

  • Hearst Tower, New York City

    <a href="" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Most Beautiful Buildings</a><br><br>Most contemporary skyscrapers—Burj Khalifa or the Petronas Towers—work best from a distance, but the amazing thing about the Hearst Tower on West 57th Street is that it’s most beautiful up close. The distinctive triangular panels from which architect Norman Foster formed the façade are highly efficient, using 20 percent less steel than more conventional buildings, but that’s almost irrelevant. The important thing is that the triangular motif makes the modest 42-story tower more spectacular than skyscrapers two or three times its height.<br><br> <em>Photo: Chuck Choi/Courtesy of Foster + Partners </em>

  • New Norwegian Opera and Ballet, Oslo, Norway

    <a href="" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Most Beautiful Buildings</a><br><br>There’s something about the way this opera house appears to rise out of the sea—think glacier—that transforms a building that’s all elbows into a thing of beauty. Instead of standing high above the harbor, the New Norwegian slopes gently down to the water’s edge, turning the building’s roof into a public space. The trailblazing architects at Snohetta call it a “carpet,” but to us it looks like a beach.<br><br> <em>Photo: Erik Berg/Courtesy of Den Norske Opera & Ballett</em>

  • Great Mosque, Djenne, Mali

    <a href="" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Most Beautiful Buildings</a><br><br>In sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest city, Djenne, you’ll find a monumental mosque built from mud bricks (and held together with more mud) by the Dogons, an African people who use mud as ancient Romans used marble. Mosques have been built on this site, the center of what was once a prosperous trading city, since the 13th century A.D.; the present Great Mosque, overlooking the market square, dates from 1906. Each spring, local masons maintain the mosque by applying a new layer of mud.<br><br> <em>Photo: Corbis Bridge / Alamy</em>

  • Catherine Palace, Outside St. Petersburg, Russia

    <a href="" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Most Beautiful Buildings</a><br><br>Named for Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, this way-way-over-the-top 18th-century palace, with its distinctive blue façade, was built mostly by her spendthrift daughter, Empress Elizabeth. While most visitors come to see the Amber Room, a contemporary reproduction of the lavish chamber that was disassembled and carted away by the Nazis, the airy, classically inspired wing designed by Catherine II’s favorite architect, Charles Cameron, is much lovelier.<br><br> <em>Photo: Hemis/Alamy</em>


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