Urban fabrics developed cities are always a pleasure to visit and marvel at. Especially for an architect, the evolution tells a lot about how people came to live together, what was the driving force behind coming and settling down at that particular place, and how the local rules and regulations affect the streetscape and the planning of the roadways, pathways, and buildings. Eventually, the timeline tells us how the city begins to portray a certain language, boost an aura and create an image for itself and its people.
Here are some cities that have seen a varied mixture of historical and modern interventions and have outshone the test of time elegantly, to evolve into places that have a lot of stories to tell. These stories make them experience the life that thrives within it!
1. Chicago, United States of America
Chicago greets us with a labyrinth of buildings rising high and along both sides of a river. An architectural marvel to ogle at, these buildings represent most architectural styles and movements, one could name, viz. Classical, Renaissance, Art Deco, Nouveau, and all the contemporary styles that have been following one after the other post-Industrial Revolution. It’s like walking inside a maze, craning your neck as high as possible to take in the beauty because wherever you look or in whichever direction your eyes turn, you are bound to see magnificent structures. Tightly knit together and spread across a vast stretch of flat land juxtaposed to the humungous Michigan lake, Chicago offers parks to admire the mesmerizing and towering skyline of the city, which indeed is one of its kind! Thus, to experience a dense high-rise downtown life, Chicago is an apt destination for architects to take a walk across the windy city and get introduced to some of the most famous architects’ works like Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio.
Figure 3: The top view
2. Barcelona, Spain
Known as the birthplace of the Architect God Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona can be aptly called as the Mecca for Architects. It is a must-visit destination to admire the divinity of Gaudi’s work and experience it in its raw form at La Sagrada Familia. Keeping aside Gaudi’s works and considering the urban fabric, the city has been remarkably well designed into definite grids, allowing ample space for vehicles and pedestrians alike to occupy the roads as well as perceive and appreciate the various types of 25 storeyed buildings stacked together. Different parts of Barcelona tell different stories of different eras. The skyline is dotted with ancient cathedrals as well as narrow streets with 500year-old houses and stunning Medieval Courtyards. Situated on the Mediterranean coast in northern Spain, Barcelona also houses Calatrava’s structures, Mies Van Der Rohe’s pavilion, and works of many other well-known architects, thus, making us experience a beautiful blend of history and modernity in one city.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
Scattered across this Czech Republic capital, you would find most historic types of architecture popping up. The city squares, the long walks, every bend in the streets cast a spell on the onlookers by presenting a plethora of buildings and elements to look at. Dripping of a gigantic history and line of events that have unraveled in Prague, marking a series of empires having a strong foothold eventually being usurped by another, we get to see a unique blend of structures that define each and every era in its glory. Situated in central Europe, this city stands testimony to what Europe had been in the past 2000 years, hence, becoming a great case study for architects to experience and learn from. Thus, Prague has to be on every architect’s and historian’s bucket list!
4. San Francisco, United States of America
The landscape of San Francisco itself is extremely interesting. Situated in between the Pacific Ocean and the Bay area, practically surrounded by water on all sides, this piece of land is undulating and fun to drive and walk on. 2-storey Victorian residential buildings along these streets, closely knitted together bring in a different character to the otherwise modern downtown city with high-rise buildings sprawled across the wavering skyline. San Francisco is connected by amazing bridges on 3 sides, one of them being the very famous Golden Gate Bridge. Standing at one end, the city offers different views across different parts of the city, as well as the waters, thus, altogether giving a unique experience. To be a part of a busy downtown beach city, San Francisco is definitely a destination that’s not to be missed! A tram ride in such an indefinite topography has to be on the list as well!
Figure 9: The undulating terrain, Source: Flickr
5. Chefchaouen, Morocco
A remote city in northern Morocco, Chefchaouen is famous for its narrow streets and ever-enticing blue walls. The winding maze of pathways is a pleasure to walk on to experience the closely-knit architecture texture and its interaction with day to day ordinary life. With a vast and diverse historic background of being a fortified city by an Islamic founder, having influences of Portuguese colonial architecture and settlements of Jews and Spanish in the hinterland, Chefchaouen offers a varied cultural perspective and an architecture that revolves around common people. A unique city to explore with a prominent blue color palette, signifying the sky and water, gives it a spiritual aura about itself. Architects can undoubtedly visit this destination to experience peace and slow-paced life just for a few days!
Figure 11: The ever so charming blue streets and walls, Source: Time Travel Turtle
6. Crete, Santorini, Greece
An island in the Mediterranean Sea, part of the Greek dominion, Santorini is made up of cooled down volcanic eruptions. With a history that dates back to Bronze Age (3000-2000 B.C), then the Neolithic Age, slowly falling under the Greek and Roman Empire in the 7th Century and passing down to the Medieval and Ottoman, Santorini claims to be home to a large spectrum of rulers and cultures. The unfathomable blend of architectural styles, coupled with the cultural variety and natural setting, this piece of land has to be on top of any architect’s bucket list. Coming back to the structures, their unique characteristics of cubical houses are whitewashed with various volcanic ashes used as plaster because of their high insulation properties during the summers and winters. Santorini being arid, adopts this sustainable takeaway lesson for architects, as a thumb-rule. A picturesque, laid back and a beautiful city offering panoramic views of the stacked houses on the undulating land and the vast stretches of water further, Santorini is worth a visit.
7. Tianjin, China
Tianjin, located in the north-eastern part of China boasts of a rich legacy and is considered to be a nationally important city of mainland China. Strategically located between the capital city of Beijing and the Bohai Bay, it serves as an important port and a connection to the outer world for Chinese. Experiencing varied climatic conditions, from snowfall to sandstorms, influenced by the Gobi Desert, Tianjin offers a wide spectrum of architectural marvels. Binhai Library, being the most recent attraction is an iconic structure that definitely needs a visit once in this lifetime. Likewise, a wide variety of museums and contemporary galleries offer a sneak-peak into the Chinese infrastructure, history, and architecture in a subtle manner. Probably, overshadowed by Beijing, Tianjin, also known as the “Diamond of the Bohai Gulf”, never gets the limelight to showcase its mesmerizing history and architecture. But, tucked just beside the massive capital, this city stands its own ground and beckons one to explore the most out of it!
Figure 14: The historical Tianjin, Source: hashcorner
8. Granada, Spain
Granada, previously the capital city of Andalusia in the southern part of Spain, boasts of an 1500-year-old royal history. Situated on hilly terrain and shocking slopes, it houses small 2-storey buildings stacked tightly beside each other on the undulating land with a stunning backdrop of the enchanting snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains. Having an extremely intriguing and interesting Moorish history, the mystical La Alhambra palace built in the 12th century by the Moorish rulers is one of a kind, that mustn’t be missed by architects at all. Listed in the World Heritage sites, it gives one a great insight into the glorious yet brutal history of the Spanish lands. Being a part of Europe, we see a beautiful blend of Moorish, Gothic, Romanesque and Christian styles in its architecture, lineage, language, and food. A unique and rare specimen of a city to experience, Granada does leave you in awe because of its quiet and demure feel!
Figure 16: The city unfurling on the slopes
The above list aims at a set of cities formed due to varied historical and geographical events that eventually led the places to become important as well as picturesque in their own unique way. A city formed due to its culture, people, infrastructure, terrain and architecture as a wholesome unfurls in front of us and as architects, we need to absorb and appreciate each and every aspect, that it presents in its uniqueness and completeness.