Most architects will agree that a brilliant structure is one that makes dynamic use of space, light and even sound to intrigue its audience. The very best buildings also blend seamlessly with their environment, creating a symmetrical dialogue between natural and man-made materials.
From ethereal townhouses to modernist places of worship and iconic homes, some of Britain’s leading female architects share their favourite buildings around the world with Stylist. Come discover them with us, below…
1. Design Museum, Kensington, London
Recommended by: Emily Seymour-Taylor, associate at Thomas and Spiers Architects
First built in 1962, the Grade II-listed Design Museum in Kensington was formerly home to the Commonwealth Institute. The recent project to develop the site was a collaboration between Dutch firm OMA – who designed the shell, envelope and surrounding three housing blocks to the site – and architect John Pawson – who designed the interior of the museum.
As soon as you enter the building, you are hit by the impressive atrium, which fills the full three storeys of the building, showing off the concrete curved underside of the roof. This vast space encourages visitors to pause and enjoy the room.
The interior architecture is sleek, calming and modern.
As you walk up the stairs and around the building, you catch glimpses of the copper-clad roof: its curves, which allow light to pour in, and the twisting of the concrete block and steel structure above.
The Design Museum is an amazing representation of bringing a new lease of light and life to an incredible feat of Sixties modernist engineering, creating a public space which offers new and exciting moments from each and every angle as you explore the building.
2. Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France
Recommended by: Arita Morris, director at architect and design practice Child Graddon Lewis
Le Corbusier, one of the 20th century’s most famous modernist architects, was commissioned to design Notre Dame du Haut in the mid-1950s. He was tasked with creating a design that was overtly modern and void of extravagant detail. It was to cater for all visitors – religious or otherwise.
The building appears as a sculptural object sitting on top of a hill and, from the outside, the massive roof sits like an aeroplane wing on top of thick white walls. The design came about in response to the landscape and topography. The processional route up to the building reveals how the architecture is uniquely suited to its context. Even the floor of the church follows the slope of the hill up to the altar.
The interior is a masterclass in sculpting light – through deep-set apertures, coloured glass and scooped daylight from above. The overall impression is spiritual and meditative. The light gap between roof and walls is particularly clever. As well as light, sound was also an important consideration. It’s for this reason that the shape of the eastern walls reflects sound from the external altar to pilgrims on the hill.
3. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
Recommended by: Jessica Ruffler, principal at ArchitectFolk
I have always loved the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, I have fond memories of visiting on school trips and being wowed by the scale and grandeur of the building and its sense of place.
Tucked away in Manchester’s student heartland just off a busy commuter link into the city centre, the Whitworth is somewhat of a hidden gem. Its fantastic collection of artwork and textiles have been more than enhanced by its recent makeover by award-winning practice MUMA.
The new additions to the building and its seamless integration of the old and the new are nothing short of perfection.
Of particular note is the elegant glass-box extension which stretches finger-like into the trees of Whitworth Park at the rear.
4. Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Recommended by: Rebecca Graham, project architect at Zac Monro Architects
Perched on top of the wooded hills to the eastern side of Kyoto in Japan is the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple, which sits in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is a collection of buildings, but the Hon-do (the main hall) stands out as the centrepiece.
Built in 1633, without the use of any nails, the main hall made entirely of timber projects out over a waterfall below. Swamped by tourists, the space comes alive as mythical dragons dance through the crowds.
The temple looms over the city in the distance. In contrast to the bright vermilion gates and pagodas that surround it, the natural timber of the main hall is dark and moody. The traditional Japanese roof, made of thatched cypress bark, cantilevers over the terrace to provide shelter for the treasured shrines beneath.
5. Orquideorama at the Botanical Garden of Medellín, Colombia
Recommended by: Jennifer de Vere-Hopkins, associate at Jestico + Whiles
One of the highlights of my trip to Columbia was discovering the city of Medellín. Famous for its links to Pablo Escobar, it’s emerging from a murky and violent past through a series of visionary civic and infrastructural projects around the city.
One of the most spectacular experiences is the Orquideorama – a large pavilion integrated into the Medellin Botanical Gardens. It takes the form of interlocking ‘trees’, shading the plants and people below with its hexagonal mesh canopy. The way the bright light filters through the wooden structure is delightful, showing that architecture is as much about the experience it creates and harnessing the magic of a place.
6. Therme Vals spa, Switzerland
Recommended by: Shireen Hamdan, principal architect at Populous
This is a very contextual building and the way it is orchestrated encourages meandering through indoor and outdoor environments. Although it’s more than 20 years old, it still feels timeless.
If any building can be described as ‘tactile’, it would be this one. Stone walls are sourced from local quarries, deep-set windows frame dramatic views and ‘space’ is created through the use of light and shadows while ‘atmosphere’ is created by material colour and water temperature.
7. Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, USA
Recommended by: Carolina Baroni, director at Thompson + Baroni
Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, by architect Mies van der Rohe, is an embodiment of the phrase "less is more". It reduces architecture to its absolute essentials.
The floor-to-ceiling glass offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding countryside that allows its setting to act as a permanently beautiful and changing backdrop to the activities within the house.
Inside, the material palette is as good and reduced as it gets. Travertine slabs on the floor and simple teak veneered divisions enclose the bathrooms, subtly allocating different functions to the open-plan space.
The white-painted structure is not only beautiful, but also functional – the columns raise the house up above the floodplain of the nearby river. A building that cannot be added to or reduced in any way, this is an absolute masterclass in beautiful minimalist architecture.
8. Christ Church Spitalfields, London
Recommended by: Susie Cox, part I architect at Dow Jones Architects
Christ Church Spitalfields still seems forward-thinking nearly 300 years after it was completed.
With its gleaming west facade in Portland stone, it is considered one of the finest baroque churches in Europe and is Nicholas Hawksmoor's masterpiece. It was built between 1714 and 1729 to serve the new populations on the fringes of London. It occupies an immense scale – it's the same height as the nave of Exeter Cathedral and half the volume of St Paul’s.
By combining Roman forms with an English steeple, Christ Church evokes the resourceful spirit of London. The west front is dynamic, formed of stacked triumphal arches, defining itself as an entrance and proclaiming itself as a landmark. Flanking the bold composition on Commercial Street, the side and rear elevations are simple, with windows punched out, giving the whole building a monolithic quality.
9. Crystal Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Recommended by: Helen Berresford, partner at ID:SR – Sheppard Robson
Crystal Houses (home to the Chanel store) is a delightful reinvention of a traditional townhouse.
The building on one level fits very neatly within a street full of traditional Amsterdam terraces, but then, as you get closer, you are totally surprised by the shimmering, ethereal quality of the facade that is made up of a veil of glass bricks that are held together by a special high-strength glue. This inventive use of the material creates something that is familiar but, at the same time, surprising and extraordinary.
This dialogue between old and new is something that every city needs to engage with. This project shows that replacing like-for-like is not always the answer, and that we can be bold when working with existing buildings.
10. Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club House, South Korea
Recommended by: Tabby Bhuiyan, project director at Darling Associates
Architect Shigeru Ban’s beautiful Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club House in South Korea is a magnificent example of large-scale, innovative and sustainable architecture built using traditional materials.
The club consists of three separate buildings over an area of 16,000 sqm. The main clubhouse building is a glass atrium supported by striking, almost organic, timber columns which radially spread into an intricate hexagonal grid-like roof. The base of the glass envelope is made of locally-available stone whilst the exposed timber structure helps to insulate this space over colder periods.
The make-up of the main building provides a transparency to the whole space, bathing it in natural daylight.
11. The Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands
Recommended by: Dawn Briggs, associate at London and Nottingham-based CPMG Architects
The Rietveld Schröder House was designed in 1924 by Gerrit Reitveld, in accordance with the De Stijl style. The extravagant experiment is both beautiful and intriguing; the clean lines and simple geometric forms create artistic purity.
The use of colour is playful yet remains subtle, enhancing the sober aesthetic The architectural example of the De Stijl principles is strict, expressive and reflective of the English translation ‘style’.
12. Lovell Health House, Los Angeles, California, USA
Recommended by: Jan Mackie, associate director at Arney Fender Katsalidis
One of my favourite buildings is Lovell Health House, designed and built between 1927 – 1929. It isone of the most important houses of the 20th Century byRichard Neutra.
The house reflects Neutra's interest in industrial production – it is the first American residence with steel structure, based on the technology of the skyscraper, utilising repetitive factory-made window assemblies.
It clings to the side of a steep cliff and is approached via the upper level. Its distinctive suspended, white horizontal overlapping planes take on the stunning panoramic views of Los Angeles, whilst pilotis support the cantilevering open-plan living volumes.
13. Bosjes Chapel, Western Cape, South Africa
Recommended by: Daniella Quaglia, Leonard Design Architects
Bosjes Chapel in South Africa, designed by Steyn Studio, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The setting is so positively humbling and the building gives you a sense of security,
The architecture is confident, with a beautiful organic design that reminds me of an orchid.
The curves are so flawless that it makes you question how it was even delivered and leaves a lot to the imagination. I love how it manages to be simultaneously tranquil and immaculate.
14. Boa Nova Tea House, Matosinhos, Portugal
Recommended by: Fiona Scott, director at Gort Scott
The Boa Nova Tea House by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza in Matosinhos, Portugal, was recently restored by the original architect. Rejecting any temptation to overscale, the building is a perfect negotiation between human scale and the scale of the landscape.
The Tea House is set on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. The roof sweeps downwards to frame the view. A lesser architect may have ‘opened upwards’ to the view, but the lower ceiling height elongates the horizon, and the dark timber roof accentuates the light of the view.
The rough cast-concrete base of the building is grafted to the rocky ground, rising solid and chunky, and supporting the beautifully-crafted timber roof, like the underside of a boat. There is an immense respect for the landscape, and the building brings the beauty of the surrounding rocks into a perfect ensemble of natural and man-made forms.
15. Barcelona Pavilion, Spain
Recommended by: Kate Jones, architect at Darling Associates
By creating a space showcased in a simple but rich material palette comprising of polished natural stone and shades of tinted glass, the materials of the Barcelona Pavilion – designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – highlight the simplicity and elegance of the architecture.
Various surfaces have been designed to lie asymmetrically but in parallel to each other. This creates an open-plan space which appears as the surfaces slide past each other, further emphasised by the ‘floating’ roof plane which rests over them.
The use of polished stone and glazing allows the sunlight to reflect around the space, enhanced by the rectangular pool permeating the structure.
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