Posted by: Natalie | May 5, 2011

Appreciating Architecture

Tonight Plinky asks which famous buildings I find most beautiful. This is not as simple as I first thought. I love architecture – I know nothing about it other than a very key historic notes which define major styles; for example I think I could quite happily tell you the difference between Tudor and Georgian! You would hope.

Certain modern architecture does interest me, surprises me even – The Cube for example in Birmingham I think is utterly remarkable. I can never quite tell if I actually like it (which is my issue with contemporary designs) but I can appreciate the intelligence and depth of design and innovation in such creations. But being an apartment block, it can hardly be suggested as ‘famous’, but there is definitely a geometric beauty to its solid stance – particularly as it is a refreshing break to the sixties concrete sky line.

The Cube, Birmingham. Image from HERE.

Bullring. Image from HERE.

The Selfridge’s end to the Bull Ring shopping centre in the city often mesmerises me too. I adore how it wraps itself around the old church of St Martin’s, marrying old and new in seamless harmony, despite being so wildly different. The shining silver baubles seem almost other-worldly, something of sci-fi fantasy, particularly in the evening when green and purple hues glimmer delicately across the surface. There are moments when you could be forgiven for thinking a space craft had landed sometime during the middle ages, settling itself down around the old market centre bizarrely unnoticed until over-priced clothing and food requirements came to the fore. It is clearly not to everyone’s taste but when you get up close and personal you can’t help but feel like a child lost in a sea of bubbles – if only it were a giant sheet of bubble wrap you could bounce around upon. With each satisfying pop, a blast of giggles would ensue, filling the square with childish laughter and fun.

St. Martin's Church and the Selfridge's building in the Bullring shopping centre. Image from HERE.

This always puts me in mind of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the centre of Berlin. Set in slightly harsher tones – no doubt to depict the history in a solid, permanent, deeply sombre feature – the Wilhelm Church is wonderful in its contrast. Not actually one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, but certainly striking. The conflicting ruins of a once rather pretty church and its contemporary sky scraper attachment is a little more than the brain can comprehend. It is mesmerising, a veritable metaphor for the past, present and future of the German people. Like much of the architecture in Berlin, it is proud and unafraid – certain things should not be forgotten and their rich historic tapestry celebrated. Of all the cities I have seen in Europe this is one of the most fascinating, architecturally speaking, but not necessarily for it’s beauty.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Image from HERE.

Italy obviously sports some of the most stunning buildings and as ever, for me, it s the ones steeped in history which entrance the most. I could list forever and a day all the reasons I adore the Italian architecture, from the twisted streets of Venice and its Rialto bridge, to the amphitheatre in Verona, Il Duomo in Florence and the Tuscan style houses looking down over the Arno, and of course Rome and the Vatican with their many glorious monuments to our ancient past. But I think we have to suggest Italy as a given. Yes it is beautiful with many remarkable gems, but not one stands out stronger than the rest.

But when I first read the question, one monument popped straight into my head – and I had no idea that I would choose this as possibly the most beautiful building I have seen. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn on that banks of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River is truly mesmerising – and tall! It is named after the Indian God of Dawn, Aruna and is specifically placed to worship the dawn and light filling the world. The surface of the prang in covered in the most detailed mosaic you will ever encounter; tiny pieces of porcelain and seashells mix to create intricate Thai designs and flank the crouching images of Buddha, Rama and Hanuman as they courageously hold and support the towering structure above them. A structure which is not an easy climb. Countless narrow steps of great depth gradually lead you, with some trepidation, almost to the summit from which the view of Bangkok is breathtaking.

Wat Arun. Image from HERE

I think the reason this building stands out is because of its difference to anything else in our Western world. So often our own religious monuments (those which were not ravaged by centuries of war and religious hate) are quite grim looking, mournful and dour, oppressive even. Many were symbols of power and position over the common man, a display of wealth for a God which seems terrifying and vengeful at times. Thai religious architecture takes a very difference line – a bright and colourful celebration of humanity and mythology living side by side. Beauty and lightness and grace. Completely different, completely refreshing, like so much of Thai culture.

I’m not going to, but I could go on. Like I say, I love architecture, the history and stories that go hand in hand with each brick laid. I know no where near as much as I would like to, but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating. Something which turns my head or sends shivers down my spine is beautiful in my mind – and we are lucky to have so many moments of time which do this, still displayed for the world to see and enjoy.

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