The world is dotted with incredible architectural gems. From historic buildings to modern architecture, the architectural landscape of our planet is both diverse and impressive. There is a unique combination of styles and approaches to design seen in different countries and influenced by many cultures. The result is a global landscape that crosses various periods and draws on many distinct styles. Here we look back on some of the more notable and unique architecture seen on our travels. All the better in person, these eight gems you can’t miss.
Chateau La Coste Art Gallery, Provence
France is already famous for its stunning Gothic architecture and landmark buildings. However, escaping the more traditional examples, we headed to the Chateau La Coste art gallery in the Provence region. The unique architecture here stood out thanks to its beauty and quirkiness. Some of the work blends seamlessly with the natural landscape. For example, the Renzo Piano pavilion is dug in six meters to integrate fully with the surrounding vineyard. The roof is then connected with thin metal arches which mirror the trailing vines. Piano is not the only architect to work here, and multiple architects were invited to create architectural masterpieces at the gallery. Tadao Ando restored an old ruined chapel by cleverly adding steel framework and glass. This creates an interesting mix of old and new, unlike what we’ve seen before. A mix between architecture and sculpture work, Liam Gillick designed an interactive installation with sliding colored panels.
Cite Radieuse, Marseille
Another example of unique architecture in France is the Cite Radieuse housing unit in Marseille. This piece was erected in 1952 due to the need for housing following the war. However, this building is more than simply functional. Architect Le Corbusier channeled creativity and radicalization in his work. He created a building that renewed traditional lifestyles and helped emerge a new way of living in post-war France. Le Corbusier did this through an experimental design that works vertically to make space for more housing. However, each floor has “streets” rather than corridors, complete with street lamps and several stores, a school, and a gymnasium that exist in the complex. This innovative architectural concept redefines housing units, turning them into vertical cities and thriving new communities.
Casa Na Terra, Portugal
On our trip to Portugal last year, we had the pleasure of staying for two nights at the Casa Na Terra. This quirky and near brutalist accommodation set into the hillside is another example of stunning unique architecture. In fact, Arch Daily ranked the property as one of the fifteen Buildings of the Year in 2020, highlighting its wonder. The brains behind this space are those of architect Aires Mateus. Mateus intelligently considered the surrounding terrain in his design, resulting in a dome-shaped building that hugs the lake. There is a large sliding window that opens up to provide wonderful panoramic views. Being made from concrete, it blends effortlessly with the dry surrounding landscape. Minimal materials have also been used inside the home, adopting the concrete construction for a cohesive finish.
Marques de Riscal, Spain
Heading to Spain, the Marques de Riscal vineyard is another must-see if looking for unique architecture. This venue started the trend of transforming vineyards into luxury hotel destinations. For this project, architect Frank Gehry created a modern composition that contrasts with the region’s historical buildings. He has used metal for a magnificent flowing structure in ruby and purple tones. This represents the wine produced at the vineyard and offsets the lush green surroundings in an eye-catching way.
Casa Vicens, Barcelona
Everyone has heard of architect Antoni Gaudi, universally acknowledged for his role in the Catalan Modernist movement. The Casa Vicens building in Barcelona is the first house, only recently re-open to the general public. We love the unique architecture and style that broke away from tradition. Gaudi used various materials such as iron, brick, and tiles in a range of vibrant colors. You’ll also see façade ornamentation and motifs. On the upper levels of the house, cherub-like figures sit, remanence of ancient Christian design pulled into the modern age. Combined, the clever use of colors, materials, and motifs makes this a must-see for anyone in Spain.
Treehotel is one of Sweden’s most popular hotel destinations. As the name suggests, the architecture of this hotel resembles that of a treehouse. It is intertwined with the forests surrounding Kent and Britta, suspended on metal pillars that raise the building to tree height. The pillars look like tree trunks, working harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. The use of raw wood, glass, and natural colors for the main building further blends the hotel with the environment. The beauty continues inside the hotel. When in the rooms, large floor-to-ceiling window panels connect guests to the exterior world. All of the furniture is set on the floor to give guests the best views with no obstructions. This also offers a sleek and uncluttered finish characteristic of traditional Swedish design. While all the rooms are amazing, room seven is arguably the best, sitting ten meters in the air. At this height, guests can sleep under the open sky mosquito-free – at this height, there are no bugs to be seen!
Architectural Installations at Fundacion NMAC, Spain
The Fundacion NMAC is an open-air museum located in a Mediterranean forest in Spain. You can see installations by several artists and architects, but our favorite is Secondwind by James Turrell. He used unique architecture for this piece, creating a circular dome hidden underground inside a pyramid. This particular type of architectural dome is known as a stupa, and they hold importance in Buddhist beliefs. Visitors can sit on the tiered structure and watch how perception shifts with the changes in light for a truly magical experience.
Sevan Writer’s House, Armenia
Finally, another of our favorite pieces of unique architecture seen on our travels is the Writer’s House at Sevan Lake. The building has all the hallmarks of Soviet Modernism architecture. It is made from concrete and consists of a four-tiered boxy building with minimal detailing. One part of the building is suspended over the lake on a concrete leg, giving a futuristic feeling. Overall, this made for an eye-catching finish and was an innovative construction at the time. Despite being large and concrete, the designers have somehow successfully made it work harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. Lines on the side of the building are reminiscent of the scales of fish found in the waters below. The paneled glass also offers panoramic views over the stunning Sevan Lake, connecting those inside with nature. This helps to create a feeling of calm, softness, and tranquillity among the cold concrete.