Winning tip: Kunsthaus, Graz, Austria
With its quirky blob architecture, this gallery is nicknamed the “friendly alien” by locals, and viewed from Schlossberg hill in the city centre, it does look like an extraterrestrial has landed smack bang in the old town – especially at night, when the facade glows in a pixellated light show. The contemporary art shows are well worth a look, too.
• Adult €9.50, 6-26 years €3.50, museum-joanneum.at
Oodi central library, Helsinki
“You can tell I’m pretty obsessed with our new library,” my Finnish friend said when I asked for highlights. And from the sunlit top floor of the Oodi library we could see why she was so enthusiastic. Rows of books in all languages were spread out below for browsing, comfy chairs with travellers hiding out for a few hours, play areas, and a cafe with an all-you-can-eat brunch. It felt as if anyone from anywhere could find their place for a moment or hours. We had a cinnamon bun and coffee, taking obligatory photos trying to capture the architecture!
Port House, Antwerp, Belgium
Ship in the sky! Driving through the Port of Antwerp, we came upon the Port House, designed by Zaha Hadid and opened in 2016. The Port Authority wished to renovate the fire station and add a new building to house over 500 employees. What makes it so striking is that it retains the old brick fire station, with a new glass structure, representing a sailing boat on a hydrofoil. It looks impressive from any angle.
• There are guided tours on Tues, Thurs and Sat.visitantwerpen.be
At the entrance to Marseille’s harbour sits the black cube of the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, opened in 2013. The first French national museum outside Paris, designed by Rudy Ricciotti, it radiates a confidence that could brush off criticism with a Gallic shrug. The black concrete latticework channels papparazzi-like flashes of the sun on the sea. You can walk around the building without paying to see the exhibitions, and relax on loungers. Cross the bridge to Fort St Jean and you travel through time as the modern gives way to the 17th-century fort walls.
Sainte-Marie de la Tourette, near Lyon
Driving to the south of France, we found what Le Corbusier had planned for Dominican friars 60 years earlier: silence and peace. Keeping watch from a hillside, the Sainte Marie de La Tourette monastery is a brutalist box with an inner beauty. My nine-year-old daughter and I were the only non-architect visitors on the guided tour, and we marvelled at the shapes conjured in concrete. Like any good tour, it ends with a big reveal, and the mastery of space, light and colour in the main chapel are a spiritual experience for those of any faith and none.
Botín Arts Centre, Santander, Spain
This waterfront arts centre and cafe was built in 2014, and what really sets it apart is the terrace roof, which extends across the pedestrian walkway over the sea, creating a sense of continuity between land and ocean. Mirrors on the ceiling create a magical effect through the sun’s reflection on the moving surface of the water.
National Library of Kosovo, Pristina, Kosovo
“Ugly isn’t it, in a beautiful way!” my friend said. This geometric and bubbly building is the National Library of Kosovo. Nobody warned me as I set out to explore. All of a sudden there it was, like a Rubik’s Cube for passing giants to play with. This asymmetrical jumble of cubes and domes, far more beautiful than ugly, sits in solitude at the heart of a scrubby park – all the better for appreciating its myriad aspects. And frankly what other building would dare go near it!
Metropol Parasol, Seville
Towering over the cathedrals and palaces of Seville’s old quarter, the Metropol Parasol is a strikingly modern wooden structure by German architect Jürgen Mayer. Known locally as Las Setas (mushrooms) de Sevilla, the hugely ambitious project on Plaza de la Encarnación incorporates designs inspired by the vaults of Seville Cathedral. Its unique aesthetic has polarised opinion. Nevertheless, it provides an unmatched panaroma of the beautiful cityscape
• Entry €3 including a drink, alcazartickets.com
City Pavilion, Ghent, Belgium
While the De Krook gets most of the press in Ghent, the building I love is the City Pavilion, right in the middle of the town. Surrounded by the type of period architecture that Ghent is known for, it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. Asymmetric and brutalist yet welcoming and with a slanted chimney, it’s a brilliant example of refusing to let a town be preserved in aspic. It takes on an entirely different dimension when lit up at night, and I’ve seen it used for everything from student celebrations to a shelter for horse-drawn carriages. Public architecture at its best.
Serpentine Coffee House, London
Small but rather lovely, this new cafe in Hyde Park has a brass roof that’s designed to look like a stingray. The undulating shape creates the impression of a smiling mouth. From a distance, it looks like a Japanese pagoda. Inside, the theme continues: the underside of the roof is ridged to give the impression that you are inside the mouth of a sea creature. If that sounds creepy, it’s not. It’s light and airy and a great place to enjoy coffee, artisan ice cream and other tasty treats.
• Open 8.30 am til dusk, mizzi.co
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