Chicago city skyline reflected in the "Bean." Community

Great Architectural Pilgrimages: 15 Sites to Visit

From Angkor Wat to suburban Connecticut, we've rounded up 15 inspiring sites for people who love buildings.

Photo Caption: Chicago city skyline reflected in the "Bean." Photo by SvenB/ Community
The Shanghai Bund, watched from Pudong at sunset. Community
Shanghai Bund, China
It's no secret that architectural development in China is lightning fast -- just see the building boom in Beijing leading up to and following the 2008 Olympics -- but it's in Shanghai where old and new structures most harmoniously co-exist, at least for the time being. Along the city's famed waterfront Bund, the country's most interesting collection of Art Deco, Beaux-arts, and Neoclassical structures line the banks of the Huangpu River -- and face the Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers sprouting in Pudong on the opposite bank.

The mile-long quay traces its history to the Opium Wars of the 19th century, when foreign powers including the British, French, and Americans gained access to the port city, building outposts to protect their commercial interests -- and show off their spoils. The icon of the age is the former British Consulate, set in a leafy park on Suzhou Creek, recently restored in a surprising Chinese acknowledgement of the historic English influence in the city.

Later, in the interwar boom years of the 20th century, the grand architecture of the Bund flourished, with the construction of the Neoclassical Shanghai Banking Corporation at Number 12 and the Customs House at Number 13. The Art Deco Bank of China building at Number 23 is reminiscent of the the Empire State Building, if not nearly as tall and accented with eastern motifs, while the North China Daily News Building has rusticated masonry that recalls the Renaissance mansions of Florence.

In true modern Chinese fashion, though, the Bund isn't a crystallized monument to the past: new hotel development has transformed the Shanghai Club into a all-suite wing of the new Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, the legendary, pyramid-capped Peace Hotel is now operated by Fairmont after a restoration guided by historian Peter Hibbard, and The Waterhouse at South Bund blends eastern and western tropes in a way only Shanghai could. And re-development of the northern end of the stretch is encouraging adaptive re-use of interwar buildings, under the direction of architect David Chipperfield.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: The Shanghai Bund, watched from Pudong at sunset. Photo by laurents77/ Community.
View from Florence's Duomo of the plaza below and the city beyond. Community
Florence, Italy
Rome has its forum, Sicily its Greek ruins, and Venice its canals, but Florence is unique in Italy, thanks to the city's history as the global capital and incubator of the Renaissance, born here in the 14th century. The historic center, a densely packed singularity of plazas, churches, private mansions, and public buildings, blossomed over the next 400 years, packing an imminently walkable district in the heart of the city with enough architectural wonder to earn a UNESCO World Heritage nod.

The cliché but worthy starting point is the city's duomo, a cathedral 140 years in the making and capped by Brunelleschi's dome, an engineering marvel at the time (1436) that still inspires visitors who climb up the interior to an observation deck at the peak of the cupola. Adjacent to the cathedral is the iconic bell tower by Florentine architect and artist Giotto. His campanile faces the city's octagonal baptistery, most noteworthy for its beautiful bas relief doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. (It is also now famously the site of Dante's christening, ironic given that the Florentine poet died in exile.)

Inspired architecture surrounds the Piazza del Duomo, a credit to the Medici family that essentially controlled the city through the Renaissance, sponsoring public works and bankrolling the likes of Bottecelli, Brunelleschi, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and countless other Renaissance men. The elegant Uffizi galleries of Giorgio Vasari, now one of the world's most spectacular art museums, channels visitors with its two narrowly spaced wings from the banks of the Arno River to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria, Florence's Romanesque town hall that's still in use today. The Palazzo Medici is the family's most notable urban mansion. Along with the similarly-designed Palazzo Strozzi, home of a rival Florentine clan, both buildings have since inspired bank architecture worldwide, including at the headquarters of the Federal Reserve in Manhattan.

Dotted around these core structures, churches including Santa Croce, a Gothic gem not finished until the 19th century, San Lorenzo, Brunelleschi's Neoclassical basilica, and Santa Maria Novella, with a Romanesque-inspired façade that nods to classical tropes, designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the mid-15th century.

The Sydney Opera House reflected in a puddle during a summer sunrise. Community
Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, New South Wales
It's one of the most instantly recognizable buildings on the planet: the Sydney Opera House, set on Bennelong Point, in the heart of Sydney's harbor (or as they spell it, harbour). Often compared in its shape to waves or the sails of ships plying the waters nearby, the modernist design is also reminiscent of the monumental architecture of Brasilia -- not least because of the venue's gleaming white finish. There's no doubt its a symbol of national pride, and it's been such a resounding success that cities around the globe have tried to replicate its city-branding effect, from Copenhagen to Tenerife and even Guangzhou, China.

The building itself was the result of a design competition, held in the late 1950s and won by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. His original design proved too innovative for engineering capabilities of the time, and after much re-working the trademark shells of the roof were ultimately cast, in 2,194 discrete sections covered by more than a million ceramic tiles. By the time the building's interiors were finished and Queen Elizabeth II dedicated the building in 1973, costs had spiraled to 14 times the original budget -- and Utzon had resigned in frustration from political interference in questions of design.

More than simply an opera venue, the building is a complete performing arts center, with 11 acres of floor space divided into multiple halls and theaters. The largest is the Concert Hall, which can seat nearly 3,000, and an Opera Theatre, a Drama Theatre, smaller playhouses, restaurants, bars and shops round out the offerings. In a given year, more than 2,000 performances and events take place.

But the Opera House isn't the only architectural wonder in Sydney. The Harbour Bridge, which was before Utzon's masterpiece the symbol of the city, is a massive steel span finished in 1932, five years before San Francisco's Golden Gate. Stretching 1,650 feet, it remains one of the largest arch bridges in the world. While the deck has both pedestrian and cycling paths, more adventurous visitors can climb the arch, harnessed to a cable system 440 feet about the harbor (

Buildings on the campus of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Adán Eduardo Pedraza
UNAM Campus, Mexico City
The sprawling capital of Mexico deserves decades of architectural exploration, marked as it is with megalithic monuments (Teotihuacan), Modern masterpieces (the Camino Real hotel, the new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe), and stunning colonial constructions (the Zocalo, the Metropolitan Cathedral).

But if you have less than a lifetime to spare, the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico -- UNAM by its Spanish initials -- is the most notable collection of buildings in the city, thanks to its ambitious scale, historical motifs, vast art holdings and famed sports facilities -- including the 1968 Olympic Stadium. When UNESCO recognized the importance of the Ciudad Universitaria, as the main campus is called, in 2007, the preservation organization called it "a unique example of 20th-century modernism integrating urbanism, architecture, engineering, landscape design and fine arts" putting it in the same league as the planned capital city of Brazil, Brasilia.

The university itself was founded in 1551 by King Philip II of Spain, making it one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western Hemisphere. In 1949, work started on the new campus, involving more than 60 architects, artists and urban planners; amazingly, the campus opened to students just five years later. Among the talents who had a hand in the design were artists Juan O'Gorman, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros and architect Carlos Lazo Barreiro, who died in a plane crash in 1955; the school of architecture at UNAM bears his name.

Among the stand-outs on campus is the Central Library, a ten-story hulk of a building housing more than a half-million volumes is covered with colorful murals by Juan O'Gorman that are rich in Spanish and Aztec symbolism. The Olympic Stadium, carved from volcanic stone and bedecked with a Diego Rivera sculpture, played host to both the 1968 games and the 1986 World Cup. (It currently hosts the successful professional soccer club Universidad Nacional A.C., known as the Pumas.) The Rectory is an administrative tower most notable for its three-dimensional Siqueiros murals. Also worth a look is the Sculptural Space (Espacio Escultórico) on the south side of campus, with its mesmerizing ring of concrete blocks by Mathias Goeritz and other large-scale artwork.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: Buildings on the campus of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Photo by Adán Eduardo Pedraza/
The Burj Khalifa tower and surrounding buildings in Dubai. Community
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The world's tallest building, an indoor ski slope, neighborhoods built on islands shaped like palm trees: Only in a boomtown like Dubai could Postmodern architecture find such a legion of enthusiastic supporters. The results rarely exhibit the elegance of, say, the Alhambra, but in contemporary architecture, timeless beauty appears less a concern than delivering results to property developers. And that, Dubai's structures do that with aplomb, or so it seems with the breakneck pace of building. As proof of the seriousness of these bets on the future, the emirate recently completed a new international airport that ranks among the world's largest -- to compliment the existing airport that handled 47 million passengers in 2010.

Top of the list for architecture fans is, of course, the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper -- and tallest freestanding structure of any kind, rising to 2,717 feet. While its bundled-tube appearance recalls the skyline of Chicago, the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design is a departure from the construction techniques used there. The Y-shaped footprint creates a "buttressed core" capable of withstanding high winds while supporting an internal, hexagonal core from which floors extend. The exterior cladding, made of aluminum and steel panels and fins, was purpose-designed to resist Dubai's sweltering desert heat. Other unique design features include double-decker elevators like those found in the Taipei 101 and Aon Center, a 124th-floor observation deck offering views of the city and the world's first Armani hotel. While the half-mile height of the Burj impresses, another stat is perhaps more indicative of the sheer size of the tower: going full tilt, it takes three to four months to fully clean the building's facade.

But other structures in Dubai deserve architectural attention: The sail-inspired, waterfront Burj Al Arab hotel is already a symbol of the city. The Palm Jumeirah island houses the Pomo playground that is Atlantis Dubai. And still under construction, the frame of the Infinity Tower rotates 90 degrees as it rises toward its ultimate 80-story height. The Pentominium will be the tallest residential building when it's finished, aiming for 122 floors by 2013.

And lest we forget, there's a long list of projects never fully realized here, among them a horrendous 60-story Trump Hotel, an underwater hotel called Hydropolis and a 70-story residential tower with floors that would rotate to offer 360-degree views over the course of a day. Only in Dubai? Only up to a 2,700-foot-high point it seems.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: The Burj Khalifa tower and surrounding buildings in Dubai. Photo by Saigonkick/ Community
The Glass House, designed by Philip Johnson, in New Canaan.
James Vaughan
The Glass House, New Canaan
Perhaps no other building can lend such insight to what an architect values more than the design of his or her own home, with Frank Lloyd Wright's in Oak Park, Illinois and the Eames' home in Los Angeles as prime examples. But it's Philip Johnson's Glass House, designed by the Modernist master as his personal retreat outside New Canaan, Connecticut, that stands as the most sublime expression of the form.

Johnson curated the landmark 1932 exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art on the International Style, introducing the United States to the work of European Modernists like Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. As Johnson designed his home, Mies van der Rohe was at work contemporaneously on his glass-walled Farnsworth House, outside Chicago, and his work greatly influenced Johnson's final vision.

The Glass House itself is a 1,728-square-foot open-plan private residence, anchored by a central cylindrical brick fireplace (that also conceals a bathroom), finished in 1949. The floor, too, is brick; understated furnishings in wood and leather were designed by Mies van der Rohe. Though Johnson initially lived in his glass-walled home, he soon decamped for a nearby Brick House. Originally designed as a temporary guest house, the more modest structure let Johnson convert his centerpiece into an entertainment pavilion, where he hosted frequent salons with artists and architects.

In later years, he expanded the estate, designing and executing experimental structures like the Painting Gallery, Sculpture Gallery, Kirstein Tower, and the Ghost House. His partner, art collector David Whitney, heavily influenced the art that filled the grounds, both indoors and out, with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol among others.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: The Glass House, designed by Philip Johnson, in New Canaan. Photo by James Vaughan/
Boutique hotels along Collins Avenue in Miami's South Beach neighborhood.
Dave Hoffman
The Art Deco District, Miami
Single-structure encapsulations of the Art Deco style may be more famous -- the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center in New York, the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border -- but Miami offers the highest concentration in the country of the inter-war eclecticism that only the arts décoratifs can deliver. See the bonanza in Miami Beach, where a U.S. Historic District preserves nearly 1,000 structures, encompassing resorts, businesses and private homes, all densely packed between the Atlantic coast and Alton Road. While Art Deco as a whole is a discrete style, variations on the theme have proliferated in Miami, including Mediterranean Revival, Streamline Moderne and MiMo, or Miami Modern, the latter spawned after World War II.

Interwar buildings are the icons of Deco here, and they line Ocean Drive. Notables include Beach Patrol Headquarters at Number 1001, a nautical-themed structure that's been re-purposed into the headquarters of the Miami Design Preservation League, a group that's been instrumental in protecting the neighborhood. Casa Casuarina, at Number 1116, is a Revival gem built in 1930 for Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman. (Gianni Versace later owned it; he was gunned down in front of the building in 1997.) The Tides Hotel, at Number 1220, evokes a New York City skyscraper.

Along Collins Avenue, The Hotel and Jerry's Famous Deli are two of the best examples of Miami Deco, at numbers 801 and 1450 respectively. Two important government buildings reflect the ubiquity of Miami's homegrown style on Washington Avenue, the Old City Hall at Number 1130 and the Post Office at Number 1300. For complete immersion in the Mediterranean Revival style, head for the Spanish Village, a pastel micro-neighborhood along Española Way.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: Boutique hotels along Collins Avenue in Miami's South Beach neighborhood. Photo by Dave Hoffman/ Community
Isfahan, Iran. Community
Isfahan, Iran
The city of Isfahan may no longer, as the saying goes, be half the world, but it remains a magical city of monumental structures and perhaps the pinnacle of Persian urbanity, courtesy of Shah Abbas I the Great, who moved the capital of his empire to Isfahan in 1598. The ruler immediately embarked on a building spree almost unrivaled in history, cementing the city's place as one of humanity's most spectacular Islamic cities.

Anchoring the Shah's urban development is Imam Square, also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square. At nearly 900,000 square feet, it's one of the largest public plazas in the world, dotted with fountains and ringed by two-story arcades with pointed-arch facades.

Anchoring the south end of the square is the Imam Mosque, finished in 1629 and also called the Shah Mosque after Abbas. A towering, arched entrance portal gives way to the rest of the building, which is set at an angle to the square so as to appropriately face Mecca. An inner courtyard and pool front the main sanctuary, which is capped by a double-shelled dome crafted for optimal acoustics and awash in fine blue and white tile work.

On the east side of Naqsh-e Jahan, the Sheikh Loftallah Mosque is a smaller but, at least in its artwork, more elegant house of worship, also completed at the start of the 17th century. Commissioned for the royal family, it is notably set apart from the square by a small staircase -- a subtle reminder that this was a private building. Opposite Loftallah is the Ali Qapu, the palace of Shah Abbas, with its impressive double-height colonnaded terrace overlooking the square.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: The 350-year-old Khaju Bridge, Isfahan, Iran. Photo by DAO/ Community.
Interior of Museu do Omo Total in Brasilia.
Joao Vicente
Brasilia, Brazil
Brasilia is not the only planned national capital city on the planet -- Canberra in Australia, Naypyidaw in Myanmar, and Washington, D.C. come to mind -- but Brazil's administrative center ex nihilo is the only one brimming with the work of urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer, who had free reign to craft their vision of the modern city in the virgin heart of Brazil in the late 1950s. More than 700 miles by road northwest of Rio de Janeiro and laid out in a cross on a grand scale, the city's monumental, Modernist buildings are the manifestation of the designers' utopian vision for a 20th-century city. When it made UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1987, just 27 years after it became Brazil's capital, it was the only such site built after 1900.

The overall urban plan of the city radiates from the east-west Monumental Axis, akin to the National Mall in the U.S. writ large. On the east end, the Plaza of Three Powers is a collection of buildings housing representatives of all three branches of Brazilian government, dotted with monuments, museums and sculpture. (The National Congress is particularly alluring, with its half-dome, twin towers and reflecting pools seemingly drawn from science fiction.) Along the Axis, the Cathedral of Brazil, its ribs swooshing upward, and the Cultural Complex, a pedestrian ramp seemingly orbiting its domed National Museum, are other Jetson-esque examples of Niemeyer's vision. At the west end of the Axis is a memorial to President Juscelino Kubitschek, who green-lighted the master plan for the city.

Running north to south is another curved axis, providing access to the city's many superquadras, or megablocks, that have their own discrete housing, services and public spaces. In his original plan Costa designed roadways that wouldn't need traffic signals -- that bit of optimism proved a bit too much for the cold, hard forces of car-crazed modernity.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: Interior of Museu do Omo Total in Brasilia. Photo by Joao Vicente/
Outside the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Community
Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
In the heart of the Old City of Damascus, the Umayyad Mosque sits on ground that's been considered holy since the 9th century B.C., when the Arameans built a temple here that was later given over to Jupiter by the Romans. The site was then transformed into a Christian church -- and housed the head of John the Baptist, it's said. (The relic is still there today.) When Damascus came under Islamic rule, at the turn of the 8th century A.D., the church became a mosque that's been there ever since. How important is this place to the Abrahamic religions? Pope John Paul II visited in May 2001 -- marking the first time a pontiff had ever prayed inside a mosque.

Parts of the building date back to roughly 715 A.D. but in the interceding 1,296-year history, the mosque has, on multiple occasions, burned, partially collapsed, been restored and been rebuilt. Nevertheless, there is much to see even if the complex isn't perfectly preserved as it looked way back when. Tourists enter on the north side of the building and pass into the grand courtyard, paved with polished limestone, lined with arcades and adorned by mosaics that managed to survive a catastrophic fire in 1893. From here, you'll see three minarets constructed (and reconstructed) over the span of centuries. Of the three, the Minaret of the Bride is the oldest -- and while its exact date of construction is unknown, the style and silhouette of the tower can be seen echoed across the Medieval Muslim world, from Marrakech to Seville.

The courtyard gives way to the sanctuary on the south side of the mosque, the focus of which is the elaborately adorned mihrab and minbar, pointing the way to Mecca. The shrine housing the relic said to be the head of John the Baptist is an amalgamation of eastern and western motifs, with Corinthian columns and a classical entablature -- inscribed with Arabic script and topped with a dome. Echoing that shape, the mosque as a whole is capped by the Dome of the Eagle, a stone crown added after the fire of 1893.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: Outside the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Photo by jpescado/ Community.
One corner of the interior of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Community
The Alhambra, Granada
Roman ruins, Baroque cathedrals, and starchitecture galore, sure, but Spain's best building draws on an oft-overlooked turn of Iberia's history: North African and Arab Moors ruled territory in Spain for a stretch of nearly 800 years, until their ultimate expulsion in 1492. While the mosque-turned-cathedral of Seville and the architectural vernacular of southern Andalusia draw on Arab motifs, the pinnacle of Islamic construction here is undoubtedly Granada's hilltop fortress, the Alhambra.

That the history of the structure should be shrouded in considerable mystery is perhaps unsurprising: the citadel was built over centuries by successive generations of the Nasrid Dynasty, the ultimate Moorish rulers of Andalusia, lending ample time for legends to flower. But the first defensive structures here pre-date the Nasrid rulers, and the Alhambra traces its roots to as early as the 800s, though some of its most spectacular features weren't built until the 1300s. The building has been well-preserved by a quirk of history: Because it was taken by monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, it remained whole, perched above Granada as an untouchable monument to Catholic victory.

For visitors, the structure is best thought of in parts: The Palacio Nazaríes, or Palace of the Nasrids, the original fort, or Alcazaba, the Generalife gardens and the palace of Carlos I, which also houses two museums. It's the Nazaríes that architecture-lovers will want to focus on, thanks to fluted arches, arabesque detailing, babbling fountains anchoring colonnaded courtyards. Also here is the Washington Irving room, where the author did more for the building's fame than anyone since the Moors themselves: After living inside the fortress in the summer of 1829, he published his book The Alhambra in 1832, reintroducing the forgotten treasure to the Western world.

Timed tickets for a visit are available in advance and are recommended during Holy Week and during the summer high season ( A visit by night is particularly enchanting, as Irving wrote: "The effect of moonlight, too, on the Alhambra, has something like enchantment. Every rent and chasm of time, every mouldering tin and weather-stain disappears; the marble resumes its original whiteness; the long colonnades brighten in the moonbeams."

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: One corner of the interior of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Photo by dgurewitz/ Community
A monk at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Thailand. Community
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
The world's largest religious complex and now a monument to the rise and fall of empires, the temple complex of Angkor Wat is also a national symbol of Cambodia and the most stunning collection of Khmer art and architecture in the world. It's much more than just one building -- the name means temple city -- but rather a sprawling complex of wats, outbuildings, walls, statues, moats, and lakes, in the jungle just north of Siem Reap. If all sounds a bit Tomb Raider, it should: the 2001 Angelina Jolie flick filmed extensively here.

Built in the mid-12th century from sandstone and laterite, the materials of choice for ancient Khmer builders, Angkor Wat itself is the best-preserved structure here, covering nearly a third of a mile square and guarded by a moat. Most likely a funerary temple for king Suryavarman II, it also served as a monument to the Hindu god Vishnu, seen in 10-foot-high statue form at the entrance. The overall stepped, pyramidal structure of the wat makes it a metaphor for Mount Meru, the home of the gods of Hinduism. Inside, galleries are covered in fabulous bas relief artwork and covered by corbeled arches -- for all their design prowess, the Khmers never perfected true stone arches.

After Suryavarman II's death around 1150, Angkor was sacked by the Cham people. When Khmer king Jayavarman VII regained control in 1181, he promptly celebrated by commissioning a massive new temple city known as Angkor Thom. Covering more than three square miles, it's an impressive example of state-financed architecture in service of state-building: the wide moat, high wall and sheer scale of the fortified city are unmistakable signals that the Khmers were back on top after 30 years of strife. His building campaigned continued with the Bayon, an eerie temple of 54 towers and hundreds of carved stone faces, smiling unsettlingly down on visitors.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: A monk at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Thailand. Photo by dkosta/ Community
Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany.
The Bauhaus, Germany
It's the ultimate in metonymy: Bauhaus, now known as a style of inter-war German-inspired architecture which translates as "house of construction," originated in a real-world school of architecture, helmed through its short life by design legends Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. And while the movement met an early demise in Berlin with the rise of the Nazi Party, a few of its foundational buildings still stand, in Weimar and Dessau.

The philosophy of Bauhaus, which is smartly described with the aphorisms "form follows function" and "less is more," got its start in the central German city of Weimar in 1919, when Walter Gropius invited fine artists, craftsmen and architects to fuse their styles at a new "school" for a new type of mash-up architecture and design in Weimar. The Haus am Horn is the only example of the group's architecture in the city -- a low-slung cubic structure designed as a home stripped to its essential parts -- but there's now a Bauhaus Museum in the city that has a small collection of work, too (

With the move to Dessau in 1925, the output of the school boomed. Most notably, Gropius himself designed Bauhaus Building, opened in 1926, to serve as group headquarters. Its elegant geometric form and clean lines lend a permanent modernity to the structure; it looks fresh even today. Meanwhile other Bauhaus-affiliated artists and architects designed structures around town. The Kandinsky/Klee House and the Muche/Schlemmer House have been reconstructed to some of their former glory. The Kornhaus Restaurant by Carl Fieger is still a restaurant today. The Torten Estate is Gropius's take on the "modern" housing project.

A final move to Berlin in 1930 didn't save the school and its new director, Mies van der Rohe, from Nazi supression, and the Bauhaus was shuttered in 1933. Many of its affiliated artists and architects fled Germany for Britain, the U.S., and Tel Aviv, where their ideas continued to evolve into the International Style, later popularized in Chicago. Berlin is now home to a Bauhaus Archive, housed in a building designed by, you guessed it, Walter Gropius.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany. Photo by Olaf/
View of Chicago's skyline from the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). Community
Chicago, Illinois
They may change the name, but to many, the Sears Tower will forever be the Sears Tower, a nearly 1,500-foot-high monument to architectural hubris finished in 1974 and, for more than two decades, the tallest building on the planet. The steel-and-glass-curtain skyscraper, is one of the city's hallmarks, of course, but downtown bristles with towers, forming an appropriately vertical skyline for the place that birthed the very first multi-story, mixed-use buildings.

The Home Life Insurance Building, built in Chicago in 1885 is commonly thought of as the first true skyscraper because the weight of the building is supported not by thick masonry walls -- a technique used in everything from the Pyramids to Angkor Wat -- but rather a steel skeletal framework. (Never mind that the structure was a modest 10 stories tall.) The tower spawned an architectural movement across the city that came to be called the Chicago School, with the Rookery and Marquette buildings as the prime examples of the turn-of-the-century stylistic innovation.

(Meanwhile, Frank Lloyd Wright was designing private homes in and around the city, including his own in Oak Park. It's open to visitors (more info at, as is his noteworthy Robie House on the University of Chicago campus.)

After World War II, a new generation of Chicago architects propelled the city ever upward. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe created icons of Modernism, chief among them the IBM Building, a 52-story monolith now on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, completed in 1973. The Hancock Tower, immediately recognizable for its cross-braced exterior, topped out in 1968; the Aon Center, another tube-style super-tower similar in style to the World Trade Center and, yes, the Sears Tower, was finished in 1973.

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: View of Chicago's skyline from the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). Photo by Jay Filter/ Community
Pyramids, Giza-Egypt
Michael Alvares
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Elegant, imposing and instantly recognizable, the three tombs of Giza might just be the world's most powerful logo: After all, who doesn't instantly think "Egypt!" when they see those three triangular silhouettes? It's true that the messy -- and sometimes deadly -- business of reorganizing the country in the wake of January's revolution continues, but intrepid travelers are already headed back to Northern Africa to see one of mankind's most stunning public works projects.

Built in the 26th century B.C. and encompassing a greater collection of buildings than just the three iconic peaks we often think of, the Pyramids comprise a spectacular array of megalithic monuments. But the tombs of Khufu (Cheops), Khafre (Chephren), and Menkaura (Mycerinus) -- pharaohs all, of course -- are why UNESCO has recognized this as a World Heritage Site, and the sheer size of the constructions explains why: The largest, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, stands 450 feet high, with a square footprint of 745 feet a side, and consists of some 2.3 million limestone blocks, with an average weight of 2.5 tons. Also here are numerous out-buildings, including pyramids for queens, temples, causeways, tombs and the Sphinx.

Debate about how exactly the pyramids were built still occupies Egyptologists, but the current prevailing theory is that stone quarried nearby was grappled into place using levers, ramps and rollers, saving technology like the pulley for only the most critical jobs. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's flaymboyant master of all things archeological has argued that construction crews were not enslaved, rather they were seasonal worker. (The significant astronomical alignment of the pyramids, though, has spawned many a supernatural theory as to their method of construction.)

For getting there information, read the expanded Great Architectural Pilgrimages feature.

Photo Caption: The Pyramids of Giza, outside of Cairo.