Great Classic Buildings

12 must-visit architectural wonders, from Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater to the Pantheon in Rome to Tikal in Guatemala

This list of 12 buildings "worth a journey" was prepared by Tony Atkin, Adjunct Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and his office, Atkin, Olshin, Lawson-Bell Architects of Philadelphia. Mr. Atkin covered "older" structures. For buildings constructed after 1999, click here.There are the obvious buildings, like the Parthenon, the Egyptian pyramids, and the Taj Mahal that everyone would like to see (and should), but in compiling this list of the 12 must-visit classic architectural sites we have picked places we have been to and loved. Many of the sites are extraordinary for their architecture combined with their landscapes, or for their relation to the art or objects they house. Of course, there are many wonderful buildings and sites left out of such a short list.

1. Chartres Cathedral, France (1130 - mid 13th Century)

Chartres possessed the tunic the Virgin Mary wore at the Nativity, and by 1100 became the center of a cult of Mary that flourished in the Middle Ages, and a very popular pilgrimage site. Work began in the 1130's to modernize and extend an existing Romanesque church on the site, and it was done in the new Gothic style, first championed by Abbot Suger at the Church of St. Denis 55 miles away. The new style emphasized unity, light, and almost dizzying verticality, made possible by the invention of the gothic arch and flying buttresses, that allowed much of the wall to become windows. 

God and spiritual attainment became synonymous with luminescence and structural transcendence. An almost feverish competition for patronage of the church resulted in glorious stained glass windows, given by King Philip Augustus, Peter of Dreux, the Duke of Brittany--all the noble houses of France are represented. Queen Blanche of Castile, the mother of Louis the IX, gave windows of the north transept, which glorifies Mary and her child in brilliant reds, as she fought to protect the life and prerogatives of the future king.

Today the church is still approached across abundant wheat fields. Its uneven towers, done in different building campaigns, sharply break the horizon and set the stage for visiting this noblest and best-loved Gothic church.

Address: Place de la Cathedrale, Chartres
Hours:

  • Monday-Sunday: 8:30 am to 7:30 pm
  • Guided tours at 12:00 and 2:45
  • 2. The Pantheon, Rome, Italy (begun in 118)

    Built by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple, it is unknown what rites or services were held here. The building's powerful presence is perhaps because of the combination of the highly detailed, square portico that is oddly attached to a huge, circular rotunda surmounted by a majestic dome with an open oculus at the top.

    Once inside, the odd exterior is forgotten, as one is overwhelmed by the scale and perfection of the vault and mesmerized by the round sphere of light from the open "eye" above that moves slowly around the interior as the sun changes position. This being the only light in the room, comparisons to the vault of heaven are inevitable.

    The building was (and is) a great technical achievement: built of concrete (a building material perfected by the Romans), the size of its great dome was unchallenged until the Fifteenth Century, when Brunelleschi made a dome of slightly greater span for the Cathedral at Florence.

    Address: The Pantheon, Piazza della Rotuonda, RomeWeb Information:monolithic.com/thedome/pantheon/Hours:

  • Monday-Saturday: 8:30 am to 7:30 pm
  • Sunday: 9 am to 6 pm
  • Closed: Jan. 1, May 1 and Dec. 25
  • 3. Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (1924-30/1940-43)

    The Cranbrook Academy, Museum, and Educational Community is at first glance simply a beautiful example of a successful collaboration between Eliel Saarinen, a visionary genius who believed in the expressive power of modernism, and his patrons, George and Ellen (Scripps) Booth. In looking deeper, however, one can also find that it is a truly homegrown American icon that reflects a dedication to the importance of craftsmanship and making things by hand in the city--Detroit--that transformed American manufacturing capabilities through the assembly line.

    The campus is made up of several different parts developed over the course of its 100-year history. The original Boys School courtyard exemplifies an intense level of detail that only becomes apparent through extended discovery; for example, each pane of glass in the Dining Hall has a unique leaded pattern. Throughout the courtyard the hand of the master mason is apparent, as quirky brick details are--with Saarinen's blessing--randomly scattered through the walls.

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    Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
     

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