More than bricks and mortar

24/10/2017 10:40

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

One of the joys of visiting another city is the chance to come across quirky, surprising and unexpected buildings. Here is our choice of some of the best.

National Library, Prishtina

National Library Prishtina Kosovo by Leonid Andronov, Dreamstime© Leonid Andronov, Dreamstime

The National Library at the heart of the university campus in Kosovo's capital is one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in Prishtina, although not necessarily to everyone’s taste – a 2009 website classed it among the ten most ugly buildings in the world. According to urban legend, the head of the Communist Party asked one of his aides at the official inauguration ceremony why the scaffolding had not been taken down.

Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang

Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea by Suez, Wikimedia Commons© Suez, Wikimedia Commons

Stabbing 330m high into the sky, the great unfinished Ryugyong Hotel can be seen from every viewpoint in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. It has been speculated that this 105-storey pyramid inspired the Shard in London. Construction began in 1980 when Pyongyang hosted the World Student Games and, although recently clad in glass, it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will be finished.

Ferenc Raichle mansion, Subotica

Ferenc Raichle mansion, Subotica, Serbia by Hons084, Wikimedia Commons© Hons 084, Wikimedia Commons

In this Serbian city that is rich in Art Nouveau architecture, this is the most striking example. Originally designed as an abode by Ferenc Raichle, the creative mind behind several other buildings around Subotica, the eponymous mansion now hosts a modern art gallery.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland by VisitIceland© Visit Iceland

One of the tallest buildings in Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja is a symbol of Reykjavik in its own right. Its architecture borrows from an ancient theme that honours a past hero, Hallgrímur Pétursson, by invoking nature with modernism. The design was finalised in 1937, construction began after the Second World War and the town was completed in 1974. It’s possible to climb to the top of this tower for an unforgettable panorama of Reykjavik.

National Library, Minsk

National Library Minsk Belarus by Kuprevich, Shutterstock© Kuprevich, Shutterstock

Opened by the president himself on 16 June 2006, this most unusual building in Belarus's capital makes for a really eye-catching sight in all of its futuristic splendour. The correct term for its geometric shape is, apparently, a rhombicuboctahedron. Whatever the technicalities, it’s quite a sight.

The Blue Church, Bratislava

Blue Church, Bratislava, Slovakia by Jozef Kotulič, Wikimedia Commons© Jozef Kotulič, Wikimedia Commons

Although formally called the Church of St Elizabeth, this Art Nouveau building in Slovakia's capital takes its name from the little ceramic tiles that cover its concrete edifice.

Guggenheim, Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain by Noradoa, Shutterstock© Noradoa, Shutterstock

Bilbao’s spectacular Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim is, of course, the headline act. Bilbao and its surroundings in the Basque Country suffered in the 1980s as part of a global industrial decline, exacerbated by regional factors, but it has since sought to reinvent itself as a service economy. The ‘Guggenheim effect’ is held up as the flagship project in this process. The ‘botxo’ – the ‘hole’, as then-polluted Bilbao was once called – is no more. 

Rathaus, Basel

Rathaus Basel Switzerland by Michael Will, Basel TourismThe 16th-century Rathaus is one of the most remarkable buildings in Basel © Michael Will, Basel Tourism 

The sienna-coloured Rathaus dominates Basel's Marktplatz. The three-storey central section with clock was built between 1503 and 1507, the left-hand part with oriel window from 1606 to 1608 and the tower from 1898 to 1904. Its courtyard is decorated by frescoes executed in 1608 by Hans Bock.

UFO Bridge, Bratislava

UFO Tower Bratislava Most SNP Slovakia by DUOMEDIA© DUOMEDIA

Built in 1972, the UFO Bridge is the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge that has one pylon and one cable-stayed span. Th e asymmetrical structure has a main span length of 303m, and the unique attraction is the flying saucer-shaped object housing a restaurant, bar and lookout platform above.

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