A Guide to Architecturally Inspiring Summer Vacations
Scott Spector Aug. 4, 2014, 2:30 p.m.
As I write this piece, I’m about to leave for a vacation. Yes, everyone needs a break to recharge!
For those of us in the commercial real estate business, a family trip can prove not only restful, but also inspiring. I feel fortunate to have visited a number of architecturally significant cities over the years. While those trips often involve beaches and recreation, I enjoy being on the go and scoping out beautifully designed buildings and neighborhoods.
Here are some of my favorite cities to visit and the highlights from each:
Istanbul, Turkey: Should you find your way to this enchanting city, be sure to pay a visit to St. Sophia, one of the most famous examples of Byzantine architecture in the world and a place I recall studying back in architecture school. It’s even more remarkable to see this multifunctional building in person. While you’re in the heart of old Istanbul, I’d also recommend a trip to the nearby Blue Mosque, which is situated in the Sultan Ahmet Square.
The Basilica Cistern, the largest of the ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul, is one of my favorite structures. Even though it’s dark inside, the architecture and design, particularly the way that water is moved in and out of the city, is fascinating.
Another must-see: one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets, with immaculately stacked goods and an interior flow that leads to a central point, the Grand Bazaar.
Prague, Czech Republic: I’d be remiss if I talked about Prague without mentioning the Dancing House, also known by the nickname “Fred and Ginger.” Designed by Blado Milunic in partnership with Frank Gehry, and completed in 1996, this modern structure was controversial when first constructed, as it contrasts with the typical style of architecture for which the city is famous.
Also worth a visit is the Charles Bridge, which was completed in the beginning of the 15th century and links Prague Castle and Old Town. It’s still a major tourist attraction to this day.
Last, but not least, I recommend a trip to the Old New Synagogue, the oldest medieval synagogue boasting a twin-nave. If you have some more time, head to the stately Municipal House, which houses a prominent concert hall.
Budapest, Hungary: I often call Budapest a “mini-Paris” as it’s just as beautiful and moving and has a similar design.
Begin at the Chain Bridge, which connects the Buda and Pest sides of the historic city. On the Buda end, a trip to Castle Hill at night is mesmerizing.
Head over to Pest to enjoy a look at the Parliament building, rich in its architectural detail and wonder. The Great Synagogue is worth a mention, as it stood strong through the war to become the iconic building it is today.
Athens, Greece: I’m going to go ahead and say it: every architect or architectural student should visit Athens at least once to witness its grandeur in person. While you only need a day to see the city, taking in its iconic columns, of which only a few are left, is an experience you’ll never forget.
Barcelona, Spain: Last, but certainly not least, I recommend a trip to Barcelona. The influence of Gaudi can be seen in the residential, commercial and religious spaces throughout the city. A prime example is the mosaic-clad garden complex Park Güell, situated on the El Carmel hill in the Gracia district. There’s also the Sagrada Família Church, which to this day sits incomplete and will perhaps remain that way, though there is word that it may be finished in 2026, on the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
I’d also keep your camera handy if you visit the Mies van der Rohe pavilion, which boasts a style of architecture so beloved that my own grandfather modeled his home after it. The influence of prominent architects can be found pretty much everywhere you look in Barcelona, which is why I tell friends and family they’ll never feel like they have enough days to enjoy it.