This week travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack’ is Architecture. What a tough challenge this week. Not because I don’t shoot architecture photos, but because I shoot WAY too many architecture photos. My wife often complains when we travel that I have taken another photo of a building. But the challenge for me is that I am an engineer of the built environment by profession. I see beauty in the design and construction of buildings and the myriad of materials that are used to realise the architect’s vision. Often, my favourite architectural images are obscure buildings that are not known globally, but are striking in their design.

But given the number of “architecture” photos I have shot, I think I have to do this in two parts.

This first photo is from the Olympic Park in Athens, that I took at the time of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work on the games and see Santiago Calatrava’s handiwork in the flesh. This is the modern interpretation of the ancient Greek agora – or marketplace.

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Next, in Southeast Asia is Thailand’s absolutely gorgeous national treasure known as the Royal Palace. It is a place of religious worship as well. When we went it was not long after some internal political strife that scared the tourists away. This allowed me to take so many shots of the Palace grounds without many other tourists in the shots. The tile work and gold leaf gilding the towers is absolutely stunning and almost too much to take in.

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Closer to home, in Australia, on the Northern New South Wales coast is the small town of Bellingen (not too far away from Coffs Harbour). What I found unique about this town was the Art Deco buildings that lined the main street, a perfect compliment to the local artisans who also ply their trades in the town. Even though the many of the buildings have modern fixtures and fittings, the locals make a very big effort to maintain the essence of the buildings as seen below.

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Further South in the Australian capital city of Canberra is our national parliament house. When the old parliament house exceeded its useful life, a new design was done by  Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola with the assistance of landscape architect Peter G. Rolland. What I find unique about this building is that it was built into our capitol hill, and sunk underneath. It blends in with the land, and while massive I think typifies the Australian ethos of being one with the land and the desire to protect our environment. It is both a simple and complex design at the same time.

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Further South still in the city of Melbourne, Victoria is Federation Square. This set of buildings at the heart of the city features what I think is one of the most complex geometric facades on any building that I have seen with the “fractal” tiles arranged in an aperiodic tiling pattern. It was controversial at the time of construction, but what a building!

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Back to Asia and the Hong Kong skyline is dominated by one of the new kids on the block, the International Finance Centre Tower number 2. It is huge! At 420m tall, it is only the second tallest building in Hong Kong – but for my money it is the most elegant. Christopher Nolan thought it was suitable enough for a certain caped crusader to launch from. Walking next to it is certainly a humbling experience.

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Further East of China is the medieval gem that is Himeji Castle, in Japan. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the most stunning example of Japanese military architecture. It was never taken by siege. It is known as either the White Egret Castle or White Heron Castle. The six storey central keep is imposing over the cityscape of Himeji, and when I wandered through the castle grounds it was like stepping back in time to feudal Japan.

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Still in Japan but on the Western side of Honshu is the coastal city of Kanazawa. Also a city of artisans, arriving at the train station one is greeted by the modern day interpretation of a Japanese mon (or gate). The wooden construction is huge and elegant at the same time. I wish more train stations were as beautiful as this one.

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Continuing with the train station theme is the art nouveau design of Helsinki, Finland’s Central Railway Station. Its imposing figures holding aloft their globes are classic in their designs, and the building’s clock tower is beautiful. It was designed by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen back in 1909. I would love to see more new buildings constructed with this level of detail and design, but the period and style is probably lost to time.

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I lived in Paris, France for a while back in 2004 and I could have pulled up any number of buildings for this post. But I chose a set of buildings that reflect a lost architectural direction of its era. The Forum des Halles in the 1er arrondissement of Paris is a collection of architecturally designed buildings built on the site of the old Paris markets. But they have remained soulless since their construction in the 1980s. The site is currently being redeveloped, but it still represents an attempt at architectural rebirth that is odd, but striking… in my opinion. What I love about the French is that they are not scared of attempting to reinvent their future, while still respecting the past history.

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Staying with the French speaking world, but on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is the city of Montreal. Montreal is FUN! I can only imagine what it would be like to get up to mischief in Montreal without a 2 year old in tow. Another city of artisans, where there are numerous examples of architectural wonder. One highlight for me was the Palais de Congrès and Mario Saia’s multi-coloured glass facade. Big and bold.

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Lastly in North America, one cannot travel to New York and not be knocked over by the plethora of architecture on display. But the architectural heart and soul of New York would have to be the Rockefeller Center. It is a complex of 19 buildings, which at the center is dominated by the GE Building at 30 Rock. On our last trip to New York, my wife gave me a pass out to do the internal tour of the Rockefeller Center and I must have shot at least 400 photos of the building. This shot is simply the tower and its stepped sides.

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More to come in part two.