November 10, 2015

The imposing outside of the Centre Pompidou © Alfie Ianni

One of the best things about travelling in Europe is the amazing variety of things to see and do. Making your way from, say, France to Italy lets you take in rolling meadows, snow-capped mountains and even marshy paddy fields, not forgetting thousands of miles of rocky shores and golden beaches. But some of the most beautiful and arresting sights in Europe aren’t Mother Nature’s work - they’re ours.

Traditional architectural styles are in evidence across Europe; everyone loves to see an intricate Swiss chalet or gleaming white Spanish villa. Inspired by the World Architecture Festival happening in Singapore this November, I thought I’d take a look at some of the most striking and quirky Continental buildings - they’re all perfect for a photo opportunity next time you’re on a city break in Europe.

 A ‘thicket’ of tree-like Cubic Houses in Rotterdam
A ‘thicket’ of tree-like Cubic Houses in Rotterdam © esther

Cubic Houses, Rotterdam

Based on the soothing image of a group of trees, the famous Cubic Houses of Rotterdam are an ingenious way to maximise floor space without having a big building plot. Each house contains two floors of living space plus a rooftop garden - and since much of Rotterdam is below sea level, an elevated house must feel very secure! One of the houses has been converted for tours, and several more are now available as hostel accommodation so you can try them out for yourselves.

Centre Pompidou, Paris

Paris is so intricately designed that, compared to its elegant boulevards, the Centre Pompidou can seem shocking at first. The massive arts venue (it contains a library, a centre for music research and Europe’s biggest modern art gallery) exposes the incredible complexity that’s necessary to any large building that’s usually hidden away, with plumbing, electricity cables and climate control systems all in colour-coded pipes on the façade. When it was opened, National Geographic said its impression of the Centre Pompidou was “love at second sight” - so leave time for two visits!

 The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao combines smooth lines with cutting-edge materials
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao combines smooth lines with cutting-edge materials © Phillip Capper

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Another museum, but one that couldn’t be more different from the Centre Pompidou. The Guggenheim Bilbao was developed and built over a 16-year period, completely revitalising the depressed docks area of Bilbao that it now dominates. Created from apparently random swirls and curves of stone, glass and titanium, the museum now houses countless works of art - but even if you never step inside, it’s worth a trip just to admire the splendour of the building itself.

Waldspirale, Darmstadt

Just a forty-minute drive from Frankfurt, the city of Darmstadt contains my favourite block of flats in the world. The Waldspirale is a huge complex that, despite containing more than 100 apartments, supposedly has not a single straight line. Painted in wavy stripes of colour and with a fully-fledged forest growing on its roof, it also contains more than 1000 windows - no two of which are alike. If you’re craving something truly out of the ordinary, this amazing fairy-tale building is perfect.

Ready to build your trip?

Of course, there are many beautiful and unusual buildings in the UK too - but with Europe just 35 minutes away with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, it’s never been easier to explore the best of Continental architecture. I guarantee you’ll fall in love with what you find, whether it’s a futuristic skyscraper or a picturesque shepherd’s hut, so if you’re unable to head to Singapore, Europe is just a short drive away!

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