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Seven wonders of the world: Architecture Add to ...

A list is as incomplete as the unravelling of time. Implicit within the making of one list is the need to make another. To do, to see, to hold, to climb, to cook, to love - we might lose our bearings without something new to conquer. With this in mind, I offer a list of seven architectural wonders that blends the contemporary and modern worlds. Take it for what it is, and as something that may change tomorrow.

Of course, the Seven Wonders of the World - first compiled around 100 BC - was the original architectural list. This most courageous distillation of architectural works surely ignored the most sublime temples, and snubbed entire city-states through the non-inclusion of their monuments. Consider how many feelings were hurt.

What emerged, after centuries of contemplation, was a list that celebrated mass and monumentality, classical form and megalomaniac ambition. Greek poet Antipater of Sidon declared that the Temple of Diana of Ephesus was the ultimate wonder of architecture, while conceding that the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Colossus of Rhodes also deserved to make the cut. The Great Pyramid at Giza was included. For Persia, two sites were named: the Tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus and the Walls and Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Later, during the sixth century, Gregory of Tours replaced the Walls of Babylon with the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, which towered over the island of Pharos in Egypt.

For my list, the dreams of architects such as Etienne-Louis Boullée or Archigram, no matter how seductive their visions on paper, were barred. Architecture, both historic and modern, was considered, but only if the works are still intact and accessible to visitors. Works that have endured for their beauty and clarity, that have annihilated the whims of style, were favoured. There is a concession to grandiose, even stupefying works but, mostly, this is architecture that carries us away the moment we hold it with our eyes.

Luis Barragan House

Mexico City

Near a highway, and amid the fruit vendors of Mexico City's west end, the Barragan House lies behind an anonymous masonry wall that offers zero pretension or allusions of grandeur to the neighbourhood.

So begins a journey into a monastic space, free from the clutter of the consumer world, where Barragan lived, worked and, ultimately, died in 1988. The Mexican architect considered the house his laboratory, and he modified its design over four decades. Today, architects from around the world consider it a sublime distillation of light, with walls that guide the body and interiors aligned with nature.

Barragan, who laboured in relative obscurity, believed that windows should provide views without being compromised by a door. For his house, the large picture window designed with a cruciform of thin black mullions is an enticement into the garden, with its ponds and sculptural trees, but the door is placed deliberately to the side. The landscape is designed to be as compelling as the interior. Indeed, U.S. architect Louis Kahn was drawn to what he described as the primordial darkness of the water flowing from the stream into the garden.

Barragan breathed new life into the International Style of architecture by using the bright colours of traditional Mexican festivals, while favouring the unshakable rhythms of heavy wooden roof timbers and narrow wooden stairs cantilevered from stucco walls. He was a religious man moved by the cloisters and courtyards of monumental monastic buildings. There's no gold or stained glass in the house, but there are earthenware pots on the stones of the courtyard, and surprising views to the outside world afforded by tiny, perfect windows.

More than the great majority of well-endowed places of worship, Barragan's roof terrace is a place of profound, simple spirituality, offering explosive views of the sky. A dark, narrow staircase leads to the terrace held behind tall, brightly coloured masonry walls.

Barragan was the 1980 laureate of the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture. During his acceptance speech, he called it "alarming" that publications devoted to architecture seemed to have banished the words "beauty, inspiration, magic, spellbound, enchantment, as well as the concepts of serenity, silence, intimacy and amazement."

These concepts, he said, though perhaps imperfectly translated in his work, "have never ceased to be my guiding lights."


Ronchamp, France

Perched on a hilltop near the Swiss border of eastern France, Le Corbusier's chapel of Ronchamp (1954) is one of the most blessed works of architecture as sculpture. Devout Catholics travel there, but it has become a coveted place of pilgrimage among architecture students and design superstars. The concrete walls are prow-like and the roof resembles an inverted crab shell, but, as Le Corbusier wrote of the chapel, "the key is the light, and the light clarifies the forms."

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