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NIGEL S. ROBERTS

Architecture

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Some architects whose work I admire:
Santiago Calatrava
Norman Foster
Frank Gehry
I. M. Pei
Frank Lloyd Wright

Wellington's best public buildings

Wellington's worst public buildings

Some of the best private houses in Wellington

 

In July 1999, during the countdown to the end of the old millennium and the start of the current one, the New Zealand Listener published a list of "the 10 best public buildings of the millennium."

The Listener’s top ten were:

  1. Potala Palace, Lhasa
  2. Blue Mosque, Istanbul

(A copy of the original article from the Listener, with the reasons for the magazine’s choices, is available here.)

It is a list with which I largely agree (though, for reasons discussed below, I do not completely agree with it). When I first saw the list in mid-1999, I had seen five of the ten buildings – namely, the Taj Mahal, Sagrada Familia, the Chrysler Building, the Sydney Opera House, and Chartres Cathedral. As a result, I set myself a goal, which was initially to see the five buildings I'd not seen. However, I quickly revised that goal: I want to see all ten of them.

Since starting this website, I have visited seven of the ten buildings: the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, the Pompidou Centre, and Ulm Cathedral – none of which I had seen before (thus bringing the overall number I have now been fortunate enough to see up to eight), as well as Chartres Cathedral, the Chrysler Building, Sagrada Familia, and the Sydney Opera House. Photos that I have personally taken of buildings that are on the New Zealand Listener's list of the ten best public buildings of the last millennium are also included on this website. To see them, simply click on the buildings in the list above whose names are given in blue type. Pictures will be added to this website when I visit buildings on the list that I’ve not yet seen, as well as when I re-visit buildings I've already seen and take new photographs of them.

As indicated earlier, I disagree with some of buildings on the New Zealand Listener 's list. While both the Pompidou Centre and the Sagrada Familia are interesting, intriguing, and even amusing buildings, they are probably not of sufficient substance to exclude buildings such as – for example – Angkor Wat (which pips Borobudur at the post by virtue of the fact that Angkor Wat dates from the 12th century and was thus built during the last millennium, while Borobdur dates from the 9th century*); the Alhambra Palace in Granada and/or the Alcazar Palace in Seville; I. M. Pei's Bank of China Tower; and – to include another and/or pairing of public buildings – the Brooklyn Bridge and/or the Golden Gate Bridge (for just as temples, churches, and skyscrapers are public buildings, so too, surely, bridges are also public buildings). Furthermore, the Listener acknowledged that another major European cathedral, Cologne, could have made its list (thus at the same time implying that Ulm's inclusion was possibly somewhat arbitrary). In England alone, for instance, Canterbury, Durham, Salisbury, and Wells Cathedrals must be regarded as contenders for inclusion on a list of the ten best public buildings of the last millennium.

Ultimately, however, the points made in the previous paragraph underscore the fact that the compilation of such lists is itself arbitrary. There will never be a definitive, unanimously agreed-upon list of the best buildings constructed during the period stretching from the eleventh through to and including the twentieth centuries. Any list will, to a degree at least, be subjective and open to argument. But lists like the Listener's serve very useful purposes. They can stimulate discussion and promote debate. They can also – as is clear from the goals I have formulated – be a springboard for action. As a result, even though I disagree with aspects of the New Zealand Listener's list, I intend to continue to pursue my goal of seeing all the buildings on it. At the same time, I will not limit my study of some the world's greatest architecture simply to ten buildings, and I will not restrict the number of buildings on this website to just ten.** Consequently, as you can see from the sidebar on this website, I am also developing web pages about the buildings of some of the architects whose work I admire. Pages devoted to other architectural topics will be added in due course too. Ideas I am working on in this regard include pages about the best and the worst public buildings in Wellington, New Zealand, as well as a page about some of the best private buildings – i.e., homes and houses – in Wellington.

Endnotes
*: It is worth noting that it has been said that Borobudur "should be on anybody's list of the ten greatest art-complexes in the world." See http://rubens.anu.edu.au/htdocs/bycountry/indonesia/borobudur.

**: Anyone wanting a much longer list of great buildings is encouraged to consult the voluminous list on http://www.greatbuildings.com. It will provide you not merely with food for thought, but a sumptuous banquet.

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Pages in the Architecture section of my website were last revised on 7 November 2014.