In celebration of the ‘useless’ in architecture

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In celebration of the ‘useless’ in architecture
Grand arch of La Defense, Paris / Photo: AFP

Being asked to nominate your 10 favourite buildings is a little like being asked what you would like for dinner: give me a couple of hours so I can change my mind 20 times. To nominate 10 of your favourite buildings is rather easier; and so here they are with the inevitable proviso that it could change tomorrow:

The Basilica of St Peter, Rome; Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel in Florence; the Chateau de Vaux-Le-Vicomte near Paris; Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp; Taj Mahal in Agra; Temple of Heaven in Beijing; the Royal Crescent in Bath; the grand arch of La Defense in Paris; the Sydney Opera House and Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao.

This disparate group of buildings have one thing in common: they are distinguished and defined by their appearance and not their function.

The great moments of architecture, that most pervasive and materially substantive of the visual arts, are defined far more by aesthetics — how they look — than function, their purpose. That is, defined by their (practically speaking) useless features.

We remember and admire buildings that far exceed their function. But the art of the non-functional, the useless, is what transforms a building into a piece of architecture. […]