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Architecture Worth Travelling For

From a Californian castle to a modernist villa on the Côte d’Azur, Millie Walton picks eight of the world’s most groundbreaking buildings designed by women architects.


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1. E-1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France

Now regarded by many as a modernist masterpiece, E-1027 was designed by Irish architect Eileen Gray in collaboration with her then partner, Romanian architect Jean Badovici, as their private retreat on the Côte d’Azur. However, as the Modernist movement, and architecture more generally was, and in many ways, continues to be male-dominated, Badovici was given full credit for the cutting-edge design right up until 1967 when architectural historian Joseph Rykwert published an essay giving Gray the recognition she deserved. After recent restorations, the villa is now reopen to the public alongside a seaside holiday cabin next door and five holiday homes designed by Le Corbusier.


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2. SESC Pompéia, São Paulo, Brazil

SESC Pompéia was one of the last major buildings designed by pioneering Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi, who transformed the disused buildings of a drum factory into a monumental, mixed-used leisure centre that’s still used today. Central to Bo Bardi’s concept was a focus on leisure, rather than culture, as she believed that a sense of community could be created more honestly through dynamic, shared activities (she once described the project as “a socialist experiment”).  As such, the site was designed for flexibility, encompassing wide, expansive spaces alongside a public canteen, library, theatre, exhibition space, sports halls, swimming pool, and large open deck area, known colloquially as the Sao Paolo beach. While the centre itself is free to visit, it also hosts a programme of events covering everything from visual art and music to ceramic and technology workshops.


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3. Hearst Castle, California, US

Designed by Julia Morgan (who became California’s first licensed female architect in 1904), Hearst Castle is the lavish former private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Set back from the Californian coast in the outskirts of San Simeon village, this extraordinary building (now a museum) once played host to American’s political and Hollywood elite who would arrive by private jet or in Hearst’s own train carriage to stay in one of the castle’s 167 opulent rooms. Visitors are able to tour some of these suites as well as the cottages, kitchen, grand social rooms, and 127 acres of terraced gardens (note: the museum is temporarily closed due to storm damage).


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4. The Port House, Antwerp, Belgium

The Port House, one of the most ambitious designs proposed by British-Iraqi, Zaha Hadid before her death in 2016, encompasses a colossal, faceted glass extension sitting atop a renovated fire station in Antwerp’s docks. The building was designed as a new headquarters for the port authority, bringing together 500 staff who previously worked in separate offices with strong focus on sustainability but it’s also open to visitors, offering an insight into the daily runnings of  Europe’s second largest shipping port as well as spectacular panoramic views across the city.


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5. Upper Lawn Pavilion, Wiltshire, UK

In 1958, architect couple and pioneers of British Brutalism, Alison and Peter Smithson acquired Upper Lawn: a derelict stone cottage set in the remains of an 18th-century farm worker’s yard in rural Wiltshire. Over the next four years, they began experimenting with materials (many of which were not yet permitted for use in London) to transform the ruins into what they termed “a simple climate house”, where they could live with the rhythm of the English seasons. Although the building is now privately owned, it’s still possible to visit, as many people do, to admire the architecture from the outside. The wall to ceiling windows which offer near 360 views across the valley also provide glimpses into the interior spaces, which remain almost as minimalist as the Smithsons’ intended – they likened their way of living here to “camping in the landscape”.


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6. The Lyric Theatre, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Designed by Sheila O’Donnell in collaboration with her partner John Tuomey (of O’Donnell and Tuomey Architects), the Lyric Theatre in Belfast was one of six buildings to be shortlisted for the prestigious Stirling Prize in 2012. It stands on the edge of Belfast’s centre, with the river Lagan on one side and redbrick houses on the other – its own brickwork a near perfect match in colour. If not for the impressive facade, it’s worth visiting for remarkable 390-seat auditorium carved out of dark-stained wood where a diverse programme of plays and dance performances are staged by both emerging and established talent.


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7. Wall House, Auroville, India

Indian architect Anupama Kundoo moved to Auroville, an experimental township in southeastern India, after graduating from the University of Mumbai in 1989. It was here that she met Modernist architect, Roger Anger, who became a long-time collaborator and built her first house, Hut Petite Ferme, experimenting with materials such as granite, clay, and coconut fibre. The Wall House was also built here, on the city’s outskirts, in 2000 as Kundoo’s own private residence. She worked with local craftsmen to use preindustrial “achakal” mud bricks and also developed vaulted terracotta roofing systems to utilise the skills of Auroville’s potters.


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8. FRAC, Dunkirk, France

While Dunkirk will, in the minds of many, be forever associated with Operation Dynamo, the 1940 evacuation of 340,000 Allied troops (as dramatised by Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film), the town was once synonymous with shipbuilding. Of the countless structures that made up Dunkirk’s expansive shipyard complex, only one survived: AP2, a colossal concrete building, nicknamed the “cathedral” by the locals, which was transformed in 2013 by Anne Lacaton (of renowned architecture practice Lacaton & Vassal) into an innovative contemporary arts centre. Comprising a series of expansive, light-filled gallery spaces, the centre hosts visiting exhibitions as well as housing an impressive permanent collection of works by the likes of Dan Flavin, Andy Warhol, and Donald Judd alongside furniture and design pieces.

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