London Design Museum boss Stephen Bayley choses world’s five best buildings


There is nothing quite like a beautiful building to soothe the senses, uplift the heart and make the world seem a tiny bit better.

It explains why some eight million people visit India’s Taj Mahal every year to gaze in wonderment at its curvatures and brilliant white marble and why Britain with its dazzling array of architectural gems is on so much of the world’s bucket list.

Now The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust has launched a new award scheme to find the finest structures in Britain.

Everyone from architects to members of the public can submit an entry free of charge to nominate their favourite building, engineering structure or urban landscape before the end of March next year.

Their nominations will then be judged by a panel led by one of Britain’s foremost design critics, Stephen Bayley, the Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust.

He will be joined by the architectural commentator Paul Finch OBE, the writer Clive Aslet and the cultural historian Kassia St Clair among others with the winners announced at a ceremony in early Summer 2022.

Commenting on the new awards, Mr Bayley said: ‘The importance of beauty in our surroundings is huge.

‘Beautiful buildings make us happier and healthier while ugly buildings dull our senses and lower our spirits.

‘Forthcoming reforms to the planning system will give people greater power to insist on beauty.

‘Through these awards we want to draw attention to the excellent work being done by architects, engineers and designers, celebrating the contribution of those who take the trouble to ensure that our built environment lifts us up rather than drags us down.’

Alongside the awards, which are sponsored by property developer the Ballymore Group, the Trust is launching a Building Beauty Grants scheme to promote small-scale beautification projects across the UK.

Applications and nominations can be made at the website buildingbeautyawards.com

Below, Stephen Bayley, the founder of London’s Design Museum, chooses his top five structures from around the world.

The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, USA

The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, USA

The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, USA 

Situated in a rural setting, southwest of downtown Chicago, this steel and glass house was designed as a one-room, romantic weekend retreat and looks a little bit like the ultimate garden shed.

It now houses a museum on behalf of America’s National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Mr Bayley said: ‘Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus, the legendary school of applied arts in Germany, designed this weekend house for a Chicago nephrologist who became his mistress after she became his client.

‘He believed in architecture that was ‘nearly nothing’, but the Farnsworth House has an astonishing visual presence. From outside, it appears to float. From inside, you feel nature is cheerfully invading the property.’

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, England

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, England

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, England

The influence of Florence began to be felt in Britain during the late 16th Century with great buildings popping up inspired by the Renaissance style.

Built for the Elizabethan noblewoman Elizabeth Cavendish, it sits proudly on a hilltop between Chesterfield and Mansfield.

Mr Bayley said: ‘Robert Smythson built this extraordinary ‘prodigy’ house at the very end of the Elizabethan era.

‘Prodigy houses were intended to impress the Queen on her progresses through the country.

‘It is a completely original, even idiosyncratic, design where the walls appear to be made of glass – as glass was hugely expensive, having a lot of it was a way of showing off your wealth.

‘Alas, no record of Elizabeth’s reaction exists, although modern visitors cannot resist gasps of amazement.’

The Pazzi Chapel, Florence, Italy

The Pazzi Chapel, Florence, Italy

The Pazzi Chapel, Florence, Italy 

About 150 years before Hardwick Hall was built, the Italians were funding wonders of architecture, particularly in Florence.

The Pazzi Chapel sits on the southern flank of the Franciscan church, the Basilica di Santa Croce and was originally used as a meeting room and classroom for the teaching of monks.

Mr Bayley said: ‘This is an exquisite miniature of the Italian Renaissance by Filippo Brunelleschi, designer of Florence cathedral’s glorious dome.

‘Refinement, dignity, perfect proportions and restraint are the ingredients and the effect is an other-worldly calm. The little chapel is an expression of perfection as it was understood in 1443.’

Millau Viaduct, Aveyron, France

Millau Viaduct, Aveyron, France

Millau Viaduct, Aveyron, France

It doesn’t have to be a building to be beautiful. This mile and a half long bridge across a gorge valley was built to help ease traffic congestion near Millau in the south of France. It is the tallest bridge in the world and won the 2006 Outstanding Structure Award.

Mr Bayley said: ‘The French engineer Michel Virlogeux and the English architect Norman Foster completed this bridge across the Tarn in the wilds of Occitane in 2004.

‘Its elegance is as breathtaking as its technical achievement: the piers of high-performance concrete are taller than the Eiffel Tower. Travellers find it both beautiful and sublime.’

Chartres Cathedral, Val de Loire, France

Chartres Cathedral, Val de Loire, France

Chartres Cathedral, Val de Loire, France

This Catholic church, 50 miles south of Paris, is considered to be the high point of France’s Gothic art.

It was ordered for destruction by the American military in August 1944 as they mistakenly believed it was occupied by Nazis.

But one of their number, Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith Jnr questioned the order, checked out the building and saved it.

Mr Bayley said: ‘Chartres, completed in about 1220, is the ultimate medieval building: its stained glass (still intact), daring flying buttresses and delicate vaulting are an encyclopaedia of the Gothic sensibility. 



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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