Architecture Beautifies Cities: Stop and check out the details on buildings when visiting Western Europe

Europeans have got it going on when it comes to architecture. Not only do they build beautiful, awe-inspiring structures, they also build them to last. In the U.S., it often seems, we quickly throw up an abomination of a building only to blow it up and start over a few years later (Seattle’s Kingdome, anyone?).

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of magnificent architecture throughout Western Europe – churches, universities, government buildings, etc. – but some of my favorite are the not-so-well known or even run of the mill versions scattered throughout cities. They might be apartment or office buildings, they are sometimes unrecognizable in their function, but fantastic in their beauty.

So, when touring through Western Europe, make sure to stop and smell the roses, or, in this case, gander at the buildings. Look at the details. North American buildings just don’t generally contain the unbelievable detail work that the older, European buildings almost universally possess.

Now, I’m no architectural genius (in the movie “Dying Young” when Campbell Scott’s character is pointing out the architects of different buildings to Julia Roberts character, I thought “who cares” and probably rolled my eyes), but I think just about anyone can appreciate the elaborate mosaics, the decorative brick work and other fine details that make each building something of a masterpiece.

Another aspect of the architecture I appreciate is the way it seems to encourage people to gather in public squares, walk from destination to destination and generally keep people out of their cars – sometimes with an almost brutal force. Maybe it’s because the cities were built pre-automobile (or maybe it’s because I don’t really have a job now and have plenty of time, who knows!), but whatever the reason, the architecture and the way the buildings are set up seems to make one want to stroll around. It seems to me there’s been a bit of a movement in the United States for cities to reinvent their downtowns to have this same kind of feel, but the suburbs? Those strip malls don’t encourage anyone to linger or stroll.

As no architectural knowledge is necessary to enjoy Western Europe’s plethora of architectural masterpieces, it certainly couldn’t hurt to gather a little knowledge before you go. On the other hand, the beauty of a wonderfully crafted building is something anyone can appreciate.

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