A churning metropolis defined by its Indian, English, and Portuguese past, Mumbai, India, now has the poise, populace, and design potential to be one of the 21st century’s most interesting cities. Photo by: Dustin Aksland
A sleepy capital perched by the sea, Oslo is in the midst of an architectural surge. The old port and the new opera house are just two examples of why Norway’s capital is pointing the way fjordward. Photo by: Jens Passoth
Athens is home to one of history’s most important buildings, the Parthenon, but how does the city fare architecturally today? A spate of modern development, particularly a new museum that looks onto the Acropolis, suggests that things are looking up. Photo by: Alex Subrizi
Nestled on the Pacific coastline, between Los Angeles’s sprawl and the Mexican border, San Diego is a surprisingly design-forward town with a handful of modern masterpieces to prove it. Photo by: Bryce Duffy
Since the fall of the USSR, Tallinn has managed to look unblinkingly to the future while still retaining vital elements of its past. A hotbed of northern art and design encircling a UNESCO World Heritage site, this Baltic City is fast becoming an architect’s paradise. Photo by: Jens Passoth
One of the oldest cities in the United States and home to the country’s first International Style skyscraper, Philadelphia is, unfortunately, now associated more with cheesesteaks and colonial kitsch than with successful American urbanism.
Classical yet current, Bordeaux is a city that celebrates the details that comprise the whole. Architect Oliver Brochet guides our tour around the accessible tram system, the historic women, and of course, the wine. Photo by: Peter Augustin
Today, if you tallied the world’s design capitals, you’d be forgiven for overlooking Honolulu. But when it came to modern architecture in the 1950s and ’60s, all eyes were on Hawaii’s capital city. In the shadow of Waikiki’s high-rises, a twilight soccer game unfolds at the Ala Wai Neighborhood Park. The now-polluted Ala Wai Canal was created in the 1920s to drain the swampland that would become Waikiki. Photo by: Dave Lauridsen
Belgium assumed independence in 1830 after being taken over, and over and over, by its neighbors to the north and south—the Netherlands and France. Over-looked (Jacques Brel, french fries, and Johnny Hallyday are theirs, Belgians will tell you tersely) and underappreciated (it’s the flyover between Paris and Amsterdam), Brussels has a kind of runt-of-the-litter charm. The gilded 17th-century Grand Place is surrounded by brutal office and apartment blocks that look all the more grim under almost constantly gray skies.
Though often shrouded in fog, Lima is one of the world’s driest cities, and in the face of chronic drought, people have been building huge structures here for thousands of years. Pre-Incan ruins abound, and 16th-century Spanish colonial architecture mingles with everything built before or since. Today the architecture and design scenes are especially vibrant.
Mexico City embodies both the problems and promise of globalization. It’s a sprawling, smog-choked colossus whose altitude alone (nearly 7,400 feet) can leave a newcomer dazed on arrival. Charming cobblestone streets are smothered by mobs shopping at black-market junk stalls. Traffic is reliably nightmarish. Local politics often resemble a telenovela farce. The ground is sinking at a rate of up to a foot per year. Garish wealth and grim poverty coexist uneasily, sometimes violently. But Mexico City is also a world-class urban center with an incontrovertibly cosmopolitan character, scented in recent years by a whiff of hipness. Photo by: Livia Corona
Unlike sizzling Rio de Janeiro or seductive Buenos Aires, Santiago comes off as South America’s more straitlaced capital city. Chile, the world’s longest country, stretching almost 2,700 miles from north to south, is packed with plenty of eye-catching landscapes, from the soaring Andes to the arid Atacama Desert. And it’s no wonder that visitors are easily lured away from sleepy Santiago. Many who descend on Chile’s sprawling capital see it simply as a convenient gateway to the country’s real highlights: the Lake District, San Pedro de Atacama, and Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Photo by: Cristóbal Palma
For the past 20 years Finland’s most famous star has been native son and world-class ski jumper Matti Nykänen, known not just for his numerous medals and world records, but also for his frequent appearances in the tabloids. Nykänen has graced the pages of the rags for his five marriages to four different women, multiple arrests, jail time, and stints as waiter, singer, and stripper. But times have changed, and these days Nykänen’s not garnering the most attention in the flourishing Nordic capital of Helsinki; a new breed of young designers and a burgeoning creative scene are creating a more compelling stir. Photo by: Hertha Hurnaus
Miami is a matrix of man-made islands, causeways, and paved-over Everglades that has gotten by on a desirable climate, a thriving pan-Caribbean culture, and some of our nation’s finest hucksterism. Born as a high-class playground—the original polo fields are now golf courses—Miami first boomed at the beginning of the 20th century. Wondering how to attract vacationers and residents to a place without a history, Miami’s developers lit upon a grand idea: Build the place like it had one. Mediterranean revival abounds, Spanish colonial holds court, and swimming pools are cut to look more like Pompeii than Palm Beach. Even the oranges were imports, cultivated to convince railroad baron Henry Flagler to extend the rails all the way to Florida’s tip. Photo by: Roy Zipstein
Damned if it does and slammed when it won’t, Paris has a hard time with the notion of change. One of the world’s most visited cities—the Valhalla of the tourist circuit—has had a lot of good reasons to stay the way it is. Its classic layout, forged in the brutal urban reconstruction led by Baron Haussmann, has been successful enough to last virtually unmodified for a century and a half—and to inform the aesthetics of at least a dozen other cities around the world. Photo by: Jessica Antola
Pearl of the Orient, Paris of the East. For a frantic, freewheeling century and a half, Shanghai was the wildest, wealthiest, flashiest city in Asia—the rival of any world capital. Shanghai’s bustling port shipped Chinese silk and porcelain from workshops along the Yangtze River to every corner of the globe. Western visitors were captivated by the crowded, chaotic, yet thoroughly cosmopolitan city. Foreign powers carved out concession zones featuring their own cafés, clubs, police forces, and legions of prostitutes. You can still stroll the charming tree-lined quarters with distinctive French, British, even American estates. Photo by: Andrew Rowat