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Building Stories

Andrew Ellicott's 1792 revision of L'Enfant's plan of 1791–1792 for the "Federal City" later Washington City, District of Columbia

By Myrene Salmon

Washington and Jefferson, writes Myrene Salmon, were both impressed by the French architect’s plans for a new capital city.

By Alexander Lee

Buildings like the Shard may look like heralds of the future, but they are part of a long history of idealistic urban planning, says Alexander Lee.

A hanging scroll painting of Himeji castle.

By P.M. Clayburn

From the mid-sixteenth century onwards, Japanese feudal lords competed with one another in the construction of massive and imposing castles. Today many of them have been lovingly restored.

An early 17th century depiction of Nonsuch Palace.

By Martin Biddle

Martin Biddle visits Nonsuch, a magnificent combination of French Renaissance decoration, with English late Gothic design, built by Henry VIII in a spirit of rivalry with Francis I of France.

The Burning of the Library at Alexandria in 391 AD, an illustration from 'Hutchinsons History of the Nations', c. 1910

By E. Badian

Founded by the Macedonian conqueror from whom it took its name, Alexandria became a stronghold of literature and learning, the splendid focus of the Hellenistic world. By E. Badian.

'View of the Parthenon from the Propylea', Edward Dodwell, Views in Greece, London 1821, depicting buildings of the time within the Acropolis

By Donald Nicol

Today a “beautiful but broken shell”, the Parthenon has housed three very different cults—those of Athena, Allah and the Blessed Virgin—since it was first constructed in the fifth century B.C. It was a Christian soldier, writes Donald Nicol, in the siege of 1687, who did most to destroy the sanctuary. 

View of Versailles from the Avenue de Paris, ca. 1662 by Pierre Patel. This was how Versailles looked before Louis XIV began enlarging the château.

By Charles Mauricheau-Beaupré

Charles Mauricheau-Beaupré surveys the broad sweep of history occupants of the Palace of Versailles have witnessed, and makes a case for its rehabilitation.

The plan for four concentric ring roads dissected by the axes of Germania, 1938.

By Roger Moorhouse

Albert Speer’s plan to transform Berlin into the capital of a 1,000-year Reich would have created a vast monument to misanthropy.

By Bernard Porter

A mid-Victorian competition to design new Government Offices in Whitehall fell victim to a battle between the competing styles of Gothic and Classical. The result proved unworthy of a nation then at its imperial zenith.

Taj Mahal and outlying buildings as seen from across the Yamuna River

By Akbar S. Ahmed

Akbar Ahmed looks at the passion and theology behind the great monument to love.