My current book project is about Architectural Tourism, Unesco and other Heritage Sites.
Around the world, architecture is a magnetic draw for tourists of all stripes. Since the era of pre-industrial religious pilgrimages, architecture has beckoned travelers. Religious and historic sights, or contemporary buildings designed by “star” architects demonstrate that architecture has always been undeniably tied to our cultural and architectural heritage, our collective identity and perhaps above all, to the tourist industry. Think about what we remember about a city and why? Landmark buildings such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris by Gustave Eiffel or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain by Frank Gehry, mark their place and leave an indelible memory for tourists. When we think of a place we’ve travelled to see, we usually think of the buildings or sites that linger in our memory. What is noticeably different today, and as a result of the indisputable impact the Bilbao museum has made, is that architects themselves have become celebrities. Therefore, while our identification of a place is often associated with the building and the cultural memory informed by it, now the name of the architect is a draw in itself.
Site-seeing charts the relationship, and even the entanglement, between architecture and tourism. Key global icons of “spectacular” architectural sites, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal, as well as key current “starchitecture” iconic buildings beginning with the Bilbao Guggenheim are discussed, illustrating the manifold issues involved in architectural tourism. Buildings and places are used to “brand” a city so that it is immediately recognizable in visual publicity. It is no coincidence that the major travel agencies such as Globus, Abercrombie & Kent, Carlson Wagonlit, or Expedia flash images of iconic architectural sites on their website home pages. Travel is a quest of sorts: a quest for unearthing the foreign and the unfamiliar with the frisson that it might result in a mild or even a rude cultural awakening. A visit to the physical site is always paralleled today by digital and virtual cultural exploration across social media platforms on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, to name but a few. Some travel is accomplished by not going anywhere at all – physically – but rather by way of the imagination through photographs, postcards, films, theatre, or literature. Illustrated by studies of international architectural icons, the book looks at how these buildings feature in literature, art and design, marketing and social media and reveals how the impact of these depictions combine to build up a deeply romanticized idea of the icon, which is central to the desire to visit it.