Design Capitals

Designed to please 

There are cities that have style – and plenty that don’t. 

From Paris and Barcelona to Shanghai and Seoul you’ll discover global cities that have design down to a fine art – with a nod to what is hip with a sensuous swagger.

Travel editor Winsor Dobbin is your tour guide. 

One of the world’s favourite cities is also arguably the chicest. Few cities can boast denizens as effortlessly fashionable as the Parisians and almost every street reveals a glimpse of architecture, fashion and cuisine discoveries.

Walk through any of Paris’s 20 diverse arrondissementsto discover long-time design favourites like the iconic Eiffel Tower – built by Gustav Eiffel a temporary construction for the 1889  World’s Fair and still standing proud, or classic buildings like The Louvre and Haussmann-era buildings with their grand facades. More contemporary is the Centre George Pompidou, Renzo Piano’s grandiose complex that hosts the largest collection of modern art in Europe, and I.M.Pei’s remarkable glass pyramid that stands as a unique modern contrast to the Louvre.

In the one-time wasteland of the Parc de la Villette you’ll find French architect Jean Nouvel’s most recent contribution to Paris’s architecture scene, the dramatic Philarmonie, home to several concert halls, that was opened in 2015. 

The Louis Vuitton Foundation was designed by Frank Gehry and adjoins the Bois de Boulogne in the chic 16tharrondissement.It is a glass-and-steel contemporary art museum created to look like a ship setting sail. These glass “sails” envelop a series of terraces from which visitors can take in several views of Paris. 

The Institut du Monde Arabe wasdesigned by Jean Nouvel and opened in 1987 on the banks of the River Seine. The museum features exhibits that explore the Arab world from before Islam through the 20th century. The building’s south-west facade is composed of geometric motifs taken from Islamic architecture and made up of 240 photosensitive motor-controlled apertures.

The Playground Duperré is a colourful urban basketball court on the Rue Duperré, in the city’s edgy Pigalle district. The space is a collaboration between Nike, French graphic design agency Ill-Studio and fashion brand Pigalle. 

For a little relaxation on your style journey check out Le Comptoir Général; a bar, music venue, and community space in a former barn alongside the achingly hip Canal Saint-Martin. Enjoy design touches from Senegal, Togo and the Ivory Coast. 

Shanghai, straddling both sides of the Huangpu River, is China’s glitziest city: a global financial hub with a constantly changing landscape of soaring skyscrapers. 

Design pioneers like Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu (the architects behind the new Shanghai Edition complex) and Liu Heung Shing (photographer and founder of the Shanghai Center of Photography) are helping craft the city’s emerging creative culture. 

Cult brands like Spin Ceramics and Dong Liang are proving that “made in China” can mean crafted rather than ubiquitous, says Architectural Digestmagazine. 

New culinary openings, like Polux by leading French chef Paul Pairet, underline that Shanghai is at the forefront with both cuisine and cutting-edge design.

The Pompidou Centre Shanghai, which opened in November 2019 in the West Bund Art Museum, is an outpost of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Under the direction of David Chipperfield Architects, the gallery is located in a wing of the glass museum, with its lease renewable for a five-year period. Founded by Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Liu Heung Shing, SCoP showcases a diverse body of photography, with topics that range from journalism to fashion and art. 

The Pudong skyscape, on the opposite side of the river to the old centre, is a futuristic wonderland of architecture and lights. 

The Catalan capital is synonymous with the works of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet; the Spanish architect known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism. 

Gaudi’s works have a unique style – and nearly all are located in Barcelona. His masterpiece, the still-incomplete Sagrada Familia, is the most-visited monument in Spain. An estimated five million tourists visit the Sagrada Família each year. No fewer than seven of his works have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.  The unmissable highlights include Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, the Park Güell and Church of Colònia Güell. 

Also check out the  Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which showcases a thousand years of Catalan art from the 10th to the 20th centuries. 

The Fundacio Joan Miró is a homage to works of the great artist.  Designed by Josep Lluís Sert, the white walls and arches house a collection of more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of Miró’s graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings. The building was constructed specifically to house Miró’s work and is a fusion of art and architecture. 

The Museo Picasso was opened in 1963 and is dedicated to the works of Barcelona’s favourite adopted son Pablo Picasso. Nearly five decades later, the permanent collection of some 3,800 pieces has now been spread across five adjoining palaces, two of which are devoted to temporary exhibitions.

Barcelona is also known for modern artworks. Head for the minimalist MACBA (museum of contemporary art) which was designed by Richard Meier. The exterior has been likened to a giant fridge. MACBA, inaugurated in 1995, has a library and auditorium that host an extensive program of concerts, seminar and cinema (some free). 

The equally dramatic CaixaForum Barcelona in the Montjuich quarter of the city opened in 2002 in a former factory and houses a range of art exhibitions. 

Kuala Lumpur The Malaysian capital is home to a wide mix of cultures and architectural styles, including Chinese and Art Deco influences. 

Attractions include the 19th-century Sri Mahamariamman Temple, built by Tamil migrants coming to work in the tin mines of Kuala Lumpur in 1873. In later years it has been adorned with Spanish and Italian tiles. 

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is the largest in south-east Asia, displaying models, dioramas, and artefacts from all over the world. Kuala Lumpur’s iconic modern landmark is the Petronas Twin Towers, home to designer stores, food outlets and more.The eight-point star base of the soaring towers is influenced by Islamic themes. Visit the Petronas Gallery for fine art and the Petrosains Discovery Centre for child-friendly science museum fun. 

Designed by Cesar Pelli, the 88-storey towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, until they were surpassed by Taipei 101. The Petronas Towers remain the tallest twin towers in the world. 

The ultra-modern capital of South Korea was the World Design Capital in 2010 and remains a global leader in urban design. 

Built for Seoul’s stint as global design capital was the Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), now a major urban development landmark that is South Korea’s fashion hub and a popular tourist destination. It is venue for Seoul Fashion Week.

Korean design buzzwords include solidity, innovation, aesthetics and use of the latest technology. Local designer brands include LG, Hyundai and Samsung. Over the past decade Seoul has been updating its skyline with more architecturally advanced and taller buildings that often double as commercial and residential spaces

The 63 Building – once the tallest building in South Korea – is located on Yeouido Island in Han River, and houses the headquarters of several business organisations as well as the world’s highest art gallery on the 60th floor, an observation deck on the top floor and an aquarium.

Dramatically striking is the Seocho Garak Tower East with a design inspired byKorean pottery. The facades were designed to reflect the light differently from every angle. Visit at night and you’ll get to enjoy a beautiful dance of changing colours forming various patterns. 

Samsung Town is the headquarters of the company and consists of three buildings. Each building was designed for a specific division of the business conglomerate. The three towers of different heights are made up of cubes of different sizes to form one unit. 

One of the newest additions to the skyline is Lotte World Premium Tower, which was completed in 2017. Described as “sticking out of the ground like a sharp knife”, the tower features shopping facilities and offices. The observation deck and rooftop café offer dramatic city views.