Andrew McEwan

Four buildings that invite you to roam, from a castle-like museum and an eery island gallery, to a tea house on the rocks and a bank worth breaking into …

As a practice, we often talk about buildings as being “ultra-practical”, drilling into but transcending practicality to get to a point where there’s no other solution. We like buildings that have an exploratory, storytelling nature behind them. Benson and Forsyth’s Museum of Scotland extension (1998) is a very ambitious, urbane building but it evokes the Scottish castle, as a series of really thick, inhabited walls.

There’s not a clear route, there’s lots of nooks and crannies to hide in and move through. It feels like it was designed around the collection. The exposed concrete only reveals itself where it benefits the exhibition, and they’ve used its plasticity, cutting and making incisions to allow light and views through the structure. Benesse House (1995) is a museum and hotel in one, designed by Tadao Ando, on Naoshima Island in Japan. It’s a completely exposed concrete building, with single and double-height gallery spaces and a whole series of circulation ramps that take you on a journey.

There are lots of glimpses out through rooflights and apertures into adjacent spaces and onto framed views of the Seto Inland Sea. The light is amazing, especially if you’re staying in the hotel and you’re there at dusk. It’s a bit surreal – you go for dinner and then you have free rein to meander through the gallery when everyone else has gone. Álvaro Siza’s Boa Nova Tea House (1963) on the coast north of Porto is a different sort of journey. You approach it as a very modest white rendered building on the shore, and you go up a series of steps through the rocks.

As you pass through the front door, everything slopes down – there’s a sense that you’ve crossed a threshold to a point of compression. There’s one slit window directly ahead that must be about 300mm high, and the sky meets the sea perfectly in the middle, like a razor blade. The concrete is juxtaposed with a rich timber ceiling and joinery pieces, and there’s a real humanity to it. The full-height windows drop down into the ground so that, as you sit at your dining table, the sea is within touching distance.

Clorindo Testa’s Bank of London and South America HQ (1959) in Buenos Aires is another amazing piece of architecture, with a concrete exoskeleton that kinks and bows and thrusts itself forward to match the adjacent cornice line. It’s totally modern but incredibly contextual. As you enter the expanse of the banking hall, it’s a structural masterclass, with four floors of offices hung from the exoskeleton and a sculptural concrete stair at the heart of it. It’s a world that you just want to explore.

Andrew McEwan is an associate director at ORMS

Photos Xia Zhi; woolver / Alamy Stock Photo; Fernando Guerra/VIEW; Federico Cairoli