It’s easy to complain about cruises. The ships and their terminals are big, if nothing else, and they don’t always improve a city’s skyline. Especially in a lot of European cities, they’re out of scale with the historic buildings in front of them. But a few ports have gotten it really right, with terminals that don’t detract from a city’s beautiful, traditional character but, rather, add something to it. Maybe it’s an appealing shape, or architectural significance or, in one place, the ability to disappear altogether.
Porto Cruise Terminal
A couple years after it opened as the gateway to Portugal’s second city, Douro Valley and northern region, the terminal, in the port of Leixões, was named ArchDaily’s Building of the Year for 2017. Designed by Portuguese architect Luís Pedro Silva, it’s a graceful, swirling and swooping edifice, alive with civic activity, including the University of Porto’s Interdisciplinary Center of Marine and Environmental Research, an event venue, guided tours and various exhibitions.
Marina Bay Cruise Centre, Singapore
Although it was built to handle some 7,000 cruise passengers per day, the terminal is refreshingly low-slung (especially in comparison to the skyscrapers nearby). It’s also interesting in profile, with a structure that’s meant to represent breaking waves and actually kind of succeeds. Inside, it’s light-flooded and decked out in the aquamarine shades of an underwater world. Outside, it’s an appealing puzzle—not an eyesore.
Valetta Cruise Port, Malta
Mirroring its surroundings—the Valletta Waterfront and Magazino Hall, which dates from 1727 and has seen various uses through its history—the port facilities have a millennia-old history. The waterfront includes 19 warehouses built in the late Baroque period, in the 18th century, with colorful doors and window shades. Between 2002 and 2007, the cruise port organization restored and transformed into restaurants, cafés, shops and other modern spaces. Magazino Hall serves as the main check-in terminal and has an impressive arched ceiling and soft lighting on the local golden limestone. The project won the European Union’s Europa Award for Cultural Heritage.
Grand Cruise Terminal, Doha, Qatar (upcoming)
Part of the Qatar National Vision 2030, the country is expanding its tourism value proposition, including by attracting more cruise passengers. Front and center is the new Grand Cruise Terminal, which will be in central Doha near the impressive Museum of Islamic Art and the Souq Waqif traditional marketplace. Once completed later this year, the terminal will be able to host two megaships at the same time, and include an aquarium and art gallery. The design of its striking facade pays respect to the typical stacked arches of Arabic architecture.
Yokohama International Passenger Terminal, Japan
The main entry point for large ships visiting Tokyo, Osanbashi has bold, lightly curvaceous design that calls to mind wooden ships and traditional Japanese interior design—one that has won it several architectural awards. The column-free main space is not only visually (and engineering-ly) impressive but it also provides ample spaces and a feeling of airiness. Pathways from the terminal’s grass roofs link it with the public parks nearby.
Pagoda Piraeus, Athens
From 1967 to 1975, the three-level Pagoda served as the passenger terminal of the Athens’s Piraeus Port. Since then it’s mostly been an exhibition center, though there are plans to develop it as a hotel. It was declared a modern monument in 2013 by the Central Council for Modern Monuments of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports because of its significant architectural value. In addition, the Kononio Wall in the port area along the Piraeus Coast one of the best examples of ancient fortification art in the Mediterranean—it was built by Kononas in 394 BC, about 100 years after the Piraeus port and city were built by Themistocles, whose tomb is located in the port area.
Canada Place, Vancouver
The tent-like Teflon roof design—like the sails of five large yachts—which is lit up by night, quickly became an urban landmark after it was inaugurated in 2001. As a highly passenger-friendly terminal in a city-friendly place, it also inspired many others. Because it mainly sends ships to a place (Alaska) with a short cruise season, the designers made the terminal an anchor of a large complex, Canada Place, with other uses that make it active year-round and attract residents as well. There’s a convention center, hotels, shops, and a cinema, plus terraces (secretly fire escapes) have views across the harbor to the mountains.
Turkey’s massive new cruise terminal is also set to inspire others around the world, as the developers took a bet on an audacious new approach that’s an engineering marvel and incorporated just about every type of construction there is: They hid the whole thing underground. Inside, the design, by hip local firm Autoban, references Istanbul’s famous underground cisterns and has a remarkable lighting design that makes you forget you’re underground. Overhead, the developers created an entirely new, organic-feeling neighborhood of museums, shops, restaurants, cafés, town squares for small concerts and a nearly mile-long promenade in what had until then been nearly a no-man’s-land.