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Elite street: 10 impressive homes of world leaders

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Where heads of state rest their heads

Prague Castle
Prague Castle
Neil Girling

All the pomp and circumstance of inauguration weekend provides plenty of reasons why politicians spend years battling for the presidency.

One of the highlights has to be the opportunity to live in the Neoclassical masterpiece at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban, who won a prize to envision a then-new presidential residence in 1792. Arguably the most recognizable buildings in the country, the home and office of the President of the United States, like other such residences across the globe, represents architectural achievement and symbolizes national pride.

The home of any leader offers interesting provenance and telling design details. Searching beyond some of the more well-known seats of power, such as the Kremlin or 10 Downing Street, these select homes of some of the world's most powerful men and women showcase both historic and modern architecture, and help tell the story of a particular country or ruler.



Creative Commons image via Beatriz Marques

Brazil: Palácio da Alvorada (Oscar Niemeyer, 1958)
It's fitting the first permanent structure inaugurated in the new modern city of Brasilia, a joint project of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer developed at the behest of then-President Juscelino Kubitschek, would be called the Palace of Dawn. Considered one of Niemeyer's greatest achievement in the country's new capital, the palace's profile, formed by the swooping, parabolic curves of a series marble columns, provides gorgeous spatial rhythm at the building's entrance. The graceful, swooping figures, inspired by the wind-blown sails of fishing boats and likened to classical colonnades flipped on their heads, form an iconic image of modernist architecture, accented with "The Iaras," bronze, semi-nude sculptures based on Brazilian mythology wading in the pool.

Located near the shores of Lake Parano, the official residence of the country's president is guarded by the Dragons of Independence, and does not offer public tours. The dining room of the 75,000 square-foot building was decorated by Niemeyer's daughter, Anna Maria, who designed many interiors in Brasilia.


The new Kantei, completed in 2002, and the original
Japan: Kantei (Muraji Shimomoto, 1929)
Owing to its age and relatively small size ( 56,000 square feet), the original home of the Japanese Prime Minister, known as the Kantei, was officially replaced in 2002 with an adjacent modern, five-story building three times its size, boasting solar panels and a sleek glass facade. But the still-standing original from 1929 has a more storied past, and still serves as the home of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Architect Muraji Shimomoto, a student of Arata Endo, a draftsman on Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel project, designed this two-story brick mansion not necessarily in tribute to the American architect, but in his style (the grand staircase, with elaborate banisters, certainly suggests such an influence). In the '30s, the residence was the site of both an assassination (Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai in 1932) and attempted government overthrow (1936); bullets from the second incident are supposedly still lodged in the wall.


Creative Commons image by David
Argentina: Casa Rosada (Francesco Tamburini: 1884)
Americans may best know this building as the backdrop to Eva Peron's impassioned national address, but the history of this structure and site (which collectively date back to the late 16th century), are deeply interwoven into many periods of Argentine history. Known as the Pink House (which, as one story suggests, gained its titular hue from the then-common practice of painting buildings with bovine blood), the building was completed in stages, beginning as a fort in the Plaza de Mayo.

Expansions and addition to the building were modeled after an ornate Second Empire-style Post Office located next door (in fact, to make sure the mail service didn't overshadow the seat of government, Argentina's then-President, Julio Roca, hired architect Francesco Tamburini to build an Italianate archway connecting the structures in 1884 and effectively combined both into the President's residence). It's technically referred to as the executive mansion; the Argentine leader currently lives full time at the Quinta de Olivos, an ornate suburban mansion.


Vintage photo of the old Heliopolis Hotel via Egy.com
Egypt: Ittihadiya Presidential Palace (Ernest Jaspar: 1910)
One of three official presidential palaces in Egypt and once home to currently detained former president Hosni Mubarak, the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace, also known as the Heliopis, began its life as a luxury hotel in the early part of the 20th century. An opulent resort designed by Belgian architect Ernest Jaspar and bankrolled by engineer and financier Baron Emplain, who transformed a 25-square kilometer plot of desert north of Cairo into a "city of leisure," the extravagant, 400-room hotel was a fusion of styles, decor and influences, dubbed the "Heliopis style."

Italian marble columns made way for Persian carpets, while Moorish Revival flourishes and great domes contrasted with Louis XV interiors. Considered the grandest hotel in Africa during its heyday and a magnet for wealthy travelers, the Heliopis served as a British military hospital during both World Wars, and after closing in 1960, served as a headquarters for various government departments before Mubarak made it his official residence in the '80s. It's still being utilized by current President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.


Image via Wikimedia Commons
Israel: Beit Aghion (Richard Kaufmann, 1938)
Located in the upscale Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, the Beit Aghion, originally built for merchant Edward Aghion in the late '30s, is currently where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls home. It's one of many structures designed by Richard Kaufmann, a German-Israeli architect celebrated for his city planning and helping popularize the International style in Israel.

Purchased by the government in 1952, a few years after it was temporarily transformed into a makeshift military hospital, the structure initially served as the home of the foreign minister before become the prime minister's home in 1974. Surrounded by a wall and extensive security, the building is off-limits to public photography.


Creative Commons image by Emmanuel DYAN
Austria: Hofburg Palace (Various architects: 1279)
Most of the ancient palaces and castles of Europe, stone symbols of royal power and prestige, are more involved in the tourist trade than modern governance. Austria's exemplary Hofburg Palace, a grand amalgamation of centuries of architectural styles and additions, bucks that trend by still serving as the home of the country's president.

It's hallowed ground, as far as European power brokers go: with the oldest sections of the structure, known as the Swiss Gates, dating back to the 13th century, this sprawling site was home to Hapsburg monarchs and the leaders of the Holy Roman Empire. Amid generations of extensions and expensive decorations, the Austrian President resides within the Leopoldine Wing, a home literally located amid museums and the rich history of former empires.


Creative Commons image via Republic of Korea
South Korea: Cheong Wa Dae (Various architects, 1991)
Built on the site of royal gardens in Seoul that date back to the 14th century, the South Korean answer to the White House features a signature aquamarine roof constructed from roughly 150,000 earthen tiles. The Blue House exemplifies traditional Korean architecture, especially the classic hipped and gabled roof, part of a complex of federal buildings in the immediate area, with Mount Bugaksan standing as a stunning backdrop.

The current official residence, the result of a design by a committee of 22 experts, opened in 1991. Previously, the President resided in a building once used by the former Japanese Governor-General, which has since been demolished.


Creative Commons image by Appaiah
India: Rashtrapati Bhavan (Edwin Lutyens, 1929)
This massive four floor, 340-room sandstone palace complex, initially developed for the Viceroy during the colonial era, was one of the buildings that earned New Delhi the nickname Lutyen's Delhi, in honor of the British architect's important role in shaping the new Indian capital. And while Lutyen made significant contributions, it took time for the renowned British architect, who spent decades on the politically important project, to incorporate Indian designs in what was originally going to be a massive, classical edifice on top of Raisina Hill.

Lutyen's final product, a fusion of English, Mughal and other styles capped with an exquisite copper-clad dome, surrounds a gorgeous series of courtyards and gardens, and includes a number of local motifs and references, including the Jaipur Column, a 146-foot-tall tower topped with a lotus flower and the Star of India. Previously the largest such structure until the recently completed palace for the Turkish leader in Ankara, the palace is currently the home of the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. (Prime Ministers, such as Narendra Modi, typically reside at a nearby complex at 7 Race Course Road, also known as Panchavati).


Creative Commons image by John McSporran
Czech Republic: Prague Castle (Various architects, 870)
Few countries can claim to have a seat of power as old as the Czechs, who are ruled by a president who resides within the ancient walls of a complex that traces its roots to a 9th century church. To provide additional perspective on the age of this historic property, one of the first rulers of many to build an addition or renovate the structure was Wenceslaus I, memorialized in the traditional carol "Good King Wenceslaus," and the last major renovation was completed by Hapsburg Queen Maria Teresa in the later half of the 18th century.

Like Austria's Hofburg Palace, the Prague Castle and its multi-century history of expansion has turned a royal structure into a survey course on architectural history, boasting a Gothic cathedral (St. Vitus) and a Romanesque basilica with a vaulted ceiling. The castle complex became the seat of the newly formed Czechoslovakia after WWI, and has been the center of the Czech government ever since.


Creative Commons photo by alljengi
Italy: Quirinal Palace (Domenico Fontana and Carlo Maderno, 1583)
Commissioned by Pope Gregory the XIII, who, based on the client brief—hilly site away from the summer stench of the Tiber River—wasn't as much a people's pontiff, this spacious white palace mostly served the papacy for centuries, until becoming the seat of the Kingdom of Italy in 1871, then one of three presidential residences for the Italian Republic after WWII.

Set atop the highest of Rome's seven hills, the building provides a clear view of St. Peter's, but the real sights are inside the palace, which display the skill of centuries of skilled craftsman (and were just recently opened to the public). The gilded ceiling of Pauline Chapel and the chandeliers of the Grand Ballroom, designed to impress popes who had slightly elevated expectations for interior decor, are highlights of a roughly two-hour tour.