America’s Top 10 Architectural Gems


empire-state-buildingThe American Institute of Architects recently turned 150 and to celebrate they decided to put together a list of 150 favorite American buildings. The following buildings made the top ten.

Not surprisingly, more than half of highest-ranking buildings are located in the nation’s capital and memorialize the country’s greatest presidents and house our lawmakers. The architects all brought in different inspirations, from a simple pencil to the grand chateaus of the Loire Valley. What every single one has in common, though, is that it changed the landscape and soared the country to new heights of innovation, whether it is a skyscraper that defied gravity, a bridge spanning a great divide, or a quiet, seemingly simple memorial that helps us reflect on the country’s sometimes turbulent history.

1. Empire State Building
New York, New York
Year Built: 1931
Architect: William Lamb of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon
Annual visitors: 3.5 million

This Art Deco masterpiece lacks the flash of the Chrysler Building, though it did make up for it in sheer size. At 1,453 feet it was the tallest building in the world. Architect William Lamb didn’t have to leave his desk to find inspiration for the design. It is based on the pencil, albeit a pencil with stainless steel canopies. Lamb did have other strokes of genius. The building was surprisingly finished ahead of schedule, due in part to his decision to place metal strips between the windows and the stonework, saving the time usually allocated to cutting the stone to fit. It is still a quintessential New York experience to ascend to the observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors, where you can have a magnificent view of the Chrysler Building.

2. The White House
Washington, DC
Year Built: 1792
Architect: James Hoban
Annual visitors: 1.8 million

There’s no doubt that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the most famous address in the country. John Adams was the first president to receive mail there. Irish-born architect James Hoban based the exterior design on Leinster House, the Dublin meeting place for Irish Parliament, and the floor plan on the his native country’s Georgian townhouses. Like the US Capitol Building, the White House suffered great damage when D.C. was attacked during the War of 1812 and had to be rebuilt. The last major development was the addition of the fabled West Wing in 1901. The building’s color obviously inspired the name, though the walls are made of Aquia sandstone that have been painted the signature white.

3. Washington National Cathedral
Washington DC
Year Built: 1990
Architect: George Frederick Bodley and Henry Vaughn
Annual visitors: 800,000

While officially the “newest” building on the list, the National Cathedral was actually 83 years in the making. The first stone was placed in 1907. The project was not officially deemed completed until 1990.

4. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Washington, DC
Year Built: 1943
Architect: John Russell Pope
Annual visitors: 2.3 million

The third president also dabbled in architecture, of course, so John Russell Pope incorporated elements from Jefferson’s own designs in appreciation, drawing inspiration from the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. The overall design was based on the Pantheon in Rome and Beaux-Arts classicism, using elements like a dome, marble steps, and Ionic columns. The monument officially opened on what would have been Jefferson’s 200th birthday with a 19-foot-tall likeness made of plaster, which was replaced by the current bronze version when metal restrictions were lifted at the end of World War II.

5. Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, California
Year Built: 1937
Architect: Irving F. Morrow and Gertrude C. Morrow
Annual visitors: Nine million

The original design for the much-needed bridge over San Francisco Bay was thrown out for being a bit too boring. Husband and wife team Irving and Gertrude Morrow stepped in with a vision of a suspension bridge with Art Deco elements in the lamps and railings that fit the time period and the mood of the city. The color is one of the most memorable parts of the 1.7-mile-long bridge. Instead of standard silver, the burnt orange color was used to stand out in the city’s notorious fog. The US Navy lobbied to have it painted black with yellow stripes for even more visibility for passing ships. Thankfully they were overruled.

6. U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC
Year Built: 1793
Architect: William Thornton, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Charles Bullfinch, Thomas U. Walter, Montgomery C. Meigs
Annual visitors: Three million

Much drama went into the construction of the seemingly serene and stately US Capitol building. William Thornton’s design was chosen, then modified by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Charles Bulfinch. And it’s been modified many times since. The building had to be reconstructed after being burned during the War of 1812. Other additions include the cast iron dome that defines it today, designed by Thomas U. Walter and added during the Civil War and topped by Thomas Crawford’s bronze Statue of Freedom. A new visitors center opened in 2008, where you can meet for tours to see the drama that goes on inside with the House of Representatives.

7. Lincoln Memorial
Washington, DC
Year Built: 1922
Architect: Henry Bacon
Annual visitors: 3.6 million

It’s hard to miss the references to the design of Greek temples in this memorial to the 16th president. Exhibit one is the 36 fluted Doric columns, each representing a state of the union when Lincoln was in office. The building itself was constructed from Colorado marble and Indian limestone, while the 19-foot-tall statue of the man himself is made from Georgian marble. The 190-foot-long memorial dominates the west end of the National Mall and has been the site of many of the city’s most important protests and demonstrations.

8. Biltmore Estate
Asheville, North Carolina
Year Built: 1895
Architect: Richard Morris Hunt
Annual visitors: One million

The only home to make the top ten (the White House is more of a live/work situation), this Vanderbilt estate is officially America’s largest home with 250 rooms spread over 175,000 square feet. Architect Richard Morris Hunt was the first American to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and gave the home a chateau feel befitting American royalty. The exterior is constructed from Indian limestone. It took six years to finish construction, though George Washington Vanderbilt II didn’t mind waiting for his country house to be finished as long as it rivaled his sibling’s city escapes in Newport, Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt’s still own the house, though no one has lived there full time since the 1950s. It is open year-round to visitors, where you can tour the house and walk the grounds, which were landscaped by Central Park’s Frederick Law Olmsted.

9. Chrysler Building
New York, New York
Year Built: 1930
Architect: William Van Alen
Annual visitors: Four million

This Art Deco skyscraper dominated the New York skyline for just a year, when it was replaced by the Empire State Building as the city’s tallest building. The building was commissioned by the Chrysler corporation and cheekily incorporates details of the era’s automobiles including cornices that are replicas of hood ornaments and radiator caps. Unfortunately, you can not ride on one of the 32 elevators unless you have a (legitimate) appointment at one of the offices upstairs, but no one will stop you from traipsing through the red Moroccan marble lobby each year to see the ceiling mural depicting scenes from the Chrysler assembly lines.

10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Washington, DC
Year Built: 1982
Architect: Maya Lin
Annual visitors: Three million

In a town full of memorials, none are as striking as the wall of black granite built to honor those killed during the Vietnam War. The names of 58,260 soldiers are etched into the reflective surface. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed when you follow the memorial as it ascends from and recedes into the ground on the edge of the National Mall. The memorial is one of the newest structures on the list and was created by the youngest architect. Maya Lin was just a 21-year-old Yale student when her design was selected.

{AOL Travel, Noam Newscenter}