8 US Cities With Great Architecture

What's the Best American City for Exploring Architecture?

From sea to shining sea, architecture in the USA tells the history of America, a young country studded with architectural jewels. As you plan your architecture trip, be sure to put these great American urban areas at the top of your must-see list.

Gothic Revival style Top of the Tribune Tower
Iconic Gothic Revival Style Top of the Tribune Tower. Photo by Angelo Hornak / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

See Chicago For: The roots of American design.

Chicago, Illinois has been called the Birthplace of the Skyscraper. Some call it the home of American architecture itself. Chicago has long been connected with some of architecture's biggest names, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, William Le Baron Jenney, and Daniel H. Burnham. More »

The top of the Empire State Building appears above vegetation
The Empire State Building. Photo by Gary Hershorn / Corbis News / Getty Images (cropped)

See New York For: A crash course in American architectural history.

We think of the Borough of Manhattan when we think of New York, New York, and rightfully so. Manhattan is known for its soaring skyscrapers, but as you explore Lower, Midtown, and Uptown, you'll soon discover that this New York City borough is filled with neighborhoods of hidden architectural treasures. More »

Close-up of US Capitol with flag at half staff
The US Capitol. Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images News / Getty Images

See Washington, DC For: Monuments and grand government buildings—the architecture that represents Americans.

The United States is often called a cultural melting pot, and the architecture of its capital city, Washington, DC, is truly an international blend. More »

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Buffalo, New York

Ornate terra cotta detailing on exterior of Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY
Terra cotta detailing ornament the exterior of Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Lonely Planet/Lonely Planet Images Collection/Getty Images

See Buffalo For: Landmark examples of Prairie, Arts & Crafts, and Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson, and other top architects designed buildings for prosperous businessmen in the thriving industrial city. The completion of the Erie Canal made Buffalo the gateway to western commerce.

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Newport, Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue designed by Peter Harrison in Newport, Rhode Island
Touro Synagogue designed by Peter Harrison in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo by John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

See Newport For: Colonial architecture, lavish mansions, and summer music festivals.

After the American Civil War, this young country flourished with invention and capitalism. Newport, Rhode Island was a favorite vacation spot for the rich and famous during a period that Mark Twain called America's Gilded Age.  Now you can tour the historic, opulent mansions of the 20th century. Remember, though, that Newport was settled in the early 17th century. The town is filled with colonial architecture and a number of "firsts," like Touro Synagogue, the oldest in the US.

An octagon house that looks like a space ship perched in trees
The Malin House, aka Chemosphere House, Designed by John Lautner, 1960. Photo by ANDREW HOLBROOKE / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

See Los Angeles For: A dazzling mix.

Los Angeles offers an architectural kaleidoscope, from tacky Googie buildings to trend-breaking modernist architecture, like the shiny, curvy Walt Disney Concert Hall built by Frank Gehry in 2003. Before Gehry came to LA, however, the Mid-Century Modernist architects like John Lautner were tearing up the town. "If you had to choose one building to represent the most Modern of iconic Modern designs," writes the Los Angeles Conservancy, "you might well choose the Malin House (Chemosphere) in the Hollywood Hills." Oh, yeah! More »

The Frank Gehry designed Music Experience Project (EMP) on the right and the Space Needle on the left
The Frank Gehry designed Music Experience Project (EMP) on the right and the Space Needle on the left. Photo by George Rose / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

See Seattle For: More than the Space Needle!

The Gold Rush that helped settle the West is embodied in this northwest territory. But Seattle is the city that keeps itself alive by preserving the historic and welcoming the experimentalists. More »

Massive art deco metal sculpture in Fair Park, Dallas, nude woman, hair flowing backwards
Reproduction of the Art Deco Contralto Sculpture in Fair Park, Dallas, Texas. Photo —Steve Rainwater, steevithak on flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

See Dallas For: History, diversity, and designs by Pritzker Prize Laureates.

For years, Texas wealth has shown up in the architecture of the city, proving that architects go where the money is. Dallas has spent its money well. More »

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More Cities to Explore:

Of course, the US is a big country and there's so much more to explore. Out of all the cities in the United States, which has the most to explore? What works of architecture make your favorite city special? Why visit there? Here are some answers from other American architecture enthusiasts just like you:

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: There are precious few cities in this country where one can walk an entire day enjoying block after block of architecturally relevant buildings—be it of historic or design relevance. Three come to mind, two of them are on this list, but Philadelphia (the third) is not. Architecture in Philadelphia is not just about the beauty of the Frank Furness library at U of Penn or the Academy for the Arts, and neither is it the monumental impression of City Hall along with the Baroque grand manner of the Parkway. The city has its masterpieces. Rather it's more about how the modern scales with the historic in Northern Liberties, and why a walk along Delancy in Society Hill (brick) or in Rittenhouse (brown stone), is so darn lovely.
  • San Francisco, California: A great place to visit for Victorian detailing found in many neighborhoods and the paint palettes that are used to dramatize those details.
  • Madison, Wisconsin: Madson has many wonderful buildings, including nine Frank Lloyd Wright homes and commercial structures, plus buildings by Sullivan, Maher, Claude & Starck, plus modern structures by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, all on a mile wide isthmus.
  • Colombus, Indiana: No where else in the world can you experience so many award-winning architects in such close proximity. A town of only 40,000 people, it boasts the work of I.M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, Eliel Saarinen, Richard Meier, Robert A M Stern, Gwathmey Siegel, Cesar Pelli, and many more. It is a small-town architectural mecca—the only one of its kind in America.
  • Hartford, Connecticut has a surprising range of four centuries of architecture (if you count tombstones). Just take a walk on Main Street starting at the Butler McCook Historical house (all original items inside, preserved and documented by the last McCook). From the 19th century State House to insurance company and department store architecture to some awful examples of how not to create a plaza that is welcoming, a few blocks say a million words.
  • Savannah, Georgia has a wonderful array of architecture all within walking distance between beautiful parks.
  • Viva Las Vegas: Specifically, "The Strip." It has the most diverse group of buildings in a 4.2 mile stretch of road of possibly anywhere in the world. There is the Venetian which is a distortion of the architecture of Venice. All of the theme hotels next to the ultra modern City Center. Then there is the one of a kind "glitter gulch." Then there are buildings like the Bellagio, the Wynn, the Palazzo, and Treasure Island the are designed to mask that they are 40+ story buildings by cleverly designed windows. Las Vegas has some of the most interesting architecture in the world.