One of America’s most notable characteristics is the architecture that dots its landscape. Like all aesthetically appealing designs, successful American architecture works with the environment around it in a harmonious fashion. This makes it easy to distinguish the truly great architecture from the well-intentioned executions that didn’t quite succeed. Here are some of the greatest American designs and what makes them noteworthy.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
At the time of its construction, this curvy edifice in New York City by Frank Lloyd Wright stood apart from its contemporaries, and it continues to defy convention to this day. As a result, it still features prominently in films, syndicated television and on the covers of popular American publications, like The New Yorker.
One of the most cited examples of Art Deco in the United States, the Chrysler Building in Midtown Manhattan works because of the way it bucked the trends. Although it was built during the Great Depression era that later gave way to structures like 40 Wall Street and the Empire State Building, it stands apart in that it’s not as formulaic as these others.
As economist Ajay Shah noted, architectural arms races often contribute to the development of great works, especially in instances where the rich struggle to compete with one another via ostentatious displays of wealth. The Chrysler Building didn’t keep the title of “world’s tallest building” for long — just 11 months. Nonetheless, its curves and metal cladding make it more unique than its competitors by far.
John Hancock Center
This Chicago skyscraper is exemplary of Fazlur Khan’s method of creating tubular high-rise designs. The X-bracing that crosses the building’s exterior marks a major architectural change in which the key structural elements of tall American buildings became more visible, and engineering professors like C.M. Chan note that this concept would later be used in other tall buildings around the world.
Another example of Khan’s tubular architecture in Chicago, America’s second-highest edifice draws 1 million visitors each year. Unlike most of the other examples on this list, it presents a stepped profile that makes it easy to distinguish the different columnar elements that comprise the structure as a whole. This staggered design breaks up Chicago’s skyline of largely rectangular, single-height towers without deviating too far from the norm.
David S. Ingalls Rink
This hockey rink in Yale University’s hometown of New Haven, Conn., is so uniquely iconic that it sports the moniker “The Whale,” and it’s easy to see where the name comes from. While not as popular or well known as some other American designs, it still sets itself apart as an uncommon exercise in organic form that somehow remains harmoniously integrated with its surroundings.