Architecture is often the most defining part of a city. When we think of Paris, we think of the Eiffel Tower. When we think of Rome, we think of the Colosseum. And not only do these structures represent these cities, but they represent entire eras.
Moreover, they show what remains of history as the world moves past it.
Here are the top 10 most iconic American buildings:
10 Iconic American Buildings
10. St. Louis Cathedral — New Orleans
The St. Louis Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. It was built as a crude wooden structure in 1718 and dedicated to King Louis IX of France. Tragically, it burned down in the great fire of 1788 and was rebuilt the following year as a cathedral — with more additions, such as a clock tower and bell, added in the decades after. It remains one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States, and a testament to architectural resilience.
9. Willis Tower — Chicago
The Willis Tower (originally known as the Sears Tower) was completed in 1973. The building, standing at 110 stories and 1,450-feet tall, held the title of tallest building in the world for almost 25 years. It was also the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere for 41 years, until One World Trade Center claimed that title in 2014. Today, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands at an amazing 2,722 feet.
8. Transamerica Pyramid — San Francisco
The Transamerica Pyramid is the second-tallest building in San Francisco, known for its unique modern pyramid shape. It was constructed in 1972 as the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation, though they no longer occupy it, and at the time of its inception it was the tallest building in San Fran and the eighth-tallest in the world. Architect William Pereira gave it its tapered top to let light shine down onto the streets below.
Today, the Transamerica Pyramid houses over 50 firms and around 1,500 employees, and it’s surrounded by the San Francisco neighborhoods of Jackson Square, Chinatown, and North Beach.
7. Space Needle — Seattle
Along with Pike’s Place Market and Starbucks, the Space Needle is a Seattle institution that almost every American can identify. It was built in 1961 as a result of Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, Jr.’s designs, which incorporate Carlson’s idea of a sloping base and Graham’s idea of a flying saucer.
Able to withstand Category 5 hurricane-level winds and earthquakes up to a magnitude of 9.1, the Space Needle was originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair — an international festival that was held in Seattle Center. After the fair, a radio broadcast station was added to the Space Needle. Today, it’s a major tourist destination that boasts a 360-degree view of the Puget Sound, including a rotating glass floor, as well as some of Seattle’s best dining.
6. Walt Disney Concert Hall — Los Angeles
This downtown Los Angeles masterpiece was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry between 1987 and 1991. The construction then took place from 1999 to 2003. Walt Disney Concert Hall has an oak- and fir-paneled interior that gives it its famous acoustics, but what makes it one of the most iconic American buildings is its very distinctive stainless steel-coated exterior.
Originally funded by Lillian Disney — Walt Disney’s widow — the site is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Orchale.
5. Chrysler Building — New York City
The Chrysler Building is famous for its gorgeous Art Deco design, including a terraced crown with a sunburst pattern, and sentry eagles on the 61st floor. Located in East Manhattan, this 1,034-foot skyscraper was once the tallest building in the entire world.
Architect William Van Alen was commissioned for the project in 1927, six years after the initial plans had gone underway. It was finally completed in 1930, and remained the tallest building in the world for a single year, before being overtaken by the Empire State Building. However, the Chrysler Building still boasts the title of first building to surpass 1,000 feet in height — mostly due to the spire Alen added in order to attain that record.
4. White House — Washington D.C.
The White House has been the home of every United States president since John Adams in 1800. It was designed by Irish architect James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800. During the War of 1912, it was severely damaged after British soldiers set it ablaze, but reconstruction began immediately. It’s been changed and expanded by several presidents through history, but it has always remained the home and office of the U.S. presidents and their families.
3. Empire State Building — New York City
Like the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building is an Art Deco skyscraper in New York City. In fact, it competed with the Chrysler Building for the title of tallest building in the world; which the Empire State Building claimed after it was officially completed in 1931.
The 101-story building was designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and stands 1,454-feet tall. It held the designation of world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years, and after the September 11 attacks it once again became New York’s tallest building. However, today it stands as New York City’s seventh-tallest building, and the 45th-tallest in the world.
The Empire State building is a New York icon — featured in over 250 films and TV shows since 1933’s King Kong. It’s also been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Its name is taken from the nickname for New York; the “Empire State.” And it certainly lives up to that nickname.
2. Independence Hall — Philadelphia
Independence Hall makes it to #2 on our list of most iconic American buildings as the site where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. The building itself was completed in 1753 and served as the capitol for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, it soon became the meeting place for the Second Continental Congress, who gathered there from 1775 to 1783 to build legislative foundation for the nation. It truly could be considered the birthplace of America.
1. Capitol Building — Washington D.C.
Few American buildings can match the grandeur that is the United States Capitol. Known as the meeting place of Congress and the official home of the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the Capitol Building has shaped over 200 years of American history.
Built in 1800, the Capitol Building also suffered damage during the War of 1912 (like the White House). But it was quickly restored to its former glory, along with the additions of a massive dome and expanded chambers for the House of Representatives and the Senate. Its white, neoclassical style is a true representation of Washington D.C. and one of its biggest tourist attractions. It stands as a symbol of American government and is — legislatively — the most important building in the nation.
For more, read our list of the top 10 U.S. military bases of all time.