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Three Cities With Thrilling Architecture

Every WeVenture destination has fascinating architecture, from the stout bricks that house the hall where the signers left their mark on the Declaration of Independence in the City of Brotherly Love to the less-authentic replications of French and Italian architecture icons in the Mojave Desert. Below are three cities that go above — well above — and beyond when it comes to architecture. Explore the myriad styles, the unbelievable stories, and the just downright beautiful architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Seattle, and be sure to follow the blog for future posts on our top architecture-oriented destinations!

a view of a city with tall buildings in the background

New York City

Starting with the most obvious choice for cities with great architecture, New York City is well known for its immediately recognizable Empire State Building and nearby Chrysler Building. The latter, topped with its iconic Art Deco crown, played a part in the competition among architects and financiers for the world’s tallest building, kicking off in the late 1920s. Walter Chrysler nearly succeeded with a 125-foot spire constructed in secret, beating out its rival 40 Wall Street but only to be bested by the Empire State Building a year after its completion. 

Beneath the skyscrapers dominating the New York City skyline, modern glass mingles with century-old brick and marble. And no less imposing than those behemoth skyscrapers is the Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State. Designed in Beaux-Arts style, the courthouse is one of many legacies left by the City Beautiful movement, a nation-wide effort to add splendor and a sense of civic virtue to major cities. highest number of sculptures out of any building in U.S. Take a moment to spot all 30 symbolic sculptures on the exterior!

While construction on the courthouse seems long at three years, consider that St. John the Divine Cathedral, located in Morningside Heights, is technically not finished — after well over a century! This gem of upper Manhattan is well worth the visit and a day can be made of exploring the breathtaking interior and then venturing up to the equally impressive Fort Tryon Park and The Met Cloisters, its architecture bringing to mind medieval European monastic life.

Chicago

Much like New York’s Appellate Courthouse, some buildings in Chicago are overshadowed by their soaring counterparts such as the Willis Tower and The St. Regis Chicago, the two tallest buildings in Chicago. Set your sights a little lower to admire The Rookery and its elegant exterior and light-filled innner court covered by a glass ceiling featuring geometric designs. Completed in 1888, Chicago’s oldest high-rise is still a marvel to behold.

A few blocks away, the Reliance Builing might pale in comparison to The Rookery at first glance, but a closer look at its glazed white terra cotta facade with large glass windows reveals a story of ingenuity in design. The architects at the time endeavored to solve the problem of sooty buildings, believing the glazed exterior would prove easier to wash away the grime during rains. Ultimately, this proved to be untrue, but we now have another beautiful National Landmark to appreciate among the many different styles of architecture in the city, complete with bay windows. 

Crossing the West Lake Street Bridge, one can’t help notice the abrupt glass wall that is 150 North Riverside, a lumberjack’s unfelled tree towering 54 stories above the Chicago River. Nicknames for the building include “The Guillotine” and “The Tuning Fork”, but, love it or hate it, this daring design won the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ highest award for design excellence.

a large tall tower with a clock on the side of a building

Seattle

Whether or not you’re into the nitty gritty of architecture – what’s a baluster? what is deconstructivism? – anyone can appreciate a walk among the old and new, the gravity-defying and the ornate, and the beautiful and subjectively ugly buildings clustered in Seattle’s downtown and Pioneer Square neighborhoods.

The juxtaposition of the 1904 Tudor Revival–style Rainier Club and sleek 44-floor F5 Tower is a perfect example of modern mixed in with historic architecture. The former, a private club with over 1,000 members, has welcomed a number of high-profile visitors, from Buffalo Bill Cody to Babe Ruth.

Rainier Tower and Rainier Square Tower, side by side, show off architects’ more daring designs, the former having a tapered base that’s led to some referring to it as the “Beaver Building”. 

Structures famous for their iconic designs as much as the views they provide include the elegant Space Needle, neoclassical Smith Tower, and Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest skyscraper at the time of this writing. A fun fact about our world-famous Needle: the concept for this tower was originally sketched on a cocktail napkin! Thanks to its careful and clever design, the structure is able to withstand winds of up to 200 mph and earthquakes of up to 9.0 magnitude!