America’s Favourite Cities for Architecture

In 1947, writer John Gunther named Knoxville, Tennessee, the “ugliest city” he visited during his 13-month-long transcontinental survey of the United States. Spurred by the insult (which was made famous in Gunther’s best-selling guide, Inside U.S.A.), Knoxville officials began a city-wide beautification process to turn things around. New parks, renovated buildings, and striking architecture quickly became the norm in the Tennessee town.

Norfolk, Virginia

Hundreds of historic buildings are scattered throughout the neighborhoods of this port town that dates back to the 1600s. Glassy towers dominate downtown, but in the Ghent and Freemason districts, rowhouses and public buildings range in styles from whimsical Queen Anne to imposing Greek Revival.

Architecture buffs will want to check out the Space Age-era Scope Arena, which helped redefine the cityscape in the 1960s. This concrete-and-glass dome hosts headliner concerts and visiting musicals, and is just one reason that T+L readers also consider Norfolk a leader in the cultural scene.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Unlike other cities with high scores for architecture in this year’s survey, Las Vegas has no Beaux Arts buildings to speak of. Readers instead love Vegas for its over-the-top skyline punctuated by imitations of Parisian and New York City landmarks, Egyptian pyramids, circus tents, Venetian palazzos, and Roman coliseums.

Head to the Space Age Stratosphere for the best view of Sin City’s playful buildings clustered along The Strip. At 1,149 feet tall, it’s the highest free-standing observation tower in the country.

Richmond, Virginia

Virginia’s historic capital has some of the nation’s finest examples of Neoclassical architecture, including a capitol building designed by none other than Thomas Jefferson. The city also has the most ironwork on display outside of New Orleans. The ornate cast iron porches, balconies, and fences decorating houses in the Jackson Ward and Churchill neighborhoods are evidence of Richmond’s history as a hub for iron production (some 25 foundries operated in the city in the 1890s).

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

With a trio of rivers and plenty of rolling hills, Pittsburgh is naturally gorgeous. Thankfully for today’s visitors, the city’s architecture has managed to match the surroundings.

From the downtown high rises—including the dominating Neo-Gothic PPG Place tower—to the charming Victorian homes in North Side’s Allegheny neighborhood, Steel City’s hilly topography makes for multiple scenic vistas. But for a more social experience, mingle with the sports-crazed locals at a Steelers or Pirates game, where you’ll be treated to prime views across the Allegheny River to downtown from both stadiums.

Knoxville, Tennessee

Visitors in town to see the gorgeous Smoky Mountains National Park might be surprised to find that Knoxville has plenty of manmade beauty, too. T+L readers give the southern city high points for architecture, thanks to a quirky skyline and unique, historic buildings.

The iconic Sunsphere, for example (a 266-foot-tall golden orb dating to the 1982 World’s Fair), is the city’s calling card, but there are less flashy highlights as well. The Tennessee Theatre, built as a movie palace in the 1920s, is mostly Spanish-Moorish in design, but also features Czech crystals, Italian terrazzo floors, and French-inspired chandeliers.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

T+L readers gave Philadelphia high marks for its diverse architecture. It was in Philly that builders first introduced English-style row houses to Colonial America, where they were known as “Philadelphia rows” and soon came to dominate urban residential architecture.

Architectural buffs will want to stay at the 581-room Loews Hotel, inside the 1932 PSFS Building, the country’s first International Style-skyscraper. It’s a block from Philly’s most stunning building, City Hall, which was influenced largely by Paris’s Tuileries Palace.

Wilmington, North Carolina

There’s a reason producers chose Wilmington as the filming location for shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill.” In addition to its mild climate and beachy location, there’s also an eclectic mix of architecture styles perfectly suited to idyllic, fictional towns.

Historic residential neighborhoods like Carolina Heights have camera-ready examples of American Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Queen Anne style houses. Closer to downtown, a number of grand Antebellum mansions still line the streets, and the Classical Revival Thalian Hallserved as the old-timey Rialto movie theater in “Dawson’s Creek.

New Orleans, Louisiana

T+L readers love New Orleans because the city’s unique history plays out in the architecture of its neighborhoods, many of which have been restored since Hurricane Katrina. See French, Spanish, Creole, and Caribbean influences in the iron-balconied, stucco buildings of the French Quarter, and in the colorful homes of Bywater.

Uptown, in the Garden District, see the country’s largest collection of Antebellum architecture, with Greek Revival and Georgian mansions built for English-speaking immigrants after the Louisiana Purchase. Also scattered throughout the city are traditional “shotgun” houses, built to maximize airflow in the hot climate.

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