Beautiful architecture and DC’s ugly buildings

My favorite US architectureThe American Institute of Architects has a compilation of 150 structures as part of the online exhibit America’s Favorite Architecture. As with any such “top” list, there’s bound to be disagreement, but the site is worth exploring. The list is also available as a layer for Google Earth.

A selection of my favorites is at right. Some other favorites that didn’t make the Top 150: Museum of Flight, Seattle; John Hancock Center, Chicago; Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville; Old Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C.
The D.C. area is home to 17 of the 150. It’s a very impressive showing, until you consider the fact that most of the buildings are DC’s historic landmarks. Outside the Mall area and the signature Washington buildings, DC is one of the ugliest cities I’ve visited (architecturally speaking).

The J. Edgar Hoover FBI building is my current nomination for ugliest building in D.C. It rivals some of the ugliest buildings on Northwestern’s campus, such as the University Library. (It’s even uglier in real life.) The D.C. public library is another eyesore. Compare it with the public libraries in New York and Boston.

Washington’s height restrictions are part of the problem. Despite common lore, building heights aren’t restricted to the height of the Capitol or the Washington Monument, but 20 feet taller than the width of the street they’re on. This helps preserve the prominence of the signature buildings, but these restrictions (combined with economics) pretty much ensure that all new buildings are large undifferentiated boxes.

Web 2.0 design note: The designers of the AFA site missed a natural opportunity to serve up badges of people’s favorite sites. I had to crop a screen grab to get the image in this post.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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