Obligatory Top 10: Buildings

10. Erechtheion – Athens, Greece

The Erechtheion, completed in 406 BC, is one of several structures atop the Acropolis, the most famous being the Parthenon. Built in honor of Athena and Poseidon, the temple was built completely of marble and rests on a slope. The most prominent feature is the porch on the north side, supported by six caryatids, columns of draped maidens. Caryatids, “maidens of Karyai”, worshipped the goddess Artemis by dancing with baskets of reeds on their heads.

Erechtheion     Erechtheion - Caryatid Porch

9. Biltmore Estate – Asheville, North Carolina

The Biltmore, completed in 1895, is the largest house in America and the crowning achievement of Gilded Age extravagance. George Washington Vanderbilt II purchased 125,000 acres just outside Asheville, North Carolina after a trip to the area where he fell in love with the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The home, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, is over 175,000 square feet with 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms. The Vanderbilt family still resides on the property today, but have opened it to the public and created one of the most popular destinations in the country, with over one million visitors a year.

Biltmore  Biltmore interior


8. Monticello – Albemarle County, Virginia

Arguably the most famous residence in America, Monticello was the creation of Thomas Jefferson, who not only funded the project but also designed it, inspired by the classical designs of Europe. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monticello’s most prominent feature is the centrally-placed octagonal dome which is not just aesthetically pleasing; in the summertime (before air conditioning) the high-ceiling draws hot air up and out of the entire building. The home stands today as a representative of Jefferson himself and his insatiable thirst for knowledge. Construction began in 1772 and although generally completed by 1809, Jefferson continued to work on the building until his death in 1826.

Monticello     Monticello floorplan


7. Angkor Wat – Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

Built in the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, stretching over 400 acres. Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, within one hundred years the site transitioned to a Buddhist temple as it is still today. The best features of the site are the numerous reliefs and the five large towers arranged in a quincunx.

Angkor Wat          Angkor Wat wall relief


6. Los Angeles City Hall – California

One of the most prominent landmarks in all of Los Angeles and the backdrop for countless movies and television shows, LA City Hall is my favorite example of a style very popular in the pre-war US, neo-Gothic. Other examples include the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge and the Woolworth Building in New York. After a retrofit completed in 2001, the building can now withstand an 8.2 earthquake.

Los Angeles City Hall                Los Angeles City Hall entrance


5. Burj Khalifa – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Not just the tallest building in the world, but the tallest man-made structure period. Completed in 2008, the Burj Khalifa is over 2,700 feet tall (700 ft taller than the next highest, Shanghai Tower) with 160 floors. The UAE has been on a building spree for several decades as the nation has begun the transition from an oil-driven economy to one focused on the service and banking sectors. The Burj Khalifa will be the tallest structure in the world at least for the next seven years until the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia is completed with an estimated height of 3,300 feet.

Burj Khalifa  Burj Khalifa height comparison


4. Blandwood Mansion – Greensboro, North Carolina

The Italianate style became popular in the US in second half of the 19th century, spurred in large measure by famed architect Alexander Jackson Davis and his work at Blandwood. The home dates to 1795 but initially was a simple four-room Federal style farmhouse. After its purchase by former NC governor John Motley Morehead, the home was transformed in 1844 into the home seen today. The Italianate style is perfect because of its simplicity and the traditions taken from the ancient greek/Roman world. The prospect tower on the front façade with its arched entryways, casement windows, and large eaves gives the site the feel of an Italian villa. While originally located on a rural plot just outside the town, Blandwood today is located in the central area of downtown as a great exemplar of successful historic preservation in the midst of an explosion of urban growth.

Blandwood Mansion


3. Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower – Baltimore, Maryland

If name alone was the defining characteristic of a building, the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower would take the top prize; it’s fun to say and reminds me of the TV shows of the 1940’s and 50’s and their endless sponsorships- Kraft Television Theatre, In the Kelvinator Kitchen, Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, & The Philco Television Playhouse. The tower, built in 1911 and located at the corner of Eutaw and Lombard Streets, originally served as the base of the Bromo-Seltzer factory demolished in 1969.

The Renaissance Revival structure contains 15 floors and is 289 feet tall. At night the battlement (the round section at the top above the clock face) shines with a blue light. It’s a shame that architecture like this has disappeared in America. Buildings with similar unique design could be found across the country, from the largest cities to smallest towns, particularly in the first half of the 20th century as steel became widely available and cost efficient.

Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower                             Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower at night


2. Hagia Sophia – Istanbul, Turkey

The Hagia Sophia, Greek for “Holy Wisdom”, came to be through the boundless ambition of Justinian I, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. Justinian ruled from the years 527 to 565 and embarked on a massive building program to promote the power and wealth of the empire in an era when the Western Roman Empire had fallen to barbarians. Hagia Sophia served as a Christian church from its completion in 537 until 1453 when the Muslim Ottomans converted it to a mosque. The minarets seen today were an Ottoman addition six hundred years ago.

In 1935 the structure changed once again, this time into a museum, its current use. For over a thousand years it was the largest cathedral in the world. The central dome rises to over 180 feet, creating a massive interior space with arcades running along the edges supported by numerous ornate marble columns. The ancient historian Procopius of Caesarea visited Hagia Sophia just after its construction and wrote:

No one ever became weary of this spectacle, but those who are in the church delight in what they see, and, when they leave, magnify it in their talk. Moreover it is impossible accurately to describe the gold, and silver, and gems, presented by the Emperor Justinian, but by the description of one part, I leave the rest to be inferred. That part of the church which is especially sacred, and where the priests alone are allowed to enter, which is called the Sanctuary, contains forty thousand pounds’ weight of silver.

The building has been in a constant state of repair and restoration, including several large-scale projects recently, but there is much work needed to keep the Hagia Sophia standing for another 1,500 years.

Hagia Sophia 1880     Hagia Sophia mosaic

Hagia Sophia side view


1. Flatiron Building – New York, NY

The most beautiful building in the world, period. Located on 5th Avenue and completed in 1902, the Flatiron is a triangular structure bounded by three streets. The original, official name was the Fuller Building, but locals adopted the name “Flatiron” because of the building’s resemblance to a cast iron clothes iron. It stands at 285 feet tall with 22 stories and has become an iconic symbol of Manhattan.

The Flatiron is an amazing sight travelling South on Fifth Avenue. It resembles the bow of a mighty ship as it anchors the divide between 5th and the northern start of Broadway Ave, two of the most famous streets in the world.

Flatiron Building        Flatiron Building        Flatiron Building with WWI victory arch, 1919


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