America’s Favorite Cities for Architecture 2016
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.
Thankfully for Knoxville, the transformation worked, and Travel + Leisure readers think it’s now one of the country’s most architecturally compelling cities. Other destinations they love for architecture include several colonial cities that have preserved their historic cores, former industrial hubs that built monumental public buildings during boom years in the early 20th century, and a city with a skyline defined largely by miniature recreations of the world’s most famous landmarks.
In the annual America's Favorite Places survey, readers of all stripes evaluate hundreds of cities and towns across a range of categories, from the friendliness of the locals to the quality of the pizza. Unlike Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards, which encourages readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America's Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
And when it comes to attractive facades and iconic silhouettes, some cities are more memorable and instantly recognizable than others. From the Rust Belt to upstate New York, these are America’s favorite cities for architecture.
Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Places survey opened on 10/8/2015 and closed on 04/15/2016. It was open to everyone, and ran alongside a sweepstakes. The open-response survey asked respondents to submit their favorite place and rate it in over 65 categories, including affordability, notable restaurants, and public parks. Cities are defined as governed bodies with a population over 100,000.
15. Fort Worth, Texas
T+L readers love Fort Worth for its barbecue, friendly people, and world-class museums including the Kimbell Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth—all of which helped the Texas town score highly in the architecture category. Designed by Louis I Kahn (with a new addition by Renzo Piano), Philip Johnson, and Tadao Ando, respectively, the three museums make up Fort Worth’s Cultural District, and feature striking modern design.
Downtown, a colorful mix of Art Deco, Neoclassical, Medieval Revival, and Beaux Arts buildings are on view at Fort Worth’s bustling Sundance Square Plaza (named after the infamous outlaw).
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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).
Downtown’s Egyptian Building is an archetypal example of Egyptian Revivalist style, while Minoru Yamasaki’s 1978 Federal Reserve Bank Tower is pure Modernism.
11. 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.
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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 Hall served as the old-timey Rialto movie theater in "Dawson’s Creek."
7. 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.
6. Detroit, Michigan
Detroit became one of the country’s top manufacturing centers in the late 19th century, and its rapid accumulation of wealth is evident in the concentration of grand, Beaux Arts buildings. Don’t miss the Roman Baroque Revival-style County Building, architect Stanford White’s Savoyard Bank Building, and the sprawling Detroit Institute of Arts—home to one of the country’s largest collections.
Today, Detroit’s impressive skyline has examples of Art Deco, Modern, Postmodern, and Contemporary architecture. To get the best views, bring your passport and head to neighboring Windsor, Canada’s riverfront park.
5. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston’s skyline is pierced by dozens of church steeples rather than high rises. And its compact, walkable downtown is a treasure trove of Antebellum and late 19th-century architectural styles. Buildings throughout the lower peninsula showcase an unparalleled assortment of styles, including Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian.
For a strong dose of color, head south to Rainbow Row: 13 pastel-painted Georgian-style houses dating back to the late 1700s. And along the waterfront, Battery Row is home to impressive 19th-century mansions, with columned, multi-tiered balconies.
4. Providence, Rhode Island
To see why T+L readers gave Providence such high marks for architecture, head to College Hill, where Brown University’s red brick buildings look over the downtown skyline. Classic New England church steeples dot the city, as do revamped 19th and 20th century factory buildings and Art Deco towers.
Walk the streets of the neighborhood and you’ll see houses dating back to before the Revolution, with a mix of styles including Georgian, Federal, and Renaissance Revival. The neighborhood is also home to the Providence Athenaeum, a Greek Revival temple to education that’s one of the country’s earliest libraries.
3. Chicago, Illinois
Following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, local architects traded wood for steel, giving birth to the first modern high-rises. The upward trend continued, and today the city has an instantly recognizable skyline. Take a boat tour on the Chicago River and float past the iconic corncob-shaped Marina towers, or head to the Adler Planetarium’s lakeshore paths for an endless panorama of a city that seems to rise from the waters of Lake Michigan.
2. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, with a central historic district that covers dozens of square blocks, landed easily in the number two spot this year. The perfectly preserved neighborhoods showcase fine examples of colonial and Antebellum architecture, including stunning Georgian, Federal, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Victorian Regency styles.
Today, many of the 19th-century mansions are open to the public as museums, giving visitors a rare peek at the gorgeously restored interiors. Several have become hotels as well, including the Hamilton Turner Inn, built in the Second Empire Style in 1873.
1. Buffalo, New York
Buffalo’s eclectic skyline—which features an octagonal spire, a Neo-Classical highrise topped with twin Statue of Liberty replicas, and a towering Art Deco city hall—is a testament to its rich history. The city is credited as a birthplace of “American” architecture, where the country’s rising architects—Frank Lloyd Wright, for example—tested their mettle.
But the city isn’t stuck in its past. Rem Koolhas’s firm OMA is expanding the city’s renowned art museum, and the abandoned Art Deco train station is on track to becoming a mixed-use complex. It’s no wonder T+L readers voted underrated Buffalo as America’s Favorite City.