The abundance of beautiful architecture in D.C. is recognized worldwide. Like most major cities, D.C. is spotted with the very old and the very unique in architecture with classical, colonial and modern styles meshed together throughout the city. Precious landmarks and historical buildings decorate the District from corner to corner. There are so many more incredible feats of architecture than the city’s standard tourist attractions. This list focuses on the extraordinary, beautiful and daring concepts in D.C. architecture.
5612 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20015
Providing the District with high-brow entertainment since 1923, the Avalon Theater (originally called the Chevy Chase Theater) is the oldest and one of the most beautiful D.C. venues for cinematic entertainment. Like most beautiful historical landmarks, the Avalon has had to fight for its survival — overcoming the threat of closure in 2001 and surviving through today courtesy of enthusiastic supporters. Functioning as an independent nonprofit since 2006, the Avalon boasts beauty inside and out. A place to see each year’s Oscar contenders as well as the best in foreign and independent films, the Avalon draws movie goers in with its unique exterior. A gleaming example of the classical revival style, with rosettes, pilasters and moldings decorating the exterior. The Avalon was originally designed by local architect firm Frank Upman and Percy C. Adams. Originally featuring silent films, the original Avalon design included a fully functioning pipe organ as well. The building has since been restored, but remains true to the original neo-classical style.
Embassy of Finland
3301 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
A glass house of greenery and natural light, the Embassy of Finland is the most unique architectural structure on Embassy Row. Architects Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen designed an energy-efficient statement of Finnish culture. Completed in 1994, the building has received several notations for being “green” including LEED and Energy Star certifications. The building is designed in the constructivist, industrial aesthetic featuring clean lines and a minimal ornament. From certain angles it looks like a giant cage covers the building. This designs allows for greenery to grow freely around the exterior of the building. The interior features a dynamic mixing of materials and rooms, utilizing copper and other metals most often. The Embassy is intended to be more than a political facility and is frequently used for Finnish cultural events.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
700 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20560
One of the most visually interesting museums in the District, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a sensational work of architectural recognized the world over. The doughnut-shaped building was designed by Gordon Bunshaft in 1966. Originally the defense of the unconventional design was that the rounded gallery walls provided elongated sighting throughout exhibitions, and the hallow center allowed visitors on the upper floors a full 360-degree view of the central fountain below. However another popular interpretation of the shape of the building is that the museum itself is a contemporary statement about museums in general. The large inward-facing windowless structure provides a visualization of museums’ history of avoiding inward-facing management because it does not reflect the needs of the outer public. The facade is completely smooth, made of large stones and is completely devoid of ornament. The simplistic minimalism is continued in the interior featuring four levels of simple white-wall gallery space.
Eisenhower “Old” Executive Office Building
1730 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006
One the most unique buildings in downtown, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (also known as the “Old” Executive Office Building by Capitol Hill staffers) is the former location of major executive departments. Now the West Wing houses most White House and executive personnel, but the Eisenhower Building is still used for some White House and federal offices. The building is not open to the public, however the exterior is easily visible to pedestrians taking in the sights of downtown and the National Mall. The stately elegance of the building’s facade is an excellent example of the French second-empire style. Most federal buildings throughout the District are of the classical revival or American beaux-arts style, so the Eisenhower Building is truly unique. The grand facade evokes a sense of regalia, befitting the functionality of the building. Architect Alfred B. Mullett completed construction in 1871, following the Civil War, and sought to reflect the American spirit of the time.
2 West/40 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002
Practically a museum of architectural wonder, Union Station is the ultimate place for appreciating grand architecture in the District. A mix of classical revival and American beaux-arts styles, Union Station features ornamental arched ceilings, decorative sculpture and luxurious touches of marble and granite in more than 210,000 square feet. Architect Daniel Burnham was determined to construct the largest train station in the world at the time of its opening in 1907. The building is large enough to house the Washington Monument, if the monument were turned on its side. Throughout the space, allegorical sculpture decorates the massive walls. Louis St. Gaudens designed “The Progress of Railroading” statues that line the upper exterior. Gaudens also designed the 26 centurions that line the main hall. Union Station has always been a place of commerce as well as transportation featuring a variety of shops including beauty, dinning, fashion and entertainment. Today Union Station is frequented by more than 32 million visitors per year.
Kayleigh Bryant is a D.C. native, traveler, foodie, artist and frequent museum visitor. Her lifelong fascination with art has moved her to explore the themes, techniques and media artists have employed to express their ideas. Kayleigh has earned a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.