May 1, 2013
Everyone likes lists, even PBS. A new TV special on the Public Broadcasting Service posits the top 10 buildings that changed America. We’ll give them credit for giving architecture its proper due — not everyone would say that buildings have necessarily changed this country, at least not in the way technological, infrastructural, or telecommunication innovations have. But the list is fairly typical, with (too) few surprises.
The show’s format is designed to be accessible to all, with host Geoffrey Baer traveling the continental US in search of the “revolutionary” structures whose influence can still be felt in cities and suburbs across America. That’s the rationale behind a rather hodgepodge collection that lumps in Jefferson’s Virginia State Capital (the polymath’s “declaration of architectural independence,” an awkward turn of phrase that leaves a bad taste in our mouths) with Mies’ Seagram Building. The same conceit also overstates the importance of the Vanna Venturi House and the Walt Disney Concert Hall on quotidian life; the former is the token Pomo project, one that contributed little to the country’s post-Fordist landscape, while the inclusion of the latter seems to have been conciliatory and perhaps (we hope) a pointed dig at Gehry — if you can’t have Bilbao, then a look-a-like will do.
So we challenge PBS’ selections with our own list of America’s top 10 structures. Sure, the criteria governing our choices are more architecturally inclined — you won’t find the White House or even the Empire State Building here — and our tastes, unabashedly modern, but it’s undeniable how each of the buildings listed here have significantly contributed and even altered our built environment. Click through to see them all.