Travel

The 5 Best North American Cities to Travel for Architecture

I hope 2020 has started well for you and that amongst the many things that this decade will bring you, travel is between them. If you happen to be planning a trip around America – North America more specifically – this information below might be of interest.

In 1609 Henry Hudson became the first European to sail up the Hudson River and a bit later in 1613, Captain Adriaen Block and the crew of the Tyger constructed the first European dwellings on Manhattan Island. Thus urbanisation of New York (and America) began. With little more than 400 years of history, America has become a world superpower.

This massive country is known and recognised about everywhere in the world, and is the most photographed and most filmed country anywhere in the world. The Satue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and Hancock Tower are some of the world’s most visited locations.

But there is more to America than the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge. For the curious architect seeking America’s small and hidden places, beautiful parks, homely neighbourhoods, chapels, Brutalist buildings and fine, unpretentious architecture, there are plenty of those locations too.

But where to begin? Worry not as I’ve selected America’s top cities for architecture and included a comprehensive map of each of them.

Let me warn you, the hardest part of this list is choosing where not to go ✈️


 

1. Boston

Boston has every good thing about European architecture, without losing the distinctive touch of Northern America. Therefore, residential streets are a delight to walk whilst also having very interesting contemporary architecture nearby.

Its buildings, primarily low-rise, the city layout, based on narrow and winding streets and its parks, part of the urban grid, made me like Boston immediately.

Additionally, the university scene is booming and both MIT and Harvard are must-see locations to understand the city’s success. By the way, John Harvard, the founder of the school, left London after losing all his family to the plague.

Don’t miss: MIT and Harvard, Boston City Hall (a controversial piece of Brutalist architecture) and The Spite House (Boston’s narrowest house)
When is best to go: May

Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Boston.

 

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2. New York

New York, the city that never sleeps, is a vast concrete jungle where one can study and learn the past, present and future of cities. What’s going on in New York in terms of art and architecture is what the rest of the world’s big and semi-big cities will experience in the future. Hence, it’s a great place to check trends too.

New York Statue of Liberty

What’s also great from an urban perspective is how the city is evolving and adapting to an emerging and always increasing population. From transportation hubs to social housing projects, the insight is endless.

Besides this more profound and underlying layer of architectural knowledge, the city is as pretty as it gets and has one of the most beautiful skylines in the world.

Don’t miss: The Flatiron, Times Square and The Cloisters
When is best to go: Summer (June-August)

Unfortunately, my free map of New York is unavailable. You can get my New York Architectour Guide instead (available in 2021). Also, if you used my other free maps, this would be a great way to support my work 🙂

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3. Miami

Miami’s art and architecture – unfortunately overshadowed by its party reputation – is actually remarkable. And it’s getting better every year. The Art Deco legacy, vast and exemplary, combines with its contemporary architecture. Recent buildings by reputed European studios like BIG and Herzog & de Meuron are enriching, even more, the city’s urban grid.

More recently, Wynwood walls area is becoming mainstream and more artists, events and visitors are joining its exciting art scene. There are also plenty of art galleries spread across the city featuring international artists worldwide.

However amazing this city is, there’s always room for surprise. For example, you could also find a 12th century monastery brought stone by stone from Spain.

Don’t miss: Wynwood walls, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and Herzog & de Meuron’s Parking on Lincoln Road
When is best to go: April or October

Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Miami.

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4. Chicago

Chicago is known for its amazing summers and hard winters, its amazing architecture and charming jazz scene. I’ve been very fortunate to have called Chicago my home as I lived and studied in this wonderful city for two years.

Whilst having an exciting skyline and rich historical background, Chicago is less chaotic – and cleaner – than New York, making this city a better candidate for a longer visit. The vibe is relaxed and friendly.

You’ll find superb architecture (like the Poetry Foundation), beautiful places to exercise (like Lake Shore Drive) and a big number of secret-ish and beautiful locations, such as the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, which opens from April to November.

Don’t miss: The Bean, the bar at the top of the Hancock Tower and Oak Park, which includes many Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
When is best to go: Summer (June-August)

Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Chicago.

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5. San Francisco

San Francisco might be the current tech capital but for us architects, the city offers a very different side too. San Francisco was colonised by Spain in 1769 and upon independence in 1821, the area became part of Mexico. The city’s history and Spanish influence have strongly affected its development, which feels different from other American cities.

One aspect of San Francisco that makes it truly unique and different to other cities in America, is its topography. The steep hills across its neighbourhoods made the development of skyscrapers very limited and thus the vibe is that of a Victorian city froze in time.

Another rarity of the area is its climate, never too cold or hot. This has also affected its relaxed way of building, in which technology hasn’t played a key role yet. The tech scene might be booming in the Bay Area, but not in its architecture.

Don’t miss: Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street and the Camera Obscura by Floyd Jennings
When is best to go: October & November

Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of San Francisco.


I hope you enjoyed this wish list and that you are able to visit these amazing cities and buildings soon. I’d be delighted to read in the comments your traveling plans and the places you’d really loved. I am sure some buildings have shocked you. Time to pack your bags this year!

As they said in Mamma Mia:

“Life is short and the world is wide”

Go out and explore!

13 thoughts on “The 5 Best North American Cities to Travel for Architecture

  1. Pingback: 10 Sites To Take The Best Skyline Pictures in New York | Virginia Duran

  2. Pingback: The Free Architecture Guide of Boston | Virginia Duran

  3. Pingback: 23 Spots You Shouldn’t Miss in Miami If You Love Architecture | Virginia Duran

  4. Pingback: 10 Sites To Take The Best Skyline Pictures in San Francisco | Virginia Duran

  5. Pingback: 23 Buildings You Shouldn’t Miss in Chicago If You Love Architecture | Virginia Duran

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