The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (2022)

The United States is often called a cultural melting pot, and the architecture of its capital city, Washington, D.C., is truly an international blend. Famous buildings in the District incorporate influences from ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, medieval Europe, and 19th-century France.

The White House

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (1)

The White House is the elegant mansion of America's president, but its beginnings were humble. Irish-born architect James Hoban may have modeled the initial structure after the Leinster House, a Georgian style estate in Dublin, Ireland. Made of Aquia sandstone painted white, the White House was more austere when it was first built from 1792 to 1800. After the British famously burned it in 1814, Hoban rebuilt the White House, and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe added the porticoes in 1824. Latrobe's renovations transformed the White House from a modest Georgian house into a neoclassical mansion.

Union Station

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (2)

Modeled after buildings in ancient Rome, Union Station features elaborate sculptures, ionic columns, gold leaf, and grand marble corridors in a mix of neoclassical and Beaux-Arts designs.

In the 1800s, major railway terminals like Euston Station in London were often constructed with a monumental arch, which suggested a grand entrance to the city. Architect Daniel Burnham, assisted by Pierce Anderson, modeled the arch for Union Station after the classical Arch of Constantine in Rome. Inside, he designed grand vaulted spaces that resembled the ancient Roman Baths of Diocletian.

Near the entrance, a row of six massive statues byLouis St. Gaudens stand above a row of Ionic columns. Titled "The Progress of Railroading," the statues are mythical gods chosen to represent inspirational themes related to the railway.

The US Capitol

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (3)

For almost two centuries, America's governing bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives, have gathered under the dome of the US Capitol.

When French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant planned the new city of Washington, he was expected to design the Capitol. But L'Enfant refused to submit plans and would not yield to the authority of the commissioners. L'Enfant was dismissed and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson proposed a public competition.

Most of the designers who entered the competition and submitted plans for the U.S. Capitol were inspired by Renaissance ideas. However, three entries were modeled after ancient classical buildings. Thomas Jefferson favored the classical plans and suggested that the Capitol be modeled after the Roman Pantheon, with a circular domed rotunda.

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Burned by British troops in 1814, the Capitol went through several major renovations. As with many buildings constructed during the founding of Washington D.C., most of the labor was done by enslaved African Americans.

The most famous feature of the U.S. Capitol, the cast-iron neoclassical dome by Thomas Ustick Walter, was not added until the mid-1800s. The original dome by Charles Bulfinch was smaller and made of wood and copper.

The Smithsonian Institute Castle

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (4)

Victorian architect James Renwick, Jr. gave this Smithsonian Institute building the air of a medieval castle. Designed as a home for the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, the Smithsonian Castle now houses administrative offices and a visitor center with maps and interactive displays.

Renwick was a prominent architect who went on to build the elaborate St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. The Smithsonian Castle has a medieval appearance with rounded Romanesque arches, square towers, and Gothic Revival details.

When it was new, the walls of the Smithsonian Castle were lilac gray. The sandstone turned red as it aged.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (5)

Formally known as the Old Executive Office Building, the massive building next to the White House was renamed in honor of President Eisenhower in 1999. Historically, it was also called the State, War, and Navy Building because those departments had offices there. Today, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses a variety of federal offices, including the ceremonial office of the Vice President of the United States.

Chief Architect Alfred Mullett based his design on the imposing Second Empire style architecture that was popular in France during the mid-1800s. He gave the Executive Office Building an elaborate facade and a high mansard roof like buildings in Paris. The interior is noted for its remarkable cast iron details and enormous skylights designed by Richard von Ezdorf.

When it was first built, the structure was a startling contrast to the austere neoclassical architecture of Washington, D.C. Mullett's design was often mocked. Mark Twain allegedly called the Executive Office Building the "ugliest building in America."

The Jefferson Memorial

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (6)

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The Jefferson Memorial is a round, domed monument dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Also a scholar and an architect, Jefferson admired the architecture of ancient Rome and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Architect John Russell Pope designed Jefferson's Memorial to reflect those tastes. When Pope died in 1937, architects Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers took over the construction.

The Memorial is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and Andrea Palladio's Villa Capra. It also resembles Monticello, the Virginia home that Jefferson designed for himself.

At the entrance, steps lead to a portico with Ionic columns supporting a triangular pediment. Carvings in the pediment depict Thomas Jefferson with four other men who helped draft the Declaration of Independence. Inside, the memorial room is an open space circled by columns made of Vermont marble. A 19-foot bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson stands directly beneath the dome.

The National Museum of the American Indian

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (7)

Many native groups contributed to the design of the National Museum of the American Indian, one of Washington's newest buildings. Rising five stories, the curvilinear building is constructed to resemble natural stone formations. The exterior walls are made of gold-colored Kasota limestone from Minnesota. Other materials include granite, bronze, copper, maple, cedar, and alder. At the entrance, acrylic prisms capture the light.

The National Museum of the American Indian is set in a four-acre landscape that recreates early American forests, meadows, and wetlands.

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (8)

Beaux Arts architecture gets a modern twist at the Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, D.C. The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building is more simply known as the Eccles Building or the Federal Reserve Building. Completed in 1937, the imposing marble building was constructed to house offices for the United States Federal Reserve Board.

The architect, Paul Philippe Cret, trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in France. His design includes columns and pediments that suggest classical styling, but the ornamentation is streamlined. The goal was to create a building that would be both monumental and dignified.

The Washington Monument

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (9)

Architect Robert Mills' initial design for the Washington Monument honored America's first president with a 600-foot tall, square, flat-topped pillar. At the base of the pillar, Mills envisioned an elaborate colonnade with statues of 30 Revolutionary War heroes and a soaring sculpture of George Washington in a chariot.

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To build this monument would have cost over a million dollars (more than $21 million today). Plans for the colonnade were postponed and eventually eliminated. The Washington Monument evolved into a simple, tapered stone obelisk topped with a pyramid, which was inspired by ancient Egyptian architecture.

Political strife, the Civil War, and money shortages delayed construction of the Washington Monument for some time. Because of interruptions, the stones are not all the same shade. The monument was not completed until 1884. At that time, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world. It remains the tallest structure in Washington D.C.

The Washington National Cathedral

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Officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral and also a "national house of prayer" where interfaith services are held.

The building is Gothic Revival, or Neo-Gothic, in design. Architects George Frederick Bodley and Henry Vaughn lavished the cathedral with pointed arches, flying buttresses, stained-glass windows, and other details borrowed from Medieval Gothic architecture. Among the cathedral's many gargoyles is a playful sculpture of "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader, added after children submitted the idea to a design competition.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

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The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is named after financier and philanthropist Joseph H. Hirshhorn, who donated his extensive collection of modern art. The Smithsonian Institution asked Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft to design a museum that would showcase modern art. After several revisions, Bunshaft's plan for the Hirshhorn Museum became a massive functional sculpture.

The building is a hollow cylinder that rests on four curved pedestals. Galleries with curved walls expand views of the artworks inside. Windowed walls overlook a fountain and bi-level plaza where modernist sculptures are displayed.

Reviews of the museum were mixed. Benjamin Forgey of the Washington Post called the Hirshhorn "the biggest piece of abstract art in town." Louise Huxtable of the New York Times described the museum's style as "born-dead, neo-penitentiary modern." For visitors to Washington, D.C., the Hirshhorn Museum has become as much of an attraction as the art it contains.

The US Supreme Court Building

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Built between 1928 and 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court Building houses the judicial branch of the government. Ohio-born architectCass Gilbert borrowed from the architecture of ancient Rome when he designed the building. The neoclassical style was chosen to reflect democratic ideals. In fact, the whole building is steeped in symbolism. Sculpted pediments along the top tell allegories of justice and mercy.

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The Library of Congress

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (13)

When it was created in 1800, the Library of Congress was primarily a resource for Congressmen. The library was located where the legislators worked, in the U.S. Capitol Building. The book collection was destroyed twice: during the British attack in 1814 and again during a disastrous fire in 1851. Nevertheless, the collection eventually became so large that Congress decided to construct a second building to help contain it. Today, the Library of Congress is a complex of buildings with more books and shelf space than any other library in the world.

Made of marble, granite, iron, and bronze, the Thomas Jefferson Building was modeled after the Beaux Arts Paris Opera House in France. More than 40 artists were involved in the creation of the building's statues, relief sculptures, and murals. The Library of Congress dome is plated with 23-carat gold.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (14)

Many years went into planning the memorial to American's 16th president. An early proposal called for a statue of Abraham Lincoln surrounded by statues of 37 other people, six on horseback. This idea was ruled out as too costly, so a variety of other plans were considered.

Decades later, on Lincoln's birthday in 1914, the first stone was laid. Architect Henry Bacon gave the memorial 36 Doric columns, representing the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death. Two additional columns flank the entrance. Inside is a 19-foot statue of a seated Lincoln carved by sculptor Daniel Chester French.

The Lincoln Memorial provides a stately and dramatic backdrop for political events and important speeches. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the memorial.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (15)

Made of mirror-like black granite, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall captures the reflections of those who view it. The 250-foot wall, designed by architect Maya Lin, is the main part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Construction of the modernist memorial stirred much controversy, so two traditional memorials—the Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women's Memorial—were added nearby.

The National Archives Building

The Most Famous Buildings in Washington, DC (16)

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Where do you go to see the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence? The nation's capital has original copies—in the National Archives.

More than just another federal office building, the National Archives is an exhibition hall and storage area for all of the important documents created by the Founding Fathers. Specialized interior features (e.g., shelving, air filters) preserve the documents from damage.

FAQs

What are the 3 main buildings in Washington DC? ›

The US Capitol

United States Capitol Building, Washington, DC, Supreme Court (L) and Library of Congress (R) in Background.

What is one building in Washington DC important? ›

The United States Capitol Building is located in Washington, D.C., at the eastern end of the National Mall on a plateau 88 feet above the level of the Potomac River, commanding a westward view across the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument 1.4 miles away and the Lincoln Memorial 2.2 miles away.

What is the main building in Washington DC? ›

U. S. Capitol

and First St. NW Washington, DC. One of the most recognizable historic buildings in Washington, DC is the U. S. Capitol building.

What are the famous landmarks found in Washington DC? ›

Washington DC Landmarks
  • 1- The White House.
  • 2- The Pentagon.
  • 3- Smithsonian National Museum Of American History.
  • 4- Lincoln Memorial.
  • 5- United States Capitol.
  • 6- National Gallery Of Art.
  • 7- Washington Monument.
  • 8- Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
Oct 22, 2021

Why is Washington, D.C. Famous? ›

In addition to being the center of the U.S. government, Washington, D.C. is known for its history. The city limits include many historic national monuments and famous museums like the Smithsonian Institution.

What is the oldest building in DC? ›

The Old Stone House is the oldest unchanged building in Washington, D.C., United States. The house is also Washington's last pre-revolutionary colonial building on its original foundation. Built in 1765, Old Stone House is located at 3051 M Street, Northwest in the Georgetown neighborhood.

What type of architecture is DC? ›

The definitive architectural style on Capitol Hill is neoclassical, inspired by the use of ancient Greek and Roman designs of great public buildings. These styles are recognized by the use of tall columns, symmetrical shapes, triangular pediments and domed roofs.

What is the oldest building in Washington state? ›

Claquato Church is a historic Methodist church located off Washington State Route 6 in Claquato, Washington. It is the oldest standing church building in the state of Washington.
...
Claquato Church
Built1858
Restored1953
Restored byAmerican Legion
NRHP reference No.73001882
9 more rows

What is the name of George Washington's house? ›

Mount Vernon

What major landmark is the heart of DC? ›

Georgetown has been known as the heart of the city, reaching back all the way to DC's conception in the 1700's. Georgetown is home to some of the oldest architecture in DC, including the Old Stone House, which is one of the oldest buildings in DC, located on the National Register of Historic Places.

What is the obelisk in Washington? ›

The Washington Monument is an obelisk shaped building within the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate George Washington, once commander-in-chief of the Continental Army (1775–1784) in the American Revolutionary War and the first President of the United States (1789–1797).

Is the White House a landmark? ›

Maintaining a stately presence in the nation's capital, the White House is one of most significant landmarks in Washington, D.C.

Why is it called Capitol Hill? ›

While serving in 1793 as President George Washington's Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson named Capitol Hill, invoking the famous Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.

What is Foggy Bottom known for? ›

History. Foggy Bottom is thought to have received its name due to an atmospheric quirk of its low lying, marshy riverside location, which made it susceptible to concentrations of fog, and later, industrial smoke. nationalmallnps. National Mall and Memorial Parks.

Why is the capital in DC? ›

The Residence Act of July 16, 1790, put the nation's capital in current-day Washington as part of a plan to appease pro-slavery states who feared a northern capital as being too sympathetic to abolitionists.

Why is DC called DC? ›

Washington, DC, isn't a state; it's a district. DC stands for District of Columbia. Its creation comes directly from the US Constitution, which provides that the district, "not exceeding 10 Miles square," would "become the Seat of the Government of the United States."

What food is DC known for? ›

Some of the contenders for the title of D.C.'s most iconic food: Jumbo slice by Pizza Boli's, a half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl, and pupusas from El Tamarindo. You can tell you're in Washington, D.C., just by looking at it.

Who owns DC land? ›

About half the land in Washington is owned by the U.S. government, which pays no taxes on it. Several hundred thousand people in the D.C. metropolitan area work for the federal government.

What is the oldest neighborhood in DC? ›

Regarded as DC's oldest neighborhood, Georgetown dates back to the mid 1700s. Before it was part of DC it was known as a tobacco port. These days the neighborhood still contains some incredible historic homes and museums.

Where is the oldest house in America? ›

MASSACHUSETTS: Fairbanks House in Dedham

Fairbanks House, North America's oldest, continuously standing wooden structure, was built between 1637 and 1641 for tradesman Jonathan Fairbanks, his wife, and their six children.

Why is there a house on the National Mall? ›

For a short time, the Park Police kept prisoners in the house. After nearly 20 years without barge service on a very dirty waterway, the city filled the canal to make way for the new Constitution Avenue. The Lockkeeper's House remained as a visible remembrance of the city's early commercial dreams.

What is the round building in Washington DC? ›

The Dupont Circle Building is a landmark building on the south end of Dupont Circle in Washington DC. The entrance is on 1350 Connecticut Avenue NW. Washington, D.C. It was designed in the art deco style by architect Mihran Mesrobian, originally as an apartment building.

What is the Thomas Jefferson Building? ›

The Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of the four United States Library of Congress buildings. Built between 1890 and 1897, it was originally known as the Library of Congress Building. It is now named for the 3rd U.S. president Thomas Jefferson, whose own book collection became part of the library in 1815.

What is the oldest building in Washington state? ›

Claquato Church is a historic Methodist church located off Washington State Route 6 in Claquato, Washington. It is the oldest standing church building in the state of Washington.
...
Claquato Church
Built1858
Restored1953
Restored byAmerican Legion
NRHP reference No.73001882
9 more rows

When were buildings in Washington DC built? ›

United States Capitol
Construction startedSeptember 18, 1793
Completed1800 (first occupation) 1962 (last extension)
ClientWashington administration
Technical details
13 more rows

What is buried under the Washington Monument? ›

Unknown to most passersby, there's a 12-foot-tall replica of the Washington Monument under a manhole near the actual monument. Officially known as “Bench Mark A,” this underground oddity is actually a Geodetic Control Point that's used by surveyors.

What is the obelisk in Washington? ›

The Washington Monument is an obelisk shaped building within the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate George Washington, once commander-in-chief of the Continental Army (1775–1784) in the American Revolutionary War and the first President of the United States (1789–1797).

Can you go inside the Washington Monument? ›

Can I go inside the Washington Monument? Yes, but the number of people allowed per day is limited. Plan Your Visit to learn how to obtain tickets.

What are the three buildings of the Library of Congress? ›

The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill. The Thomas Jefferson Building (1897) is the original separate Library of Congress building. (The Library began in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol.) The John Adams Building was built in 1938 and the James Madison Memorial Building was completed in 1981.

Who built the Library of Congress? ›

After two design competitions and a decade of debate about design and location, in 1886 Congress finally chose an Italian Renaissance plan submitted by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz.

How do you get into Library of Congress? ›

The Library of Congress is free and open to the public with timed-entry passes. An individual can reserve up to ten timed-entry passes per day. Reserve your timed-entry pass here . A limited number of same-day passes are made available online at 9 a.m. each day the Jefferson Building is open to the public.

What is America's Oldest house? ›

Fairbanks House, North America's oldest, continuously standing wooden structure, was built between 1637 and 1641 for tradesman Jonathan Fairbanks, his wife, and their six children.

What is the oldest building in the world? ›

Göbekli Tepe. Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site of a temple in Southeastern Turkey and has been dated back to 9500 - 8000 BCE. This date was discovered by carbon dating old tools found during excavations. This building is in fact the oldest structure on earth that we have found to date.

What's the oldest building still standing? ›

Dating back to around 3600 BCE, the Knap of Howar is the oldest building in the world and is most likely the oldest house still standing. The Knap of Howar consists of two stone-built houses that were discovered in the 1930s when erosion revealed parts of the stone walls. What is this?

Why is it called the Mall in DC? ›

In the 1790s, the Commissioners of the District of Columbia and Andrew Ellicott used the term to refer to L'Enfant's planned "Grand Avenue" between the Capitol and the Potomac. During the 1800s, it was sometimes called a "mall" but also just "the public grounds." The term "Mall" became the accepted name in the 1900s.

Why is it called Capitol Hill? ›

While serving in 1793 as President George Washington's Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson named Capitol Hill, invoking the famous Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.

Is Washington, D.C. is a city or a state? ›

What is Washington, DC? Washington, DC, isn't a state; it's a district. DC stands for District of Columbia. Its creation comes directly from the US Constitution, which provides that the district, "not exceeding 10 Miles square," would "become the Seat of the Government of the United States."

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