Beginning May 12, PBS will present a documentary on historic American architecture, 10 Buildings That Changed America. This film is a joint project of PBS and The Society of Architectural Historians.
When you think of famous American buildings, you probably think of The White House, Mount Vernon, or the Empire State Building as part of your top 10. But none of these made the list. These buildings were not chosen for appearance but for the effect their design had on other American architecture.
The most famous buildings on the list include the earliest, the Virginia state capitol building in Richmond, designed by Thomas Jefferson, and Trinity Church in Boston. There is also a house designed by America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but instead of Falling Water, his most well-known creation, it is the less-familiar Robie House in Chicago, chosen because it influenced ranch-style houses all over America. And of course, many travelers visit Dulles Airport’s terminal building every day, with its innovative swooping design.
Other buildings include the Wainwright Building, an early skyscraper, the Highland Park Ford plant, which revolutionized factory design and made assembly lines possible, and the newest building, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, completed in 2003.
Certainly all of the buildings in this program are fascinating and influential, affecting everything from city halls to factories and malls. However, the buildings are surely not the only influential ones in America and one questions whether it was necessary to lean so heavily to the northern United States. There are two buildings from Virginia and one from California. The rest are from Illinois, New York, Philadelphia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.
According to PBS, the buildings were chosen from 160 candidates. Surely among those were some equally important buildings in the South that would provide a more balanced sense of American architecture. The show was produced at WTTW Chicago, so geographical and budgetary considerations may have played a part.
Nevertheless, 10 Buildings That Changed America is an interesting and educational look at some great American buildings, and is recommended viewing. It should encourage us all to take a closer look at the buildings that surround us.