Continental Wonders: Five architectural highlights of North America

The varied and vast landscape of North America is punctuated with an equally versatile range of architectural achievements. Designed to astound, from gravity-defying spans to iconic structures, these manmade masterpieces continue to impress. Read on to delve into the details of some of America and Canada’s most outstanding architecture.

The Empire State Building

New York, USA

At 1,453 feet high, for 41 years the Empire State held the title of the tallest building in the world. Principally designed by American architect William Frederick Lamb, it was devised in under two weeks utilising plans from a previous project. It was raised rapidly too – construction began swiftly in March 1930 and by the first day of May the following year, the Empire State was opened officially, making it the first building at the time to possess over 100 floors.

Panelled in limestone, the mighty skyscraper features more than 6,000 windows and embodies the Art Deco style of the 1930s. Unlike many towering buildings of its kind, the Empire State’s architecture is indicative of the design stylings seen prior to World War II.

The majestic building is still a major draw for visitors to New York and an iconic presence on the skyline of Manhattan.

Habitat 67

Montreal, Canada

The waterfront wonder that is Habitat 67 was originally designed by then student of architecture Moshe Safdie for his graduate thesis at McGill University. It was built with the purpose of providing temporary housing for international workers involved in the World’s Fair of 1967.

The structure is comprised of 354 pre-fabricated boxes identical in nature stacked together, forming just 158 individual dwellings as some of the boxes unite to make larger apartments. Each of the homes created is provided with a private garden area, many of which are located right on the rooftops of their neighbours.

Considered by some a ‘Brutalist Masterpiece’, Safdie himself refutes this estimation and claims his concept was in fact a reaction provoked by the Brutalist movement of the time. The design is experimental, exploring modular architecture inspired by and intending to mimic organic growth combined with repetitive geometric arrangement.

Habitat 67, sometimes referred to only as ‘Habitat’, was conceived to deliver affordable housing for the middle class and offer an enhanced quality of life at an urban location. In reality, the striking-looking construction houses expensive and sought-after apartments, and is now considered some of the most premium real estate in Montreal.

The Seattle Space Needle

Washington, USA

Constructed in 1962 for the World’s fair, the stunning Space Needle is an amalgamation of three men’s architectural input. Edward E. Carlson drafted the concept influenced by the stately Stuttgart Tower, with John Graham adding the five-deck flying saucer section at the buildings apex. Seattle architect Victor Steinbrueck is attributed with designing the needle’s shapely hourglass profile.

Built in less than a year, the observation tower stands 605 feet tall and is crafted from steel with a rebar foundation 30 feet deep. Based at 500 feet is a restaurant entitled SkyCity which revolves, offering diner’s premium views over Washington and for those who wish an even greater vantage, an observation deck is located 20 feet above.

In preparation for the year 2000, the Needle was renovated and redeveloped with elements added from its original designs. These included a spiral stairway and a powerful light beam called the “Legacy of light” to commemorate special days in the US calendar.

The Gooderham Building

Toronto, Canada

Also known as the Flatiron Building, this historic structure is the focus of one of Toronto’s most iconic views. Bordered by blocks of commercial heritage buildings on either side, the bold brick of the Gooderham is set against a backdrop of sweeping skyscrapers in the Financial District. From certain vantages the lofty CN Tower can also be seen rising beyond Brookfield Place nearby.

Renowned for its wedge shape and edifice of red brick the building was finished in 1892 and was made a historic site officially in 1975 by the Ontario Heritage Act. The Gooderham Building is also famous for the vast mural featured on its rear wall created by Canadian born artist Derek Michael Besant. The artist utilised a trompe l’oeil style which evokes the illusion of additional windows on the back façade and a fabric caught in motion effect. The massive outdoor painting depicts the Perkins building which is situated directly opposite Gooderham.

There are many features worth investigating further within the building including a Romanesque style Cornice complete with frieze on its fourth floor located above arched windows. Outside the unusual structure affords entrance through three sets of doors, two of which lead directly to a pub located within the basement named the Flatiron and Firkin. The main entrance utilises an archway of French-Gothic design.

A steeply built copper roof finishes the impressive structure with eight individual gable fronted dormers.

The Golden Gate Bridge

California, USA

The great suspension bridge that connects the county of Marin to the city of San Francisco is a jaw-dropping marvel of architectural engineering that stretches 1.7 miles in length. It was designed by Joseph Strauss of Chicago, who submitted schematics and sketches in 1921. Due to fierce opposition and financial concerns the bridge did not begin construction until 1933 and was completed and opened to vehicles in 1937 via telegraph by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In development the bridge went through many transformations but took shape through Strauss’s dedicated team. Charles Ellis calculated engineering equations while Irving F. Morrow developed the concept of its Art Deco towers. He also chose the Golden Gate’s colour, which he called “International orange”.

Masterfully constructed, the famous overpass withstood the San Francisco earthquake and remains a strong symbol of American architectural success.

From the awe-inspiring to the outrageous, the architecture of North America showcases our ability to make dreams a reality in the material world. If your journeys take you to this great continent, be sure to savour the visual banquet on offer from its finest architects throughout the years.

Posted by Mark
May 14, 2019

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