9 Famous American Architects

9 Famous American Architects

Architecture
By Mateos Glen Hayes July 04, 2022

As the site of countless iconic buildings and megastructures, it’s no surprise that the United States is home to some of the world’s most famous architects. American architecture has a rich heritage so it’s no surprise that it was host to many brilliant minds in this field. Since it has long been a center of architectural innovation, the United States is also home to distinct buildings that are world-famous landmarks today.

Naturally, the most well-known and famous American architects are those who masterminded some of these iconic structures, making ambitious high-concept designs into reality. Some of these architects have also distinguished themselves by breaking through social barriers to achieve recognition and success.

1. Jeanne Gang 

Characterized by its fluid forms, the Aqua Building in Chicago is one of Gang’s most famous designs.

Characterized by its fluid forms, the Aqua Building in Chicago is one of Gang’s most famous designs.

As the founder of her own architect firm Studio Gang, Gang is one of the most acclaimed woman architects alive today. She gained widespread recognition for designing the Aqua Tower Chicago, then the tallest woman-designed building in the world. The Aqua Tower has since lost that distinction to St. Regis, another Chicago skyscraper that was also designed by Gang.

Born in Belvidere, Illinois, Gang studied design at Harvard before traveling abroad to study at ENSAV, a famous architecture school in Versailles, France. As is evinced by the Aqua Tower, Gang’s designs are generally quite fluid not unlike the post-modern style. As such her buildings tend to be quite distinctive in appearance.

2. Eero Saarinen

The TWA Flight Center is a perfect example of Futurist American architecture, and has been repurposed as a modern hotel.

The TWA Flight Center is a perfect example of Futurist American architecture, and has been repurposed as a modern hotel.

As one of the most famous architects of the 20th century, Saarinen is known today as a legend in American architecture. A Finnish-American who emigrated to America when he was just 13, Saarinen distinguished himself as especially adept in the design of all kinds. Some of his most notable non-architectural designs are the tulip chair, an ergonomic chair design that has since been infinitely replicated throughout the world.

Saarinen was also a master in the design of modernist and neo-futurist structures, and as such his most famous designs come from these styles. If you’ve ever flown out of New York or Washington D.C. you’ve probably seen his designs as both Washington Dulles Airport’s main terminal and the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy Airport are Saarinen-designed structures.    

3. William F. Lamb

The Empire State Building has become a symbol not just of New York, but of the United States as a whole.

The Empire State Building has become a symbol not just of New York, but of the United States as a whole.

Ever wondered who was responsible for designing the Empire State Building? Well, now you know. William F. Lamb was a partner in Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, a New York architectural firm with many monumental structures to its name. As the main designer of the Empire State Building, he masterminded the construction of Manhattan’s most iconic structure, an art deco skyscraper that was the world’s tallest building for nearly four decades.

The building has become a cultural touchstone in part thanks to its iconic ornamental design, but also due to it being featured in countless blockbusters, most notably in the original King Kong film. Aside from functioning as a highly prized office space in downtown Manhattan, the structure is also a popular tourist attraction today thanks to its top-floor observation deck.

4. Frederick Law Olmstead

Larger than Monaco, Central Park is entirely man-made and as such is a monument to landscape architecture.

Larger than Monaco, Central Park is entirely man-made and as such is a monument to landscape architecture.

Olmstead is not a famous architect for what he built so much as he is noted for founding a new type of architecture. As a jack of all trades, Olmstead gathered a variety of professional experiences as a farmer, journalist, and merchant before applying his skills to architecture. His first contribution to architecture was the design of New York City’s Central Park, a majestic design that pioneered the then-new type of architecture known as landscape architecture.

Olmstead’s design for Central Park was selected as the winner in a competition, propelling him to national fame. He went on to design many other public parks throughout the country in places such as Brooklyn and the District of Columbia. Olmstead also became a vocal advocate for public green areas in urban spaces as a way of improving the physical and mental health of city dwellers. He was also a committed conservationist. 

5. Daniel Burnham

Washington D.C.’s Union Station is arguably one of the best examples of the Beaux-Arts style in North America.

Washington D.C.’s Union Station is arguably one of the best examples of the Beaux-Arts style in North America.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 badly damaged the midwestern metropolis and left over 100,000 people homeless. One of the architects who played a central role in redeveloping the city after the massive conflagration was Daniel Burnham.

As a proponent of the Beaux-Arts style, a French design style that drew from French neoclassicism and Baroque elements, Burnham was responsible for the design of several unique Beaux-Arts buildings throughout the country. His most famous designs, such as the Montauk building in Chicago and the Flatiron building in New York City, are considered America’s first true skyscrapers. Another one of his most famous works is Union Station in Washington, D.C., arguably one of the best examples of the Beaux-Arts style in North America.

6. Norma Merrick Sklarek

The colorful Pacific Design Center is nicknamed ‘The Blue Whale’ due to its distinctive blue cladding.

The colorful Pacific Design Center is nicknamed ‘The Blue Whale’ due to its distinctive blue cladding.

As the first licensed African American female architect in U.S. history, Sklarek has come to be known as the “Rosa Parks of architecture”, and it isn’t hard to see why. Sklarek faced major hardships as a black woman trying to enter a profession dominated by white men. Nevertheless, Sklarek persisted and went on to become the first African American vice president of Gruen and Associates, a major architectural firm in Los Angeles.

As one of America’s most famous architects, she is credited with the design of many unique buildings. She developed the plans for the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, a multi-use facility for designers of all kinds. She also played a major role in the design of the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan. In addition to drafting plans for the structure, Sklarek supervised the construction of the Tokyo Embassy.

In the 1980s Sklarek’s firm won the contract to design terminal one of Los Angeles International Airport in preparation for the 1984 Summer Olympics. Sklarek sadly passed in 2012, but she remains one of the most famous African American architects.  

7. Robert Robinson Taylor 

Several Carnegie Libraries were constructed throughout the country between 1883 and 1929.

Several Carnegie Libraries were constructed throughout the country between 1883 and 1929.

Robert Robinson Taylor (born 1868) was another trailblazer in the history of African American architects. He was the first black student to attend MIT and the first African American architect to obtain a license. Taylor’s father was born into slavery but freed in 1847, allowing him to work as a carpenter and businessman. After graduating from MIT, Taylor went on to design many distinctive structures such as the Carnegie Library at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.

He also designed several buildings on the campus of Tuskegee University, a historically black land-grant university in Tuskegee, Alabama. When he died in 1942, Taylor had been attending a service at the Tuskegee Chapel, a building that he designed and which he considered to be his best work.   

8. Buckminster Fuller 

This geodesic dome is one of Fuller’s most distinctive works, and one of the most popular attractions of the Epcot theme park.

This geodesic dome is one of Fuller’s most distinctive works, and one of the most popular attractions of the Epcot theme park.

Born in 1895, Fuller was one of the most famous architects of the twentieth century. Most notably, Fuller was a systems theorist, an interdisciplinary study of interdependent components that make up a system. For example, systems theorists could study the various biological components, both natural and human-made, that make up an ecosystem.

Fuller transformed these theories into famous architecture by blending them with futurist design aesthetics. Perhaps his most famous structure is Spaceship Earth, a geodesic dome at the Epcot theme park in Bay Lake, Florida. This geodesic dome contains a dark ride that is designed to be a time-machine-themed ride transporting visitors through various periods of human development while showcasing various technological advancements.  

9. Frank Gehry

Deconstructivist structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain are meant to stand out by rejecting conventional building methods and styles.

Deconstructivist structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain are meant to stand out by rejecting conventional building methods and styles.

Although born in Canada, Gehry is an American architect who has made a name for himself as a master in deconstructivist architecture. This unique style appeared in the early 1980s and is a post-modern tendency meant to break the symmetric norms of classic building styles. As such, deconstructivist structures really stand out because they look deformed, futuristic, and fluid in design.  


Gehry has had the privilege to build several of the most iconic post-modern buildings in the world, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Gehry’s design takes some inspiration from the Guggenheim in New York City designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but Gehry’s design is far more fluid and even more experimental. The success of Gehry’s Guggenheim design is credited with revitalizing downtown Bilbao. This phenomenon has since been coined the “Bilbao effect”, referring to when eccentric architecture economically regenerates a city.

MG

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes

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