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Engineering Marvels That Transformed America: What Admirers Say

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A survey of engineering marvels in America has certainly ruffled a few feathers of professional architects who’ve long watched the most iconic American landmarks endure trying times of the U.S. democracy. 

American Institute of Architects pulled through one such brave survey that identified popular architecture. Harris Interactive first polled a sample with AIA’s membership and then with the American public. The former revealed architect’s “favorite” structures in 15 defined categories—each was to name at least 20 structures—that were then included in the general public survey which came up with interesting results representing the likability scale of the list of 248 structures extracted from the architect’s survey results.

That is the abundance of engineering marvels surrounding Americans every day: learning from the past and bracing for the future, architecture personifies cultural progress.

Here is a bow to the 10 engineering marvels of modern America.

1. United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. is much more than just an engineering marvel; it’s home to America’s legislative powers. Undergoing structural extensions after its original construction, the Capitol Building’s enlarged chambers and gigantic dome echoes the voices fighting to bring justice to the people—doing right by them and the constitutional principles governing its build. Popular for its neoclassical style and massive white dome, the building has 600 rooms across corridors with art-laced walls, seeing an annual footfall of over five million individuals. 

Standing as the monument to the American people and government, the United States Capitol building has anchored the legislative history of the nation. And yet, touring the property may not always be rewarding; in this review, a visitor dismisses much of the structure’s mystique going over their experiences with a guide stationed at the property.

Completion year: 1793

2. Empire State Building, New York

The magnificent engineering marvel that is the Empire State Building—designed by Lamb, Shreve, and Harmon—has been New York’s focal point for decades. 102 stories tall and 443.2 meters in height, the building’s observations decks continue to fascinate four million tourists annually and brings in a whopping $120 million per year, accounting for nearly 40% of the Empire State Building’s revenue. 

Its 85 stories worth of office space is home to thousands of office-goers while the other 16 stories are for the Art Deco pinnacle. Although an iconic landmark that opened in 1931, the Empire State Building grows more relevant with the times acting as a cultural beacon of the American dream. 

Does it strike the same chord with visitors today? Read reactions from visitors.

Completion year: 1931

3. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Most unforgettable, most American—the Lincoln Memorial built to honor the late 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, encapsulates the American ethos of inclusiveness and equality like no other structure. Shaped in the form of a Greek Doric temple, the memorial was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers and painted by Jules Guerin. The temple contains inscriptions of two of the most well-known Lincoln speeches, The Gettysburg Address, and his second inaugural address. 

The unmissable landmark has been the address of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the rally in March end on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The structure ranked seventh in the AIA list of America’s Favourite Architecture and sees an annual footfall of more than seven million people.

Planning a visit any time soon? People are usually enchanted by their visit—or not.

Completion year: 1922

4. Seagram Building, New York

Its absence on the AIA list is exactly why we felt shining a spotlight here would redeem its under-rated status. The Seagram Building was one of the biggest engineering projects in American history, a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, its stone-faced lobby and exclusive bronze and glass exterior were so impeccably finished that it still retains its original sheen. 

515 feet tall with 38 stories, the building is the living testament of functionality balanced with the aesthetic of a modern office space. And when it’s made the New York Times feature column, you know you have to walk past it one day. The building’s principal architect journeyed great odds until its final build.

Completion year: 1958

5. Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla, California

Founded in 1960, the Salk Institute of Biological Studies is a non-profit scientific research institute located in San Diego, California. The place where the polio vaccine was developed, the institute is among the top civil engineering marvels in the U.S. promoting excellence in research quality in the life sciences. In 2009, ScienceWatch ranked it first in neuroscience and behavior research. 

With over 60 research groups devoted to major research areas of molecular biology and genetics, neurosciences, and plant biology, the institute has garnered funding from multiple organizations such as HHMI, NIH, the Waitt Family Foundation, and Paris-based Ipsen. The California Historical Resources Commission enlisted the institute in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

The institute’s vividly evocative review in the Los Angeles Times, we hope, moves you to include it in your ‘places to see’ list.

Completion year: 1960

6. Grand Central Station, New York

No, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the metropolitan’s transit system would stall without this magnificent rail terminal. The Grand Central Station serves the northern parts of New York with a connection to the New York City Subway. The big screens have relied on the site to depict quintessential New York. The rail station will soon be adding eight tracks and four platforms on two levels underneath the existing station to enhance capacity and access.

Here are some lesser recognized elements of the station. Spot them on your next visit!

Completion year: 1913

7. Brooklyn Bridge, New York 

The one structure untouched in engineering acumen and functional aesthetic, the Brooklyn Bridge upstages most other popular New York sites. Over 600 workers, 14 years, and $15 million after, the bridge opened to millions of commuters and tourists retaining its iconic stamp on the New York skyline since May 24, 1883. Dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world,” the bridge’s unprecedented length accords it the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere. Being the connector of New York City, Staten Island, Greater New York, and Brooklyn, the bridge has changed the course of the city’s lifestyle forever.

Yes, the bridge has its secrets too. Read them here.

Completion year: 1883

8. Tribune Tower, IL Chicago

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The neo-Gothic skyscraper at North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois is one of many historic towers in 20th century U.S. Home to Tribune Media, Tribune Publishing, and Chicago Tribune, the building is the genesis of the city’s radio infrastructure. Originally built in 1868, the tower was raised to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871—early 2018 saw restoration works begin to convert the building into condominiums by 2020.

Exploring all of Chicago? Take this guide along.

Completion year: 1925

9. Carnegie Hall, New York

Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built and architect William Tuthill brought this cultural landmark to life in 1891. No big screen or small screen entertainment channel has gone without displaying this iconic feature of New York. Home to over 250 artistic performances every year, Carnegie Hall resembles every artist’s pinnacle-reaching performance whether in classical or popular music genres.

Are you filled in on this Carnegie Hall joke that’s flourished as part of its folklore?

Completion year: 1891

10. The Golden Gate Bridge, CA – San Francisco  

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Two-miles-long, the Golden Gate Bridge spans the Golden Gate, the one-mile-wide strait joining the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay. The bridge is one of the most remarkable civil engineering marvels of the U.S. as it connects the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula—through U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the strait—to Marin County. It’s an international landmark that the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized as one of the wonders of the modern world. 

At the time of its opening, it was the tallest and most stately structure at 4,200 feet and 746 feet in height. Its decades of existence is not without its share of surprises. Find them here.

Completion year: 1937


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