Certain cities honor the past by preserving structures and celebrating the design icons that left their marks on the landscape. Head to these architectural icons to experience unique design sensibilities that date back centuries.
You can’t talk about architecturally rich cities without mentioning Palm Springs and its Mid-Century Modern claim to fame. Stroll up and down nearly any street and you’ll see meticulously preserved buildings that really show off the clean simplicity that’s synonymous with Mid-Century Modern. But why the abundance of this style here? It isn’t too hard to guess given the goals of these designs. Mid-Century Modern is all about bringing the outdoors inside by integrating with nature and using many large windows and open floor plans—and Palm Springs’ dry desert climate makes it perfect to leave the doors open year-round. Of course, Palm Springs having its heyday in the middle of the Mid-Century Modern boom also helped the city attract these designs.
Located just off the shore of the Delaware River in the City of Brotherly Love, it isn’t hard to find the historic neighborhood of Old City. This area is the touristy part of Philadelphia, with American history sites including Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth’s Alley—the oldest continually inhabited street in America. But, if you bypass the crowded sites and explore the neighborhood, you’ll see it’s much more than just the home to the Liberty Bell. Rows upon rows of beautifully symmetric Georgian-style buildings butt up against each other along narrow cobblestone streets. Although not as flashy as most notable architectural styles, that’s exactly what sets Georgian apart. Symmetry and proportion—there were even set ratios for window size—play the biggest roles in this classical style. Back when these buildings were built in the 1700s, there was no need for unnecessary frills. As you gaze up at the red brick, you’ll notice ornamentation is minimal but the style still rings true.
Explore the neighborhood to see it’s much more than just the home to the Liberty Bell.
Tucked just to the east of the Willamette River lies Portland’s oldest planned residential development, and one of the oldest in the western United States. Inspired by the L’Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C., Ladd’s Addition’s main streets run at diagonals stemming from a central traffic circle containing a community park. The homes here, broken up by elm trees and rose gardens, are kept beautifully to their early 1900s appearance. Though the architectural styles in this area vary, the American Craftsman homes shine brightest. It’s no surprise that the picture we have in our heads of Portland includes these Craftsman homes—both the city as a whole and the Craftsman style encourage originality, simplicity of form, the use of local natural materials, and the visibility of handicraft. I guess the American Craftsman style was hipster before it was cool.
Maybe not the first city people think of when it comes to notable architecture, but in the shadows of the Gateway Arch the neighborhoods within St. Louis boast distinctive vibes complete with their own distinctive looks. Just a little bit south of the city center and the iconic steel arch, Lafayette Square surrounds the city’s oldest public park—Lafayette Park. When it was developed in the mid-1800s, the square was one of the most fashionable places to live and prominent residents built gorgeous Victorian homes. But history of the neighborhood isn’t filled with colorful roses. After a devastating tornado in the late 1800s, followed by industrial encroachment and highway construction, the once sought-after jewel of St. Louis became a run-down blight to the city. Taking newfound pride in their city, St. Louisans began buying up the square’s older homes and restoring them to their former glory in the 1970s. Today, the neighborhood is once again blossoming, and the future for the square is as bright as the colorful Victorian façades.
Skirting the line between California and Nevada, the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe have drawn in visitors ever since its discovery. Although not actually a city in itself, the area around the lake—known as Tahoe—comprises numerous small communities situated on the shore. With outdoor activities being the king in this Sierra Nevada destination, it isn’t surprising that you’ll find a lot of log cabins around the alpine lake. What is surprising is the variety of styles you can find in these log cabins. Some look like Ranch-style homes with added wood siding, some look like Abraham Lincoln built them, and some are wooded versions of Victorian-style mansions. The juxtaposition of an endless forest of trees reaching for the sky surrounding the building made entirely out of logs is something to appreciate. Get the full experience and rent one of these timber properties to learn that just because it looks old fashioned doesn’t mean it lacks modern conveniences; and remember that the cabin in these woods is much more beautiful than one you may have seen on the silver screen.