When it comes to beautiful architecture, Virginia has an almost endless supply. As as a state, we have some of the greatest minds in design, starting with greats like Thomas Jefferson, and carrying on through today. Two of our state universities are ranked in the top 10 architecture schools in the nation – Virginia Tech is #4 for undergrads and University of Virginia is at #9 for graduate programs.
I was excited about this article, because I love the artistry of building design and construction. But what I found is that there were so many incredible buildings to choose from that I soon became overwhelmed. So what I am offering you is a list of some of my favorites — from beautiful to bizarre.
1. The State Capitol Building, Richmond
Designed by Thomas Jefferson and Charles-Louis Clérisseau in 1788, the Capitol building is home to the oldest continuously operating legislature in the Western Hemisphere and has served as the architectural inspiration for countless other government buildings throughout the years.
2. George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria
Designed by Harvey Wiley Corbitt, the memorial was built by the Masonic brotherhood between 1923-1932. The building honors George Washington for his influential role as a Freemason. By ancient Masonic tradition, temples are built on hilltops or mountains. This site was of particular significance, as it had been considered by Washington and Jefferson as an ideal site for the nation's Capitol prior to the selection of Washington, D.C. The interior of the building was not completed until 1970, but it now houses significant Masonic and historical artifacts, in addition to serving as a museum, library, performing arts' center, and Masonic meeting place.
3. Epworth United Methodist Church, Norfolk
According to the church website, when it was dedicated in 1896, the Epworth United Methodist Church was said to be the "handsomest ecclesiastical structure south of New York." The stately granite building features a cross-shaped sanctuary, 22 stained glassed windows, including memorial windows designed by Lamb Studios, whose designer was a contemporary of Tiffany, and a stained glass skydome. This church is truly a magnificent work of art, from the foundation to the gargoyled steeple.
4. Monticello, Charlottesville
Built over a period of 40 years, Monitcello is considered to be Thomas Jefferson's "autobiographical masterpiece." If you haven't seen Monticello for yourself, you should. Nothing testifies to Jefferson's exceptional mind more than this remarkable structure and the surrounding structures and gardens.
5. Scope Arena, Norfolk
The Scope Arena not only serves as an iconic landmark for Norfolk, but is also home to the Norfolk Admirals hockey team, as well as large-scale events, conventions, and concerts. Designed by Pier Luigi Nervi, the arena features 24 flying buttresses and is the world’s largest reinforced thin-shell concrete dome.
6. First English Lutheran Church standing guard at the J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue, Richmond
Monument Avenue is perhaps one of the most architecturally rich locations in Richmond, which is saying a lot. The statue of "Jeb" Stuart is definitely the most animated of the monuments on the street, and a work of art in itself, but the rising towers of the First English Lutheran Church (1911) stand as a testament of Richmond's architectural grandeur.
7. University of Virginia Rotunda and Pavilions, Charlottesville
I apologize, but it's hard -- no, impossible -- to write a piece about architecture in Virginia and not include multiple works by Thomas Jefferson. His role as politician, statesman, educator, diplomat, and architect made his work incredibly significant to our history. Nowhere is that more evident than at the University of Virginia.
8. The Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington
Designed in 1913 and dedicated in 1920, the amphitheater's design is traditionally credited to Thomas Hastings, although evidence suggests Frederick D. Owen, a civil engineer, had a large part in its design. The towering columns surround a 5,000 person amphitheater used for ceremonies and events honoring our military men and women.
9. Norfolk Pagoda, Norfolk
Officially called the Marine Observation Tower, "the Pagoda" was given to the CIty of Norfolk by the Taiwan Provincial government in 1989 after a visit from the governor of Taiwan. The two-story octagon building was built by materials manufactured in Taiwan and shipped to Norfolk. Taiwanese artisans then built the structure, which now houses a restaurant, gardens, and a koi pond.
10. Bacon's Castle, Surry
What makes this house especially unique is its architecture. It is the only remaining “Jacobean Great House” left in the nation – a distinction recognized by its triple stacked chimney, carved compass roses, and distinct gables. Preservation Virginia now owns Bacon’s Castle and hosts many special events, including guided weekend tours.
11. Old Grayson County Courthouse, Independence
Built in 1908, the Grayson County Courthouse features a Flemish gable with turrets. Designed by architect Frank Pierce Milburn, it now serves as the Art and Cultural Center of Grayson County.
12. St. Andrews Catholic Church, Roanoke
Built in 1902, this amazing Gothic structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. As striking as the exterior is, the interior is simply breathtaking.
13. The Markel Building, Richmond
It’s been called one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world. But I’m not sure what architect Haig Jamgochian was expecting when he took his inspiration from a foil-wrapped baked potato. Built in 1962 for the Markel Corporation, this giant ode to aluminum foil stands as the only remaining piece of Jamgochian’s work after his “Moon House”, a bullet proof house built for Howard Hughes with a crescent moon-shaped roof, was torn down.
14. Old City Hall, Richmond
Old City Hall in Richmond served as the city seat from 1894 until the 1970’s. Built from local granite, the Hall features an atrium, arched cloisters, a grand staircase, a stunning clock tower, and stonework that is pure artistry.
15. Udvar-Hazy Observation Tower, Chantilly
The physics of this building defy my limited knowledge of architecture. But it's modern "spacey" design make it a perfect fit at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. Overlooking Dulles International Airport, visitors have a picture perfect view of planes taking off and landing at one of the world's busiest airports.
16. Penn-Wyatt House, Danville
Located on Millionaire's Row in Danville, this house, not to mention the street, is deserving of an article of its own. The home was built in 1876 and stands as a beautiful example of Victorian architecture, but with an eclectic flair. The brick and stucco home features a mansard roof tower, gabled roofs, and many stained glass windows.
Like I said in the beginning, there’s no way to mention every structure that deserves to be featured in this article. All I can do is show you some of my favorites. But, as always, I want to hear about yours! Tell me about your favorite Virginia buildings in the comments below.