If you had to pick the architecture meccas of the United States, you’d likely start naming the country’s biggest metropolises. Places like New York City, Chicago, or Washington, DC, would surely come up in the conversation. However, while these cities certainly belong on every design-lovers bucket list, they aren’t the only places in the country to see large collections of stunning architecture.
Sprawling across all corners of the US, these lesser-discussed towns and communities have just as impressive, and often more style-specific, collections of beautiful buildings. They’re perfect reminders that buildings don’t have to be famous to be extraordinary. From a small central Florida city perfect for fans of Frank Lloyd Wright to a Midwest town with a surprising catalog of Art Deco designs, these eight unexpected places are havens for architecture lovers.
It’s hard to say which city in the United States represents the best of Frank Lloyd Wright. Do you pick Spring Green, Wisconsin, where his famed Taliesin sits? Or maybe Mill Run, Pennsylvania, famous for Falling water, arguably the architect’s most beloved work? Depending on who you ask, either could be right—and you could likely make the case for plenty of other cities as well. But going by sheer numbers, no US city tops Lakeland, Florida, where you’ll find the largest single-site concentration of Wright structures in the country. Wright designed 18 buildings for Florida Southern College, 13 of which have been built. You can join a group or take a self-guided tour around the campus.
Thanks to a wave of oil discoveries in the 1920s, Tulsa saw a major economic boom. Primed for development, architects of the town decided to emulate the Art Deco style that was popular in major cities of the era. Now, the Oklahoma city is full of ornate buildings, particularly in the part of town aptly named the Deco District.
For fans of midcentury-modern architecture, there’s no better town to visit than Columbus, Indiana. About 45 miles southwest of Indianapolis, the town was ranked by the American Institute of Architects as the sixth most architecturally important city in the United States, falling short only to meccas like New York City and Chicago. The Indiana enclave became the canvas for many of the greatest modern architects and is now home to multiple structures designed by Eero Saarinen, a library by I.M. Pei, a fire station by Robert Venturi, a post office by Kevin Roche, and a school by Harry Weese, among many other modernist marvels. Once you’re downtown, it’s easy enough to walk to many of the storied sites.
St. Augustine, Florida
Over half a century before the Pilgrims docked at Plymouth Rock, the Spanish established St. Augustine along Florida’s east coast. Founded in 1565, the seaside town is the oldest continuously occupied European-founded city in what is now the United States. Though the Spanish’s touch is evident when walking around the coastal community, not much of the architecture is as old as the city itself. All but the Castillo de San Marcos were destroyed in 1702 during Queen Anne’s War. However, when the town was rebuilt the original city plan was used. The buildings in the city certainly reflect the area’s Spanish heritage, though many were built in the late 1800s as St. Augustine was developed into a vacation spot for wealthy Americans.
Milwaukee—sitting along Lake Michigan—may be best known for its breweries, but the Wisconsin city also has its fair share of admirable architecture. Spanning many different styles and eras, some of the most notable structures include the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava, six of Frank Lloyd Wright’s American System–Built Homes along Burnham Block, and the Renaissance-style Basilica of St. Josaphat.
Though all stunning, none have quite as interesting a history as the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, which now sits on Marquette University’s campus. First built in France in 1420, the structure was abandoned before a wealthy American, Gertrude Hill Gavin, heard of the chapel and had it deconstructed, shipped to her home on Long Island, and reconstructed. Gavin sold her property to Marc Rojtman in 1962, who donated the chapel to the university. It took nine months, but the building was carefully taken apart, with each stone marked and categorized, then it was moved to Wisconsin where it was reconstructed.
Marshall, Michigan, is an architectural embodiment of the classic adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s not any one Queen Anne, beaux arts, or Gothic Revival building that makes the city so unique, but rather the sheer number of preserved and intact 19th- and early-20th-century buildings in the small community. Described as “virtual encyclopedia of America’s most popular styles during the 19th and early 20th centuries,” walking the town gives visitors a unique look into how tastes and aesthetics evolved and shaped American life. The Marshal Historic District, which is a dedicated National Historic Landmark District, includes over 800 residential, civic, commercial, and religious properties.
Detroit may be best known as a hugely influential manufacturing powerhouse, bringing automobiles to the United States, but it’s also a great destination for the design-obsessed. The city’s architectural history is seeped in Art Deco grandeur thanks to the economic surge the city experienced in the early 20th century. When planning a visit to the Michigan city, make sure to put the Guardian Building, the Fisher Building, and the Fox Theater at the top of your list.
New Canaan, Connecticut
Take a short trip north of New York City and spend the day immersed in midcentury-modern homes in New Canaan, Connecticut. The New England town is often closely associated with the “Harvard Five,” a group of architects made up of John M. Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson, and Eliot Noyes, who settled in New Canaan in the ’40s. While Breuer taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the other four were students at the institution. The most famous home in the area is arguably Philip Johnson’s Glass House, but you’ll also want to make time to visit the Gores Pavilion, The Noyes House, and The Marcel Breuer House II.