Famous American Architects

Throughout American history, several esteemed architects have literally shaped the form of our country in the buildings that many work in or continue to visit today. Here are some of the most famous.

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

The nation's third president also distinguished himself by designing the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, a modified version of the Pantheon in Rome. He also designed his home at Monticello.

Charles Bulfinch (1763–1844)

One of the first major exponents of the Federal style, he designed the Massachusetts State House with its great, gold dome soaring high on Boston's Beacon Hill. It was one of the most distinguished public buildings when completed in 1798. Bulfinch also succeeded Benjamin Henry Latrobe as architect of the U.S. Capitol, completing it in 1830.

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903)

This major American landscape architect was educated at Yale University and traveled throughout the United States and Europe to study. In 1857, Olmsted, along with Calvert Vaux, originated and supervised the master plan for New York City's Central Park, the first major metropolitan park in a U.S. city. So successful was this that many others commissioned him to design large public parks in their cities. Olmsted planned the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and was the first commissioner of Yosemite National Park in California. He also designed Boston's “Emerald Necklace” — a series of public parks and green spaces that include Boston Common and the Public Gardens.

Richard Morris Hunt (1827–95)

The architect of several summer homes in Newport, Rhode Island, he built the Breakers for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1892–1895. Modeled after North Italian Renaissance palaces, this house has been preserved as a monument to the bygone era of formal entertaining and ostentatious wealth. Other examples of his works include the Great Hall of New York City's Metropolitan Museum and the Biltmore Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina.

Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–86)

Having studied at Harvard and in Europe, he created his own style, called Richardson Romanesque, characterized by deep entrance arches. Richardson used granite in such a way that the stone carver's skill revealed rather than concealed the natural stone. Among his famous works are Trinity Church in Boston and the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, both masterpieces of nineteenth-century architecture.

Louis Henry Sullivan (1856–1924)

Applying his influential credo, “Form follows function,” Sullivan's brilliant ideas allowed steel beams to show, becoming elements of the design. He shunned historical styles, believing that one had to consider the building's purpose, and became known as the father of the skyscraper. He built, among others, the Wainwright Building in Saint Louis, Missouri (completed in 1891), and the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building in Chicago (completed in 1904).

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959)

Perhaps the most famous pupil of Louis Sullivan, Wright distinguished himself as an organic architect with the main objective of harmonizing a building with its natural surroundings, as he did with Fallingwater, built in the 1930s. At Bear Run, south of Pittsburgh, this home has dramatic horizontal planes and stone walls and is built directly over a waterfall. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City explored the possibility of using curves in architectural design, and it is certainly one of his most dramatic and controversial designs. It was commissioned in 1943 and opened in 1959, six months after Wright's death.

Philip C. Johnson (1906–2005)

Educated at Harvard, Johnson created unconventional designs that culminated in his own glass box home built in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1949. Only one room, the bathroom, was enclosed. In addition, Johnson designed glass skyscrapers, including the Seagram Building (1958) in New York City, and PPG Place (1984) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I. M. Pei (1917–)

This Chinese-American architect fused classical concern for elegance of form with contemporary functional efficiency. Pei studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University. He designed many famous structures in the Boston area, including the John Hancock Tower in 1973 and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in 1979. Pei also designed the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City (begun in 1980 and opened in 1986).

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