Designed by Thomas Jefferson, and constructed while he was Minister to France, the Virginia State Capitol underscored Jefferson's permanent repudiation of the monarchy (as well as the prevailing Colonial architecture he loathed). Its form ignited the American tradition of modeling government buildings on Roman and Greek temples.
H.H. Richardson, a singular individual who made a practice of wearing monks' garb on a daily basis, created the Trinity Church in a style that became known as 'Richardsonian Romanesque'. The structure's rounded arches, broad earthbound tower supported by four piers, and articulated masonry, signaled an optimism and exuberance for solidity that has been repeated in churches and civic buildings across America.
Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building is referred to in the documentary as the "first building that reveled in height." Sullivan claimed to have conceived the design in only three minutes and wrote that a skyscraper "must be every inch a proud and soaring thing." Sullivan's modern, steel-frame building set the tone for the next century of skyscrapers.
"Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance." It should come as no surprise who uttered those words—the architect of the famed Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright. The residence, with its tight recessed entry leading to dramatic light-filled openness, seamless space unencumbered by needless partitions, continuous bands of windows, its horizontal, low-slung form, and overhanging eaves, is what the architect called "a cornerstone of American architecture."
The Highland Park Ford Plant, designed by Albert Kahn, was the first so-called daylight factory, and the birthplace of the moving assembly line. Created for Henry Ford, who ceaselessly refined his process of efficiency in an effort to save unneeded motion, the building's natural light and improved air quality was a boon to Ford's workers' quality of life (and productivity). Over the course of the next 30 years, Ford and Kahn's collaboration yielded 1,000 factory buildings, setting a pattern for American industrial architecture.
Victor Gruen's Southdale Center was America's first modern indoor mall. Inspired by the open, outdoor social spaces of his native Vienna, Gruen intended to create much more than a shopping mall. Bothered by post-war America's move to the suburbs, Gruen's imagined social vision included houses, schools, and commerce, all centered around "a garden court of perpetual spring" that would include fountains, aviaries, zoos, and of course, shops. Though his ideal was short-lived, and never fully developed to include all the community-enriching elements he wished for, the Southdale Center spurred scores of imitators and set the pace for a most recognizable form: the American suburban shopping mall.
With this sleek, black, glass structure of bronze, Travertine and pink granite, separated from the city streets by an expansive plaza, Mies van der Rohe created the reigning model for modernist skyscrapers in the mid-20th century.
Eero Saarinen's expressive and theatrical structure was the first airport in the world designed exclusively for jets. Topped by a seemingly impossible swooping concrete roof, the structure is described in the documentary as a combination of "curvy Jet Age with the classical architecture of Washington DC." Sadly Saarinen never got to see the finished project, as he died of a brain tumor while it was still in construction.
Robert Venturi's home for his mother is considered by many to be the first postmodern building. With its green hue, unusually tall chimney, stairs leading to nowhere and oversize fireplace with stairs squeezed around it, the house is what the architect called his "manifesto against Modernism."
Frank Gehry's striking concert hall, with its saddle-shaped seating deck that envelopes the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is considered one of the most acoustically sophisticated music venues in the world. As stated in the documentary, the structure set a new model for successful public buildings that embrace experimental shapes.
Be sure to tune into PBS to learn more about the 10 Buildings That Changed America.