It’s easy to get up close to the most famous landmarks in America. We can visit them in person, zoom in on them on Google Maps, and admire them in the backdrops of the movies and documentaries we watch. But many of the interiors of these iconic buildings are still inaccessible to the general public. Even if you did get to go inside, it’s not always possible to get a real feel for the inner mechanics of the structures. For example, seeing the different levels, the frame, the tunnels, and the hidden rooms behind the façade.
In this post, the exteriors of eight landmarks in America are pulled back to reveal impressive architectural wonders to offer readers a glimpse into what’s going on behind the scenes. Come take a look to spark your curiosity. Rediscover the awe-inspiring architecture in American cities to see these structures in a new light.
1. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington D.C. (White House)
The official residence and workplace of the President was purpose-built through-and-through. The White House is in one of the only cities in the world to have been designed before it was built. The building’s neoclassical style, drawn up by Irish-American architect James Hoban, expanded over the years. Additions included areas like Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s porticoes on the north and south facades.
Thomas Jefferson, the second president to live at number 1600, was the one who added the East and West Wings. Renaissance villas that Jefferson had seen in Palladio’s Four Books on Architecture had inspired him. Curiously, Jefferson was one of the losing architects in the original competition to design the American president’s home.
2. Statue of Liberty, New York City
While the defining New York landmark’s facade is by Frenchman Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty’s iron pylon and steel framework innards have a more familiar source. Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower, designed it. Eiffel built a skeleton that would allow Bartholdi’s hammered-copper exterior – created with a technique called ‘repousse’ – to move in the wind so the whole thing wouldn’t be blown down.
The copper skin, insulated with asbestos, prevents its connection to the frame from corroding. Richard Morris Hunt, the first American to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, designed the pedestal. He did so with deliberate simplicity so as not to distract from the symbolic statue. Today it contains an exhibition of elements from the landmark’s history.
3. 1491 Mill Run Road (Fallingwater), Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Called the “most ingenious” building in America by the Smithsonian and Frank Lloyd Wright’s “most beautiful job” by Time magazine, this 1935 home was designed to blend seamlessly with its setting among the waterfalls of Bear Run. Cantilevered concrete terraces above the falls and a chimney mass of local Pottsville sandstone dominate Fallingwater’s most familiar image.
It is the connection between the exterior and interior that mark the genius of the place. Stone floors continue across boundaries. Architects set windows into walls (rather than frames). They hardly seem to be windows at all. The use of boulders and local materials, and – more ephemerally – the sense of light, space, and sound that trickles through from the surroundings makes this a unique home.
“Its beauty remains fresh like that of nature into which it fits,” said Edgar Kaufmann, who commissioned the home for his family. “It has served well as a home, yet has always been more than that: a work of art, beyond any measures of excellence.”
4. 1260 6th Avenue (Radio City Music Hall), New York City
The largest indoor theater in the world may be an imposing modernist monolith from the outside, but the true treasures of Rockefeller’s ‘people’s palace’ are inside. John D. Rockefeller found unlikely potential in a struggling area following the crash of 1929. He owned an unpromising stretch of land in the heart of Manhattan. This was an area that commercial tenants were unlikely to consider appealing.
His solution was to go the whole hog. He teamed up with the Radio Corporation of America, theater impresario S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel and designer Donald Deskey. Together they created a grand and classy interior. The place boosted the prestige of the neighborhood while connecting with the average person on the street.
Deskey created over 30 elegant spaces, hiring specialists to create murals, sculptures, and draperies. He combined precious marble and gold foil with then-fashionable textures of Bakelite, aluminum, and cork. As the New York Tribune put it the morning after the theater’s first show, “The least important item […] was the show itself. It has been said of the new Music Hall that it needs no performers; that its beauty and comforts alone are sufficient to gratify the greediest of playgoers.”
5. 400 Broad Street (Space Needle), Seattle, Washington
Seattle’s Space Age landmark has had a 21st-century makeover. Workers toiled 600 feet in the sky to add a new steel staircase and 176 tons of glass – including the world’s only rotating glass floor – to the ‘Cloud City’ atop the needle. The half-height walls of the observation deck gave way to 11 feet-high glass panels with glass benches. These added to the sense that visitors are hovering improbably over nothing but air.
The Space Needle has added many new places to eat. A glance at your feet reveals that the ground is two football fields away behind nothing but a plate of glass. A more sober way down is to take the 848 steps of the central stairwell.
6. 233 S Wacker Dr (Willis Tower), Chicago, Illinois
Originally named the Sears Tower, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world for 25 years following its completion in 1973. As such, architects needed new approaches to keep the building stable in Chicago’s famous winds. Nine giant square tubes connected at the building’s core (a ‘bundled tube’ system) reinforce each other’s strength but vary individually to disrupt the wind.
The extra height meant that the building could provide a stunning three million square feet of floor space. The Sears company’s merchandising unit originally took advantage of the huge floor plans of lower levels. The smaller footprints of the higher levels maximized window coverage, resulting in desirable office space for prestige tenants.
7. 206 Clarendon St (Trinity Church), Boston, Massachusetts
Down below, over 4,000 wooden piles support the church. Builders added these to keep the building stable since it was built on an actual water bay that was drained and filled with gravel in the late 1800s.
8. New York City Subway, New York
Can a rail network count as a landmark in itself? It’s certainly one of, if not the, most famous subway system in America, if not the world. For our final cutaway, water was removed rather than bricks-and-mortar to reveal what’s underground in New York. Carving away at the Hudson and East Rivers shows the rock cliff and metro lines around New Jersey, Manhattan, Bronx, and Brooklyn.
These hundred-year-old tunnels faced their most dramatic moments during Hurricane Sandy when over 50 million liters of water flooded through the East River tunnels. The flooding caused over a billion dollars worth of damage. However, a far higher cost is predicted on the Hudson side where closing down the North River Tunnels for repairs will reduce capacity to such an extent that the city’s economy could face a major crisis.
Behind the architectural facade of landmarks in America are inner workings. These reveal a complex story of emotion, progress, economics, and aspiration. From idealistic designs that attempt to become one with nature to complex infrastructures created to withstand nature’s might, these cutaways reveal the behind-the-scenes aspects of the greatest landmarks in America.
Source and Image Credits: Angie's List