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Architectural Spotlight: Philadelphia’s 10 Most Iconic Buildings

Ask ten architecture aficionados to name their favorite buildings in Philly and no two lists that look the same. As with any art form, taste is subjective. One enthusiast’s masterpiece is ho-hum to another and vice-versa.

It’s part of the reason why purchasing real estate is such a personal experience. Here are 10 Philadelphia buildings that are, in our humble opinions, the most iconic.

Philadelphia’s City Hall

Situated on one of the city’s original five public squares, City Hall was completed just after the turn of the century following thirty years of construction.

City Hall is the world’s tallest masonry structure and was the city’s loftiest building until 1987. In that year, Liberty Place broke the near century-long gentleman’s agreement that no Philadelphia building would exceed in height the top of the William Penn statue perched upon City Hall’s dome.

PSFS Building

The city’s first modern skyscraper holds a special place in the heart of locals. The edifice is something of a bookmark that delineates contemporary Philadelphia from its storied past.

Iconic on a national level, the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building was the first of its kind in the country: a high-rise designed along the tenets of minimalism and function (International Style) as opposed to the decorative exteriors popular over the first third of the century.

The Academy

Built in 1857 by the architecture firm of Napoleon LeBrun and Gustavus Runge, the oldest functioning opera house in the United States offers of taste of the Old World in America. Modeled after La Scala in Milan, the horseshoe-formed neo-baroque interior is the home of the Philadelphia Opera and the Philadelphia Ballet. The famed Philadelphia Orchestra performed here until the state-of-the-art Kimmel Center was finished in 2001.

Society Hill Towers

Despite the three towers’ distinctly 1960s exposed concrete look, they mark the beginning of an urban revival and a sign of things to come in a neighborhood filled with 18th and 19th century rowhomes.

1900 Rittenhouse Apartments

Stately and classic, this historic high-rise was built during the Roaring Twenties, and it shows. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and since converted to condominiums, the building is also known for being one of Philly’s most sought-after addresses.

Comcast Center

We should certainly give a nod to Philadelphia’s tallest skyscraper. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the Comcast Center is easily recognized by its gorgeous tinted glass curtain wall.

Union League Building

An edifice steeped in history, the Union League Building was once home to a society formed in support of the ideas of President Abraham Lincoln.

Designed in French Renaissance style with elaborate brickwork and an ornate facade, the building also features one of the earliest appearances of the mansard roof in the state.

Three Logan Square (Formerly the Bell Atlantic Tower)

A 55-story skyscraper near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway famed for the Top of the Tower banquet hall available for rent.

One Liberty Place

Once the tallest skyscraper in Philadelphia, the current #2 features an iconic spire modeled after the Chrysler Building in New York City. The brainchild of Helmut Jahn, the structure is a stalwart of the city’s skyline, particularly accentuated by its slightly smaller sister building, Two Liberty Place, which mirrors its unique design.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Borrowing a slice of ancient Greece, this massive tribute to fine art features grandiose columns of dolomite and stunning glazed blue roof tiles.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is by far the most exquisite example of neoclassical design in the city.