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Washington Has Six of Top 10 of 'America's Favorite Architecture'


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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. What do you get when the people who design buildings ask members of the public to choose their favorites? You get the subject of our program for this week.

The American Institute of Architects is a professional group with close to eighty thousand members. It was formed in eighteen fifty-seven. To celebrate its one hundred fiftieth year, the AIA decided to create a list of what it calls America's Favorite Architecture.

Almost two thousand people were asked to choose from a list of about two hundred fifty structures. From their answers came a list of what the AIA calls the best of America's architectural heritage. And here now are the top ten favorites.

Number ten is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in the same city as five others in the top ten: Washington, D.C. Maya Lin was a twenty-one year old architecture student at Yale University when she won a competition to design the memorial.

Two walls of black stone, smooth and shiny, are set into the earth in the shape of the letter V. Carved into the stone are the names of more than fifty-eight thousand men and women. Their names are listed by the year they were killed or went missing in action.

The memorial, know simply as "the Wall," starts out low, gets taller and taller, and then shrinks again. It represents an image of the war in terms of the number of service members killed each year.

The memorial opened in nineteen eighty-two. Some people argued that the design was too simple. But the Wall has proven to be a powerful memorial, bringing more than one and a half million visitors each year.

Number nine of the list of America's Favorite Architecture is the Chrysler Building in New York City. It was designed by architect William Van Alen in the late nineteen twenties and went up in nineteen thirty.

The top of the Chrysler Building is easy to recognize among the tall buildings of New York. Steel arches of shiny silver hold triangular windows that light up at night. Many other decorative elements represent designs that were found on Chrysler automobiles of the same time period.

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, comes in at number eight.

George Washington Vanderbilt, a very wealthy man, built a house on the estate. But this was not just any home; it was the nation's largest. And the two-hundred-fifty-room Biltmore House was meant to be just a summer home.

It was built between eighty eighty-eight and eighteen ninety-five. The style is French Renaissance. The architect was Richard Morris Hunt.

The Vanderbilt family still owns the Biltmore Estate but the house is no longer used as a private home. Now visitors can pay to look around.

We go back to Washington for number seven on the list of America's Favorite Architecture: the Lincoln Memorial. It has four sides which are open except for large columns that support the roof.

In the center is a huge statue of the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. He is sitting down and he faces the long reflecting pool just outside the memorial. His eyes seem to look farther, toward the Washington Monument beyond the pool.

Congress approved the building of the Lincoln Memorial in nineteen eleven. The memorial opened in nineteen twenty-two.

Ancient Greek architecture influenced the design by Henry Bacon. He used limestone and marble. He won a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects in nineteen twenty-three for the Lincoln Memorial.

Number six on the list of favorites is at the other end of the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial: the United States Capitol.

William Thorton won a competition to design the Capitol, the building where Congress meets. He proposed a central domed building with two square buildings on either side. Thorton was not even an architect. He was a doctor living in the West Indies at the time.

Work on the Capitol began in seventeen ninety-three. President George Washington laid the cornerstone. Building -- and rebuilding -- continued for more than a century under many different architects.

Number five on the list of America's Favorite Architecture is the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay in California. The bright orange bridge links the city of San Francisco with Marin County.

Husband-and-wife architects Irving and Gertrude Morrow designed the Golden Gate Bridge. The chief engineer was Joseph Strauss.

Work began in nineteen thirty-three and the bridge opened four years later. The main span of nearly one thousand three hundred meters made it the world's longest suspension bridge. It held that record for almost thirty years.

Today the Golden Gate Bridge is still considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.

Back now to Washington for number four on the list of favorites. The American Institute of Architects says people chose the Jefferson Memorial.

The memorial to the nation's third president is a round, open structure supported by columns. Steps go all the way around the base. In the center is a statue of a standing Thomas Jefferson.

The architect John Russell Pope designed the memorial in the neoclassical style. It was completed in nineteen forty-three, after the death of the famous architect and after years of dispute about his design.

Thomas Jefferson himself was an architect. His designs included his home at Monticello and parts of the University of Virginia.

Third on the list of America's Favorite Architecture is the National Cathedral in Washington. This house of worship is open to all religions. It was completed in nineteen ninety -- eighty-three years after the first stone was laid. George Bodley and Henry Vaughn designed the building.

The cathedral, one of the largest in the world, is made of limestone. In the center is a bell tower ninety-one meters high. The building is in the style of many of the great cathedrals built in Europe about eight hundred years ago.

There are one hundred ten gargoyles on the National Cathedral. The small sculptures can look scary, but they have a job to do. They help keep rainwater away from the building.

Two more to go. Number two on the list of America's Favorite Architecture is the building where the president lives and works -- the White House.

An architect named James Hoban won a competition called by George Washington to design a presidential home. Hoban was an immigrant from Ireland. He was influenced by the design of Leinster House, the parliament building in Dublin.

Work on the White House began in seventeen ninety-two. Its whitish gray sandstone walls were finished with a mixture of surface materials including rice, lime and lead.

George Washington never lived in the White House. America's second president was the first to live there. John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved into the White House in eighteen hundred.

Finally, we come to number one on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture. It is one of the tallest, most photographed and most recognized buildings in the world. Any ideas? The Empire State Building in New York City.

It opened in nineteen thirty-one and was designed by the architectural firm of Shreve Lamb and Harmon. There are one hundred three floors. The name comes from the fact that the state of New York is called the Empire State.

But the building does more than just help define a city, and a state. It stands as a powerful symbol of one of the most public of all art forms -- architecture.

Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. You can find a link to the America's Favorite Architecture Web site at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. You can also download transcripts and audio archives of our programs. And be sure to join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.


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