It’s easy to appreciate the many museums across the United States that house all manner of art, from sculptures to paintings to historic artifacts, but when the architecture of the museum itself becomes the art, it is all the more gratifying. The architecture of these twenty-five museums scattered across the United States reflect the artistic themes of the collections they house. Award-winning architects have left their marks in these bold and visionary buildings that have timeless appeal. From the ethereal 1938 Fallingwater design by Frank Lloyd Wright to the rock ‘n’ roll spirit evoked by Frank O. Gehry’s design of the EMP Museum, these 25 architecturally stunning museums are sure to delight. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
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The Getty Center is a one-of-a-kind modernist complex designed by renowned architect Richard Meier. It features awe-inspiring travertine buildings, breathtaking gardens, spectacular views, and open spaces, beautifully highlighting both culture and nature. From the hilltop of the Santa Monica Mountains, visitors will enjoy magnificent views of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pacific Ocean, and Los Angeles cityscape. The Italian-made buildings surround a central arrival plaza perfectly blending the harsh lines of the travertine squares with the softness of the arced natural gardens. The museum itself focuses on natural light elements with exterior walls made of glass and a computer system that adjusts the shades and louvers throughout the day.
1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA, Phone: 310-440-7300
2. Crystal Bridges Museum of Art
© Crystal Bridges Museum of Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who seamlessly blends masculine industrial spaces with the beauty of natural environments. Statuesque gray concrete walls emerge from the ground, intertwining with rugged cedar in a wondrous curve reminiscent of the hillside. While surrounded by the stunning native Ozark forest, guests can take in the breathtaking environment from the gleaming copper bridges that angle above still ponds. With an exterior this enchanting, it’s hard to believe the museum’s interior could quite compare, but it does just that with exquisite collections of American art from the colonial period to today.
600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR, Phone: 479-418-5700
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3.Aspen Art Museum
© Aspen Art Museum
The Aspen Art Museum was moved and reconstructed in 2014 by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban. This astounding building is completely environmentally sustainable and features woven wooden screens, walkable skylights, a wooden roof truss, stunning moving glass room elevator, and grand staircase. It has the only public rooftop boasting picturesque views of Aspen Mountain, and with its whopping 33,000 square feet of space, it provides a wide array of free events from lectures and performances to roof-deck screenings. The Aspen Art Museum is a non-collecting institution, and guests will enjoy viewing contemporary and innovative exhibitions from emerging global artists as well as participating in an array of thought-provoking immersive activities. Next read: Best Things to Do in Aspen
637 East Hyman Avenue, Aspen, CO, Phone: 970-925-8050
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4.Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
© Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum was brought to life by Pritzker Prize-winning architect and visionary Zaha Hadid who is known for pushing the boundaries of urban design. She designed this contemporary metropolitan space with an eye-catching exterior of pleated stainless steel combined with glass to bring her dynamic vision to life. This 46,000-square-foot museum on the Michigan State University campus features a forceful presence of natural light that allows for the showcased artwork to be viewed in the most pleasing circumstances. The museum is dedicated to delving into contemporary culture through the use of international artists, while also appreciating artworks from ancient cultures.
547 East Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI, Phone: 517-884-4800
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Fallingwater made headlines in 1938 after being featured on the cover of Time magazine due to its extraordinary design, thought up by the most famous architect in America, Frank Lloyd Wright. He built the home for the Kaufmann family in Laurel Highlands surrounded by the Bear Run Nature Reserve. The genius behind the design is that it appears as if it wasn’t built on solid ground but stretched across a 30-foot waterfall. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark where guests can explore the numerous open-air walkways, terraces, and various rooms within the home while enjoying unexpected views of the water and surrounding forest on a guided tour.
1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, PA, Phone: 724-329-8501
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6.Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
© Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is a dazzling brick and stainless steel residence that sits along the Mississippi River, designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry. This stunning architectural space has been a landmark for the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities since 1993 when it first opened its doors as a museum. It has only become a more prominent feature over the years since Gehry expanded on his original design in 2011, adding 8,100 square feet to the property. It now houses double the number of gallery exhibits, including a permanent collection of over 25,000 works that focus on the art of American modernism.
333 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN, Phone: 612-625-9494
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© Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum in New York is perhaps one of the most architecturally stimulating buildings ever designed. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2008 and was named to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015. The original inverted-ziggurat design was done by none other than world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright; it was completed in 1959 after more than 16 years of work. Known as a monument to modernism, it features a spiral ramp that takes visitors to a domed skylight offering a unique viewing experience. Throughout the years it’s been expanded upon, offering even more awe-inspiring spaces to view internationally renowned exhibitions, lectures, performances, and screenings.
1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, Phone: 212-423-3500
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8.Kimbell Art Museum Kahn Building
© Kimbell Art Museum Kahn Building
Kimbell Art Museum Board of Directors commissioned Louis I. Kahn to design the museum. He used white oak, concrete, and travertine as primary components for its creative design. Since opening to the public in 1972, it has been regarded as a symbol of modern architecture. Its primary aim was to use light in innovative ways. This was achieved by using narrow plexi-glass skylights that allow natural light to filter in through the tops of the cycloid barrel vaults and hit pierced-aluminum reflectors dangling down below. One hundred-foot bays, open barrel vaulted porticos, and three courtyards work together to disperse additional light that provides subtle illumination highlighting every piece of art.
3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard, Fort Worth, TX, Phone: 817-332-8451
9.M.H. de Young Museum
© M.H. de Young Museum
M.H. de Young Museum has been an important piece of the cultural fabric of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park since 1895 but didn’t become an architectural icon until 2005 when it was completely renovated into a state-of-the-art facility. Designed by San Franciscan architectural firm Fong & Chan and Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, the museum artfully blends industrial modernization with a natural landscape. This 100-year-old plus museum houses treasured collections of textile arts, American art from the 17th through 20th centuries, and art of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania, and it also features several traveling exhibits each year.
Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, Phone: 415-750-3600
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10.Milwaukee Art Museum
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The Milwaukee Art Museum is made up of three distinct buildings designed by three iconic architects, Santiago Calatrava, Dan Kiley, and Eero Saarinen. They began the architectural journey together in 1957. Calatravo was the genius behind the Quadracci Pavillion, an homage to his Spanish roots. This sculptural, postmodern cathedral-like space features a 90-foot high vaulted glass ceiling, moveable sunscreen, and Reiman bridge. Kiley, a landscape architect known for his geometric approach, designed the network of plazas, fountains, and gardens surrounding the Quadracci Pavillion. The War Memorial Center was designed by Saarinen, a Finnish-American, who took modernism to a new level with his cross shaped building that appears to be floating.
700 North Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI, Phone: 414-224-3200
11.Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
© Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was designed by iconic Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, who reflected a vision of pure simplicity that is modern art in the architectural design itself. The museum is made up of five lengthy, flat-topped pavilions featuring 40-foot high transparent glass walls encased in metal to provide magnificent diffused and reflected natural light inside the gallery. Adding to the beauty are the 1.5 acres on which the museum sits featuring naturally landscaped areas, an outdoor sculptured garden, and grand reflecting pond. It’s a divine place to enjoy one of the biggest and finest collections of postwar art in America, and where nearly 3,000 compelling works of contemporary and modern international art reside.
3200 Darnell Street, Fort Worth, TX, Phone: 817-738-9215
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12.National Museum of the American Indian
© National Museum of the American Indian (Washington D.C.)
The National Museum of the American Indian was built in a community effort, utilizing the skills of various architects and firms in conjunction with the voices and visions of several Native American tribal leaders. Built in the early 1990s as a diverse and versatile educational and cultural enterprise, it features one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Native artifacts. These include archives, media, photographs, and objects from the Western Hemisphere, Tierra del Fuego, and the Arctic Circle. The architecture of the museum itself encompasses the heart of the collections it houses, using celestial references and natural elements to provide a space that honors Natives.
Fourth Street & Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC, Phone: 202-633-1000
13.Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
© Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
Internationally acclaimed architect Tadao Ando created the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts; it was his first free-standing public project in the United States. Before opening in 2001, it took four years to construct and relied upon his unwavering architectural vision. He used simple forms and materials to create masterpieces evoking emotion with precision. His design focus merged natural light filtered through carefully composed windows with a central water court. The space was made even more magnificent with the various sculptures created by artists Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Serra, which produced a delightful space for guests to view the museum’s revolving exhibitions.
3716 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, Phone: 314-754-1850
14.San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
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The San Francisco Museum of Art was created by architect Mario Botta, who designed a provocative piazza-like space admired within the cityscape of San Francisco. This five-story structure was built using a stepped and patterned brick veneer with a soaring barrel shaped tower on top featuring alternating bands of white and black stone. Influenced by iconic architect Louis I. Khan, the interior of the space is filled with natural light and boasts large open spaces. Some creative highlights include a grand staircase that allows guests to travel throughout all five floors and their various exhibits, as well as a striking bridge that spans the entire fifth floor.
151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA, Phone: 415-357-4000
15.Seattle Art Museum
© Seattle Art Museum
The Seattle Art Museum, one of the premier cultural epicenters is the Pacific Northwest, was recently expanded and renovated by Allied Works Architecture firm. This 16-story building with 450,000 square feet features an elegant stainless steel exterior with flush glass that effortlessly blends into its urban surroundings. Focusing on light and space, it provides passersby at street level with glimpses into the museum, revealing a sneak peek of the exhibitions. Filtered light and rooms varied in height and proportion allow for spacious interiors that provide a warm and welcoming environment to guests as they explore the various collections of Asian, Ancient American, African, and European artworks among others.
1300 First Avenue, Seattle, WA, Phone: 206-654-3100
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16.Strong National Museum of Play
© Strong National Museum of Play
The Strong National Museum of Play is one of the largest history museums in the nation dedicated to the history and exploration of play and a premier family museum. This iconic place of learning underwent an award-winning expansion by CJS Architects enlivening its street presence by turning it into a large gateway to Rochester. The whopping 105,000-square-foot expansion features a 40,000-square-foot educational wing and an exhibit gallery with classrooms as well as multifunctional rooms. Additional attractions include a central atrium, interpretive exhibit, and butterfly conservatory. The entire design intertwines the ideals of the museum by highlighting the multitude of ways in which play factors into cultural history.
One Manhattan Square, Rochester, NY, Phone: 585-263-2700
17.The San Diego Children’s Museum
© The San Diego Children’s Museum
The San Diego Children’s Museum was designed by Rob Quigley Architects. It is a sensational 50,000-square-foot, three-level building featuring transparent, flexible spaces that highlight the museum’s design. One of its prominent characteristics is a 17-foot concrete bridge at its entrance that allows guests to admire the buildings angled saw tooth rooftop, glass-enclosed elevator, and tilted concrete panels. With a focus on sustainability, the building utilizes recycled material, water-saving devices, and a passive air system. Each of the rooms are designed to fit the themes in which they explore, including art, science, and world culture activities providing a creative flow from room to room.
320 North Broadway, Escondido, CA, Phone: 760-233-7755
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18.The Denver Art Museum
© Courtesy Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum opened in 1971 with the original seven-story structure now known as the North Building. It was designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti and Denver’s James Sudler Associates. At the time, it made it possible for the museum’s entire collection to be exhibited in a single building. It has the distinction of being Ponti’s only completed U.S. project. Daniel Libeskind designed the Hamilton Building in 2006 and covered the exterior with 9,000 titanium panels to reflect the mountain sunshine. A third building was added in 2014. The Bannock Administration Building was designed by Denver’s Roth Sheppard Architects. The light stone and glass structure was designed to blend with the other museum structures.
100 W 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, CO, Phone: 720-865-5000
19.The EMP Museum
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The EMP Museum, also known as MoPOP, is an architectural phenomenon designed by iconic architect Frank O. Gehry. When creating the building, he had one goal in mind, and that was to evoke the spirit of rock n’ roll. He began this process by purchasing numerous electric guitars, breaking them into pieces, and using them to create an early model of the building. With this technique he was able to create an exterior that expresses the fluidity and energy of music, utilizing an array of colors and a mixture of textures. This was completed by using three-thousand panels of 21,000 separately cut, painted, and stainless steel shingles.
325 5th Avenue North, Seattle, WA, Phone: 206-770-2700
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20.The Mingei International Museum
© The Mingei International Museum
The Mingei International Museum was designed by architectural firm CO Architects in keeping with the same historic style as the rest of San Diego’s Balboa Park, where it’s located. Within the museum there are seven galleries, a research center, theater, library, educational facilities, and exhibition areas. The design is focused on providing the quality of space needed for a modern art museum, with craftsman considerations that focus on controlling and perfecting the artificial and natural light used with modulated systems. Skylights above the primary staircase offer ideal lighting for the exhibits, and natural materials such as beech are incorporated throughout the space to offer a pleasant blend of beauty and comfort.
1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA, Phone: 619-239-0003
21.The Salvador Dali Museum
© The Salvador Dali Museum
The Salvador Dali Museum was first erected in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1982 after leaders of the community united to bring the Morses’ collection of Dali artworks to the city. In 2011 a magnificent new building was created for the museum, designed by architect Yann Wymouth. His design merges reality and fantasy using a simple rectangle that features 18-inch-thick walls with a free-form glass dome bubble springing out if it. The dome is reminiscent of the Dali museum in Spain, created using over 1000 triangular glass pieces. Another highlight of the museum is the helical staircase, which is an homage to Dali’s fascination with spirals.
One Dali Boulevard, St. Petersburg, FL, Phone: 727-823-3767
22.The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
© The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies was designed in 2007 by the Chicago-based, award-winning architect firm Krueck & Sexton Architects. The environmentally sustainable museum offers visitors a look into Jewish culture and learning. The innovative façade of the building provides a surface that appears to be constantly slanting in three dimensions. Constructed using a glass exterior built from over 700 individual pieces of glass in more than 550 different shapes, the transparency offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding community. The interior is made up of interconnected spaces that run along the ten-story wall of windows providing magnificent views of Grant Park, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago skyline.
610 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, Phone: 312-322-1700
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23.The California Academy of Sciences
© The California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences was redesigned in 2008 by Pritzker-prize winning architect Renzo Piano with innovation and sustainability in mind. The museum is a perfectly built space where the preservation of the historic heritage and the beauty of the natural world are expertly interwoven. It all began with the construction of the “Living Roof,” a 2.5-acre area where fields and rolling hills cover almost 90% of the rooftop and solar panels line the edges. The simplistic yet ingenious green-inspired design used eco-friendly materials and energy efficient elements to reduce its carbon footprint, winning several eco-awards, including the first LEED Platinum rating.
55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA, Phone: 415-379-8000
24. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art underwent a complex renovation in 2007 by renowned architect Steven Holl to expand the Beaux-Arts style building, originally built in 1933, in an effort to provide more space for the museum’s collections. The transformation utilized sustainability practices and an innovative design that would blend with the existing building and landscape. Known as the Bloch Building, it features an slender, elongated design and sits on the Eastern edge of the center, using twin layers of glass walls that create a luminous, wavy look linking the architecture and landscape. This dramatic centerpiece features five unique levels of luminescent galleries.
4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO, Phone: 816-751-1278
25.Westmoreland Museum of American Art
© Westmoreland Museum of American Art
The Westmorland Museum of American Art experienced a renovation in 2015 by the architectural firm, Ennead Architects. The transformation of this center is visually dynamic where the goal was to effortlessly intermingle the old with the new. With an original structure based on the neo-Georgian design it was embellished with pre-cast concrete that expertly matches the limestone of the old building. This two-story structure features three new upright glass openings, a transparent backdrop that highlights the activity within to the outside world, and a portico of slim-paired columns. Using a simple palette of textures and material including glass and brick affords the old and new a beautiful symmetry.
221 North Main Street, Greensburg, PA, Phone: 724-837-1500
25 Architecturally Stunning Museums in the United States
- The Getty, Photo: Courtesy of jonbilous - Fotolia.com
- Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Photo: Crystal Bridges Museum of Art
- Aspen Art Museum, Photo: Aspen Art Museum
- Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Photo: Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
- Fallingwater, Photo: Fallingwater
- Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Photo: Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
- Guggenheim Museum, Photo: Guggenheim Museum
- Kimbell Art Museum Kahn Building, Photo: Kimbell Art Museum Kahn Building
- M.H. de Young Museum, Photo: M.H. de Young Museum
- Milwaukee Art Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Photo: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
- National Museum of the American Indian, Photo: National Museum of the American Indian (Washington D.C.)
- Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Photo: Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Photo: Courtesy of eijiuedaphoto - Fotolia.com
- Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Seattle Art Museum
- Strong National Museum of Play, Photo: Strong National Museum of Play
- The San Diego Children’s Museum, Photo: The San Diego Children’s Museum
- The Denver Art Museum, Photo: Courtesy Denver Art Museum
- The EMP Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- The Mingei International Museum, Photo: The Mingei International Museum
- The Salvador Dali Museum, Photo: The Salvador Dali Museum
- The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, Photo: The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
- The California Academy of Sciences, Photo: The California Academy of Sciences
- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Photo: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
- Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Photo: Westmoreland Museum of American Art
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
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