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National Gallery of Art
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Washington, D.C.’s most iconic buildings, mapped

The District boasts an array of architectural gems

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National Gallery of Art
| Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s a challenge to narrow down D.C.’s most iconic buildings to only 10 or 15, but Curbed has done just that. Rather than map the White House or the U.S. Capitol, we’ve focused on less-famous options, including the St. Coletta of Greater Washington school by Michael Graves and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library by Mies van der Rohe. Which structures are your favorites? Tell us in the comments.

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Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

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This basilica in Brookland is the largest Catholic church in the U.S. and North America, one of the ten largest churches in the world, and the tallest habitable building in D.C. Its 329-foot tower and 237-foot dome can be seen from various vantage points around the city.

A basilica seen from close-up. It has a tall set of stairs and a tower. Shutterstock

Washington National Cathedral

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This Northwest church is both gigantic and historic. It is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and the second-largest in the U.S. It has hosted various presidential funerals as well as national prayer services, and serves as the resting place for Helen Keller and other luminaries. Before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr.'s final Sunday sermon took place here March 31, 1968.

The side of a neo-Gothic cathedral under blue skies. It has a few tall towers and numerous arches. Shutterstock

The Kreeger Museum

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Built in 1963, the Kreeger Museum was designed by American architect Philip Johnson, who later went on to design Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks museum pavilion and the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. He won the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978 and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979. In 2017, this Foxhall Crescent art museum reopened with works by painters including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Vincent van Gogh.

The Cairo

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Behold, the tallest residential building in Washington, D.C. The construction of this 164-foot structure in 1894 was a catalyst for the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1899, which limits development in the city. Keep an eye out for sunrise and sunset here: Often, the light hits the Cairo just right.

House of Sweden

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This embassy in Georgetown is one of the city’s most beautiful embassies. Designed by Gert Wingardh and Tomas Hansen, it’s a notable example of Scandinavian architecture. Visitors can find art, culture, and literature here, as well as a range of live performances. It was completed in 2006.

A modern, glassy building along a waterway. Shutterstock

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

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German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is behind the District’s central library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It’s known for its functional design and geometric shapes. Currently, the library is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation that’s expected to end in 2020.

A modern black library building with signs draped on its sides. Shutterstock

National Portrait Gallery

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This historic Smithsonian museum first opened in 1968. It houses tens of thousands of pieces, seen by over 2 million visitors a year, within a Greek Revival frame. The gallery’s indoor courtyard is also one of D.C.’s most beautiful interiors.

A neoclassical building seen from beneath its columns. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Newseum Building

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In 2008, the Newseum relocated from Rosslyn, Virginia, to its current location at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Now, the museum is slated to close at the end of 2019 to make way for Johns Hopkins University, which is acquiring the property in a $372.5 million deal. The massing of the building will remain the same but there will be more natural light and academic space.

A modern building with a large stone slab etched with the text of the First Amendment. picture alliance via Getty Image

National Gallery of Art

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Showcasing both neoclassical and modern architecture, this gallery is composed of two buildings: I.M. Pei’s East Building and John Russell Pope's West Building. The museum opened in 1978 and highlights works by Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Titian, and other famous artists. In 2016, the East Building reopened after a three-year, $69 million renovation.

The facade of a modern building with sharp lines. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Library of Congress

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As the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress is as iconic as it is immense. It houses over 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves, with its oldest literature dating to 2040 B.C. Established in April 1800, the library’s main reading room one of the most beautiful interiors in the city.

A neoclassical library building with a grand staircase and multiple columns. Getty Images

Hirshhorn Museum

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This modern art museum was designed by Gordon Bunshaft in 1974. Located along the National Mall, its cylindrical shape contrasts with boxy buildings nearby. The museum has hosted a variety of well-known exhibitions since its founding and now there are plans to renovate its sculpture garden.

St Coletta of Greater Washington

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This school in Hill East serves people with intellectual disabilities. It was designed by Michael Graves, an architect described by the Washington Post as “one of the most renowned and most polarizing architects.” The building is divided into five colorful "houses" that serve different groups of students depending on their ages. The St. Coletta school was founded in 1959.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Located near the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to great fanfare in 2016. The building—designed by David Adjaye, Phil Freelon, and other architects—incorporates West African and Greco-Roman elements, including a corona. It is wrapped in an intricate metal lattice and has won awards for its design.

Uline Arena

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In NoMa, the Uline Arena building—also known as the Washington Coliseum—once hosted the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Temptations. Now it’s an REI flagship store with a coffee shop. Best vantage point: the adjacent train tracks.

Nationals Park

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This 40,000-plus-seat ballpark stadium in Navy Yard hosts the World Series-winning Washington Nationals on the Anacostia Riverfront. It offers a plethora of bites to grab and pretty views of the surrounding neighborhood. Go Nats!

A baseball stadium seen from outside. There’s a statue of a player. MLB via Getty Images

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

A basilica seen from close-up. It has a tall set of stairs and a tower. Shutterstock

This basilica in Brookland is the largest Catholic church in the U.S. and North America, one of the ten largest churches in the world, and the tallest habitable building in D.C. Its 329-foot tower and 237-foot dome can be seen from various vantage points around the city.

A basilica seen from close-up. It has a tall set of stairs and a tower. Shutterstock

Washington National Cathedral

The side of a neo-Gothic cathedral under blue skies. It has a few tall towers and numerous arches. Shutterstock

This Northwest church is both gigantic and historic. It is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and the second-largest in the U.S. It has hosted various presidential funerals as well as national prayer services, and serves as the resting place for Helen Keller and other luminaries. Before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr.'s final Sunday sermon took place here March 31, 1968.

The side of a neo-Gothic cathedral under blue skies. It has a few tall towers and numerous arches. Shutterstock

The Kreeger Museum

Built in 1963, the Kreeger Museum was designed by American architect Philip Johnson, who later went on to design Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks museum pavilion and the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. He won the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978 and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979. In 2017, this Foxhall Crescent art museum reopened with works by painters including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Vincent van Gogh.

The Cairo

Behold, the tallest residential building in Washington, D.C. The construction of this 164-foot structure in 1894 was a catalyst for the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1899, which limits development in the city. Keep an eye out for sunrise and sunset here: Often, the light hits the Cairo just right.

House of Sweden

A modern, glassy building along a waterway. Shutterstock

This embassy in Georgetown is one of the city’s most beautiful embassies. Designed by Gert Wingardh and Tomas Hansen, it’s a notable example of Scandinavian architecture. Visitors can find art, culture, and literature here, as well as a range of live performances. It was completed in 2006.

A modern, glassy building along a waterway. Shutterstock

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

A modern black library building with signs draped on its sides. Shutterstock

German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is behind the District’s central library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It’s known for its functional design and geometric shapes. Currently, the library is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation that’s expected to end in 2020.

A modern black library building with signs draped on its sides. Shutterstock

National Portrait Gallery

A neoclassical building seen from beneath its columns. Getty Images/iStockphoto

This historic Smithsonian museum first opened in 1968. It houses tens of thousands of pieces, seen by over 2 million visitors a year, within a Greek Revival frame. The gallery’s indoor courtyard is also one of D.C.’s most beautiful interiors.

A neoclassical building seen from beneath its columns. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Newseum Building

A modern building with a large stone slab etched with the text of the First Amendment. picture alliance via Getty Image

In 2008, the Newseum relocated from Rosslyn, Virginia, to its current location at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Now, the museum is slated to close at the end of 2019 to make way for Johns Hopkins University, which is acquiring the property in a $372.5 million deal. The massing of the building will remain the same but there will be more natural light and academic space.

A modern building with a large stone slab etched with the text of the First Amendment. picture alliance via Getty Image

National Gallery of Art

The facade of a modern building with sharp lines. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Showcasing both neoclassical and modern architecture, this gallery is composed of two buildings: I.M. Pei’s East Building and John Russell Pope's West Building. The museum opened in 1978 and highlights works by Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Titian, and other famous artists. In 2016, the East Building reopened after a three-year, $69 million renovation.

The facade of a modern building with sharp lines. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Library of Congress

A neoclassical library building with a grand staircase and multiple columns. Getty Images

As the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress is as iconic as it is immense. It houses over 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves, with its oldest literature dating to 2040 B.C. Established in April 1800, the library’s main reading room one of the most beautiful interiors in the city.

A neoclassical library building with a grand staircase and multiple columns. Getty Images

Hirshhorn Museum

This modern art museum was designed by Gordon Bunshaft in 1974. Located along the National Mall, its cylindrical shape contrasts with boxy buildings nearby. The museum has hosted a variety of well-known exhibitions since its founding and now there are plans to renovate its sculpture garden.

St Coletta of Greater Washington

This school in Hill East serves people with intellectual disabilities. It was designed by Michael Graves, an architect described by the Washington Post as “one of the most renowned and most polarizing architects.” The building is divided into five colorful "houses" that serve different groups of students depending on their ages. The St. Coletta school was founded in 1959.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Located near the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to great fanfare in 2016. The building—designed by David Adjaye, Phil Freelon, and other architects—incorporates West African and Greco-Roman elements, including a corona. It is wrapped in an intricate metal lattice and has won awards for its design.

Uline Arena

In NoMa, the Uline Arena building—also known as the Washington Coliseum—once hosted the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Temptations. Now it’s an REI flagship store with a coffee shop. Best vantage point: the adjacent train tracks.

Nationals Park

A baseball stadium seen from outside. There’s a statue of a player. MLB via Getty Images

This 40,000-plus-seat ballpark stadium in Navy Yard hosts the World Series-winning Washington Nationals on the Anacostia Riverfront. It offers a plethora of bites to grab and pretty views of the surrounding neighborhood. Go Nats!

A baseball stadium seen from outside. There’s a statue of a player. MLB via Getty Images