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National Gallery of Art’s East building. Photo via Shutterstock/BrianPIrwin

D.C.’s most iconic modern buildings, mapped

From the Kennedy Center to the House of Sweden, see which buildings are the most notable in the city

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Washington, D.C., is a very old city with very old architecture, most of which feature neoclassical or Brutalist traits with some Art Deco buildings sprinkled around here and there. Even so, the District is in constant change with construction cranes in every nook and cranny of the city, building newer and hopefully better buildings. In order to feature the best, most modern buildings completed, Curbed DC has created this map.

From the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library to the National Gallery of Art’s East building, see which buildings made the list. Have a suggestion for a building that should be added to the map? Let Curbed DC know in the comments or email the tipline.

Note: The following mapped points have been ordered geographically, from the most north to the most south.

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1. The Kreeger Museum

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2401 Foxhall Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007

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 eventually won the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978 and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979.

In September 2017, the museum reopened, becoming more accessible and with newly available late-19th century and early-20th century paintings on view.

Photo via Amaury Laporte

2. House of Sweden

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2900 K St NW
Washington, DC 20007

By the Georgetown Waterfront, this is one of the city’s most beautiful embassies, known as House of Sweden. This embassy offers a space for the arts, culture, and literature found in Sweden as well as a range of live performances.

The building, itself, is a good example of Scandinavian architecture, designed by Gert Wingårdh and Tomas Hansen with construction completed in 2006. It is also one of the city’s most iconic buildings

Photo via Ronald Woan

3. The Watergate Complex

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2650 Virginia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037

In James M. Goode’s famous publication, “Best Addresses,” he refers to the Watergate Complex as a “prototype for subsequent large projects,” and “the best example of self-contained living.”

The name of the complex was taken from the nearby Arlington Memorial Bridge, which connects D.C. and Arlington, Virginia. The bridge design includes a flight of steps, which are named the Water Gate. The Foggy Bottom buildings found here range from residences to office space to a hotel. The total cost to build the complex was $78 million, and it fully completed in 1971.

4. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library

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400, 901 G St NW
Washington, DC 20001

This is Mies van der Rohe’s only public library and the only building he ever designed in the District. When Mies presented his idea in 1966, D.C. Public Library director Harry Peterson said, “This is the most functional, the most beautiful, and most dramatic library building in the United States, if not in the world.” Construction finished in 1972.

Since mid-2017, the library has been under construction with a $208 million rehabilitation headed by Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Mecanoo. Once complete, the space will feature a maker’s space, public art, renovated reading rooms, and a new level.

Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

5. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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2700 F St NW
Washington, DC 20566

When this venue opened in 1971, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in the New York Times that the venue failed in its attempt to create a timeless design, instead producing an “architectural default” and an “embarrassment” with “aggrandized posh.” Despite these criticisms, it is still one of the most notable, most recognizable modern buildings in the city. It has also unquestionably instilled a richer cultural life in the nation’s capital.

When it opened, its 600‐foot‐long, 60‐foot‐high grand foyer was one of the biggest rooms in the world. Behind the design of this building is architect Edward Durell Stone, the same designer behind the Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The exterior of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The facade is white. Photo via Justin Fegan/Shutterstock

6. National Gallery of Art’s East Building

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6th & Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20565

Opened in 1978, this building houses the National Gallery of Art’s contemporary art collection. Shaped like the letter H, it was designed by I.M. Pei, who later went on to win the AIA Gold Medal and the Pritzker Prize during his architectural career.

To have the stone facade of the East Building match the facade on the West Building, Gallery officials and Pei were able to get a quarry reopened, which supplied the same type of marble that was used for the Gallery’s first building, designed by John Russell Pope.

In October 2016, a three-year, $69 million renovation completed on the building, bringing an extra 12,250 square feet of interior gallery space without expanding the footprint of the building. While before there was space for only 350 works from the permanent collection to be displayed in the building, there is now capacity to showcase 525 pieces. 

7. Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater

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1101 6th St SW
Washington, DC 20024

In the “AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C.,” this building is described as “one of the District’s most significant modern cultural institutions.” This Southwest Waterfront theater complex was designed in 1961 by Harry Weese & Associates, the same firm behind the city’s Metrorail system. Pictured here is the Mead Center, which was designed by Bing Thom.

One of the most historic moments of this complex’s history was in 1967 when Arena Stage hosted the world premier of Howard Sackler’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Great White Hope.

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1. The Kreeger Museum

2401 Foxhall Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007
Photo via Amaury Laporte

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 eventually won the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978 and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979.

In September 2017, the museum reopened, becoming more accessible and with newly available late-19th century and early-20th century paintings on view.

2401 Foxhall Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007

2. House of Sweden

2900 K St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Photo via Ronald Woan

By the Georgetown Waterfront, this is one of the city’s most beautiful embassies, known as House of Sweden. This embassy offers a space for the arts, culture, and literature found in Sweden as well as a range of live performances.

The building, itself, is a good example of Scandinavian architecture, designed by Gert Wingårdh and Tomas Hansen with construction completed in 2006. It is also one of the city’s most iconic buildings

2900 K St NW
Washington, DC 20007

3. The Watergate Complex

2650 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037

In James M. Goode’s famous publication, “Best Addresses,” he refers to the Watergate Complex as a “prototype for subsequent large projects,” and “the best example of self-contained living.”

The name of the complex was taken from the nearby Arlington Memorial Bridge, which connects D.C. and Arlington, Virginia. The bridge design includes a flight of steps, which are named the Water Gate. The Foggy Bottom buildings found here range from residences to office space to a hotel. The total cost to build the complex was $78 million, and it fully completed in 1971.

2650 Virginia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037

4. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library

400, 901 G St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

This is Mies van der Rohe’s only public library and the only building he ever designed in the District. When Mies presented his idea in 1966, D.C. Public Library director Harry Peterson said, “This is the most functional, the most beautiful, and most dramatic library building in the United States, if not in the world.” Construction finished in 1972.

Since mid-2017, the library has been under construction with a $208 million rehabilitation headed by Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Mecanoo. Once complete, the space will feature a maker’s space, public art, renovated reading rooms, and a new level.

400, 901 G St NW
Washington, DC 20001

5. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566
The exterior of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The facade is white. Photo via Justin Fegan/Shutterstock

When this venue opened in 1971, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in the New York Times that the venue failed in its attempt to create a timeless design, instead producing an “architectural default” and an “embarrassment” with “aggrandized posh.” Despite these criticisms, it is still one of the most notable, most recognizable modern buildings in the city. It has also unquestionably instilled a richer cultural life in the nation’s capital.

When it opened, its 600‐foot‐long, 60‐foot‐high grand foyer was one of the biggest rooms in the world. Behind the design of this building is architect Edward Durell Stone, the same designer behind the Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

2700 F St NW
Washington, DC 20566

6. National Gallery of Art’s East Building

6th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20565

Opened in 1978, this building houses the National Gallery of Art’s contemporary art collection. Shaped like the letter H, it was designed by I.M. Pei, who later went on to win the AIA Gold Medal and the Pritzker Prize during his architectural career.

To have the stone facade of the East Building match the facade on the West Building, Gallery officials and Pei were able to get a quarry reopened, which supplied the same type of marble that was used for the Gallery’s first building, designed by John Russell Pope.

In October 2016, a three-year, $69 million renovation completed on the building, bringing an extra 12,250 square feet of interior gallery space without expanding the footprint of the building. While before there was space for only 350 works from the permanent collection to be displayed in the building, there is now capacity to showcase 525 pieces. 

6th & Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20565

7. Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater

1101 6th St SW, Washington, DC 20024

In the “AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C.,” this building is described as “one of the District’s most significant modern cultural institutions.” This Southwest Waterfront theater complex was designed in 1961 by Harry Weese & Associates, the same firm behind the city’s Metrorail system. Pictured here is the Mead Center, which was designed by Bing Thom.

One of the most historic moments of this complex’s history was in 1967 when Arena Stage hosted the world premier of Howard Sackler’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Great White Hope.

1101 6th St SW
Washington, DC 20024