Learn more about Philadelphia Architecture... Online Or On Your Phone
Explore Philadelphia's architectural treasures with AIA Philadelphia's Building Finder. Use your laptop or desktop computer to peruse the many different architectural styles found within the city limits, or use your smartphone to create an impromptu architectural tour of the city. AIA Philadelphia Members are encouraged to login to the site and provide commentary on the buildings found in the Building Finder, creating an untold history of Philadelphia's most recognized buildings. For a more in-depth look at Philadelphia's iconic architecture, visit the AIA Bookstore and Design Center to purchase a copy of Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City, published by the Center for Architecture.
Corn Exchange Building
Second and Chestnut Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Date Constructed: 1900-1901
Architect(s): Newman, Woodman and Harris
When the city's fashionable residential areas moved westward, Dock Street became the center of the wholesale food market. Businesses active in the food market relocated in the surrounding area.
The Corn Exchange was established to serve merchants trading in grain and groceries. The original building had consisted of an elaborate exchange room and supporting offices. The clock tower at the corner and second-floor offices were added later.
The exchange is a brick building based on the Georgian style of its colonial neighborhood. It is enriched, however, with elaborate, Baroque stone carvings. This is particularly apparent on the round windows above the first floor, which are surrounded by heavy wreaths and draped with stone swags. The exchange room has elegant classical pilasters and columns and a handsome recessed ceiling with skylights, which can be seen above the renovations made when the exchange was converted into a bank.
Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Date Constructed: 1823-36
Architect(s): John Haviland
"The exterior of a solitary prison should exhibit...great strength and convey to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery that awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls." These were the directions to architects in the competition for the design of the Eastern State Penitentiary. John Haviland's winning entry was a fortress with an austere granite façade and a forbidding iron portcullis.
The interior was based on Sir Samuel Bentham's 1787 radial plan, used for jails and insane asylums in England. The plan consists of seven long cell blocks radiating from a central surveillance rotunda. The cell blocks contained dark passageways lined with individual cells.
The prison features such early Gothic details as lancet windows, square towers flanking the entrance and battlemented turrets at the corners. But the simple, massive forms are typical of Haviland's Greek Revival style. The design was enormously influential; it was copied in more than 500 prisons around the world. Eastern State was opened to the public as an historic site in 1944. It is deliberately maintained as a "preserved ruin." Among its most famous inmates were Willie Sutton and Al Capone, whose cell is pictured above.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Date Constructed: Houses from 1720
Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the country, was created in 1703 when two property owners on Front Street made a cartway to the rear of their lots to subdivide their land. By the end of the 18th Century, Elfreth's Alley had assumed its present character as a street of modest row homes. The oldest homes are simple two-and-a-half-story structures with parlors entered directly from the street. Some have pent eaves. Exterior woodwork is simple, as are doorways and transom lights. Most of the houses were built for rent and lived in by craftsmen. The Museum House at 126 is typical of these early homes. It was occupied by a dressmaker who had her shop on the first floor and living quarters above. The three-and-a-half-story houses were built after the Revolutionary War and show the influence of the Federal style in the classically framed doorways with pilasters and pediments.