Philadelphia is one of the country’s oldest cities, and that shows up in its architecture. The center of the city is marked by majestic City Hall, built at the turn of the 20th century. City Hall looks down the wide Benjamin Franklin Parkway onto the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which possesses one of the most iconic museum visages in the United States. Moreover, in the late 1980s, new skyscrapers began being erected, giving Center City a modern feel. This juxtaposition of new and old means visitors to the city will never be bored with the architecture on display in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia City Hall
Broad and Market streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 686-2840

When William Penn founded Philadelphia, he reserved the land on which City Hall now sits for the purpose of erecting a government building befitting such an important city, but construction was not completed until 1901. Designed by architects John McArthur, Jr. and Thomas U. Walter, City Hall was the tallest building in the world at 548 feet tall when constructed, and it maintained that record for seven years. City Hall was built in the beautiful French Second Empire style, and atop its spire stands the iconic statue of William Penn, who appears to look out over the city. Due to a gentlemen’s agreement that, for decades, was strictly observed, no building in Philadelphia was built taller than City Hall. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that taller buildings were constructed, giving Center City a more limited skyline than other large U.S. cities.

Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Main Building
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 763-8100

In 1895, Philadelphia’s City Council funded a design competition for a new museum building, and in 1907, it was decided that the new museum should sit at the end of a wide boulevard facing City Hall. Two architectural firms collaborated on the final design, and architects Howell Lewis Shay and Julian Abele were credited with the building’s planning and drawing. The large steps leading up the museum are famous in their own right, mainly because of the training scenes in the iconic movie “Rocky.” Today, no description of Philadelphia is complete without reference to the art museum, which has earned its title “Parthenon on the Parkway.

Cira Centre
30th and Arch Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19104

The Cira Centre is a high rise in the University City area of Philadelphia. Designed by Cesar Pelli, the oddly shaped building is separated by the Schuylkill River from Center City. The building’s tenants include law firms, hedge funds and other commercial businesses. Depending upon the angle from which the building is viewed, it can either look like an irregular polygon or just another tall glass tower. The building is also covered with thousands of LED lights, which are lit in various patterns for special occasions, most notably with the Phillies “P” during games.

One Liberty Place
1650 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 851-9000

One Liberty Place was constructed in 1987 and was the first building to stand taller than City Hall. Designed by architect Helmut Jahn, One Liberty Place now houses commercial offices as well as a small retail mall on the main floor. Resembling the Empire State Building, One Liberty Place gives Philadelphia’s skyline a stately feel, especially paired with its slightly smaller sister, Two Liberty Place. However, the building’s erection was thought to bring on the “Curse of Billy Penn,” since its height eclipsed the statue of William Penn atop City Hall. Penn’s outrage is blamed for Philadelphia sports’ winning dry spell through the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s.

Comcast Center
1701 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
Philadephia, PA 19103
(215) 286-1700

The Comcast Center, designed by Robert A. M. Stern, was completed in 2008 and is now Philadelphia’s tallest building. As its name suggests, the building’s main tenant is Comcast, but offices are also leased to other corporations, and there is a small shopping mall and food court on the building’s lower level. Ironworkers from Local Union 401 raised the final beam of the Comcast Center on June 18, 2007. Hoping to lift the “Curse of Billy Penn,” two workers attached a small figurine of Penn to that beam. Nearly a year later, and after a 25-year dry spell, the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, scientifically proving you should never mess with William Penn.

Katherine Ernst is a full-time novelist and freelance writer in Montgomery County. Follow her activity on her blog at Her work can be found at