Kansas City has a rich and varied architectural history, giving the city its unique atmosphere. From tall, art deco buildings to block-like contemporary art centers and museums, check out some of Kansas City’s most interesting and beautiful architectural gems.
New York Life Insurance Building
Completed in 1890, this brick and brownstone tower is regarded as Kansas City’s first skyscraper and was the first building in the city equipped with elevators. At 12 storeys, it is somewhat dwarfed by today’s skyscrapers, but still has an impressive presence in the city’s skyline. Designed by Frederick Elmer Hill, it’s built in an Italianate Renaissance Revival style, which is essentially a lot of symmetry, intricate details, and sculptures (in this case, American eagles).
Built in 1909, the Boley Building was designed by architect Louis Curtiss and is a six-story steel-framed structure built in the Art Nouveau style — as seen in the cast iron detailing and terracotta decoration. The building is often touted as one of the world’s first metal and glass buildings and the first to use rolled-steel columns. The building is the world headquarters of Andrews McMeel Universal publishing company and the interior decoration features many of the comic strips it has published over the years.
The Municipal Auditorium is a multi-purpose facility in the city and was part of Kansas City’s "Ten Year Plan", which was a coordinated effort to help the area organize city improvements. The building opened in 1936 and was designed by Hoit Price & Barnes, along with architectural firm Alonzo H. Gentry, Voskamp & Neville. The building is built in an Art Deco style, as seen in the color schemes, lighting, furniture, artwork, and decorative details that were carefully chosen to give it a finessed, even lavish, appearance.
Jackson County Courthouse
The Jackson County Courthouse was one of several public-use buildings that kept Kansas City architects and construction workers employed during the Great Depression. The limestone-faced building was completed in 1934 and was designed by Wight and Wight in an Art Deco style that was popular at the time. While it looks fairly block-like from a distance, up close, the facade is full of intricate, decorative details. The interior matches this extravagance as the courthouse on the second floor is decorated with an elaborate painted ceiling that features portraits of county employees.
Community Christian Church
The Community Christian Church was designed by pioneering American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The architect was asked to design a new church building by the congregation as their previous church had been destroyed in a fire. Wright’s design was based on a parallelogram, along with one additional unique feature – a spire of light. However, due to technical limitations the spire was put on hold and the church was officially opened in January 1942. In 1994, the Steeple of Light was finally completed as planned, 35 years after Wright’s death.
Completed in 2007, the final design of Kansas City’s Sprint Center came from the Downtown Arena Design Team, a collaboration of architectural firms Populous, 360 Architecture, Rafael Architects and Ellerbe Becket. The multi-purpose arena is elliptical in shape with a glass exterior. The interior has a 360-degree LED video screen, which aims to connect the inside to the outside. With its ability to hold up to 20,000 people, the Sprint Center has become a key spot for sporting and music events touring the USA.
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Architect Moshe Safdie is behind the design for the striking Kauffman Center for Performing Arts. Completed in 2011, the building has become an architectural icon in downtown Kansas City. The silvery shell-like structure contains a whopping 40,000 square feet of glass, 25,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 27 steel cables.
National WWI Museum and Memorial
The Liberty Memorial (as part of the National WWI Museum and Memorial) is a Kansas City landmark and was designed by Harold Van Buren Magonigle. Opened in 1926, the memorial is also a museum, and is America's official museum dedicated to World War I. At 66 meters tall, the Liberty Memorial Tower is the most striking structure on the site, and can be seen from quite a distance in the city, especially at night when the tower emits steam that’s illuminated by bright red and orange lights to create a “flame effect”. The tower and buildings are designed in the classical Egyptian Revival style of architecture, which mimics the motifs and imagery of ancient Egypt with a limestone exterior.
Charles Evans Whittaker Federal Courthouse
This building is named after Charles Evans Whittaker, the only Federal Judge from the State of Missouri to become a United States Supreme Court Justice. Designed by AECOM, it took three years to build and is organized around a rotunda, which is the reason for the structure's unique round design. The rotunda is a nod to the country's historic civic structures, as is the roof, emulating the unique roofs of American courthouses of the past.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The original Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art building was designed by prominent Kansas City architects Wight and Wight and was completed in 1933. The building's classical Beaux-Arts architecture style (brought over from France) was modeled on the Cleveland Museum of Art. In 2007, the museum unveiled an extension, which increased the space by 55% through five new pavilions next to the existing neo-classical building. This striking extension was designed by architect Steve Knoll and is called the Bloch Building. The translucent oblong structures glow with light and are a welcome contrast to the original 1933 building.