Best trad buildings of 2020

Tennis pavilion promoted by Melania Trump on the White House grounds. (White House)

Two weeks before President Trump signed his executive order calling for federal buildings to be designed in traditional styles, his wife, the first lady, Melania, announced the completion of a tennis pavilion on the White House grounds designed with the White House itself in mind. It was designed by Steven Spandle, one of three classicists recently appointed by the president to four-year terms on the seven-member U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. The pavilion is not open to the public, and little need be said of it, but it is purely classical and it was completed this past year, this month in fact.


Addition to Trayne Building on Westminster Street, Providence. (photo by author)

For a moment I feared that Melania’s tennis pavilion might be the only classical or traditional building erected in 2020. Then it hit me: Of course! Buff Chace’s new building on Westminster Street, right here in little ol’ Providence! How could I have forgotten it? But I did not forget it. There it is in all its glory, in the photo by yours truly above. It is considered an addition to the Trayne Building, to its left, but is for all intents and purposes a distinct building, designed in a different style calculated to fit in with the street’s glorious diversity of traditional and classical styles.


The Corsair, an apartment house in Greenwich, Conn., completed this year. (RAMSA)

As usual, architect Robert A.M. Stern and his firm produced a number of classical and traditional buildings last year, some quite notable. Scrolling through RAMSA’s portfolio is always an exciting and occasionally depressing experience (the firm does not quail at modernism). It takes me down memory lane, all the way back to its Brooklyn Law School Tower, which I defended against an unfair attack by former NYT critic Herbert Muschamp in 1994 (“Squinting at Prof. Muschamp,” I think it was called). A foretaste of projects for 2021 and 2022 includes a housing block, Audley Square, in Mayfair, London, and a federal courthouse in Charlotte, N.C., and the typical host of impressive collegiate structures. Above is The Corsair, an apartment house in Greenwich, Conn., completed this year.


Maybe I am getting lazy or not rousting my sources into action soon enough, but is it possible that this year’s crop of traditional and classical buildings should be even smaller than last year’s? This year, a major polling organization, Harris, surveyed 2,000 Americans and discovered that up to three-quarters preferred traditional styles, at least for federal courthouses. Then, just over a week ago, the president, as noted above, signed his new executive order to mandate classical and traditional styles for federal architecture. It seems odd that these events should close a year that seems to have boasted very few examples of the styles promoted at the highest levels of government. It is depressing. It is embarrassing. The web is filled with articles glorying in modernist carbuncles that went up this year and are expected next year. Is there a new strain of covid targeting trads? Surely not. But it seems this is the world we live in. Needless to say, any late entries in the 2020 sweepstakes, excluding building renovations, restorations and single-family houses, will be added to this meager post. [See below, added on Jan. 4.]


Since posting “Best trad buildings of 2020” on the last day of that year, more buildings for my annual roundup have come to my attention, including several pointed out by diligent readers of this blog. I am publishing them both on this new post and at the bottom of the original Dec. 31 post.


The main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces. (Wikipedia)

The first, pictured above, is the Main Orthodox Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, dedicated on June 14, 2020. Designed in the Russian Orthodox Revival style, it commemorates what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Its steps are said to have been formed from melted down tanks of the Nazi Wehrmacht.


The Waycroft is a three-building mixed-use comlex in Arlington, Va.

The Waycroft, which opened earlier this year, is billed as a mixed-use residential complex, in Arlington, Va., with a Target on its ground floor. Designed by David A. Swartz Architects, the complex has over 400 luxury units in three connected buildings. A large main building of Art Deco design rises in the background of the picture above, which focuses on a series of traditionally styled townhouses.


Seminary of St. Joseph’s College, near Charlotte, N.C. (St. Joseph’s)

The seminary building of St. Joseph College, in Mount Holly, N.C., near Charlotte, was dedicated on Sept. 14 of this year. It was designed in the Gothic style by Michael G. Imber Architects.


St. Mary of Sorrows Church. (St. Mary)

The new church in Fairfax, Va., for historic St. Mary of Sorrows, built around the congregation’s original tabernacle, was designed by McCrery Architects and dedicated last Nov. 15. The stained glass windows, created by Beyer Studio, to be installed above the church’s alter, represent the seven sorrows of Mary.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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10 Responses to Best trad buildings of 2020

  1. Pingback: Finest trad buildings of 2020 - Zbout

  2. There were some good European ones in 2020. But in general there are more of high quality found in the US. As I wrote to you my dream would be American classical architects designing new architecture in the excellent European urban context. Vice verca I would like French (specifically) traditional architects /planners do the reurbanisation of America.


  3. The Oaked Ridge says:

    Quite a few traditional buildings have been completed in 2020. There is now comprehensive list unfortunately but we are attempting to maintain one at the Skyscraper City forum:

    The following are under construction in 2020 or have been completed (this is only a very limited subset):

    Carroll A. Campbell Jr. U.S. Courthouse – Greenville, South Carolina:

    St. Michael’s Abbey – Orange County, California:

    St. Joseph’s Seminary – Charlotte, North Carolina:

    Grand Belmont – Portland, Oregon:


  4. Michael Behrendt says:

    Beautiful new building behind the White House. Stern’s portfolio is beautiful. These are all new, right? But they are beautiful in direct relation to how traditional, well proportioned, and richly detailed they are. The modern/modernist ones are mediocre at best. Why don’t they just renounce crappy modernist once and for all!?


  5. ray rickman says:

    David- I love Buff Chace’s Trayne addition and I suggest you take a look at Joe’s old new hotel that seems to be 90% restore on Westminster. He has it all lite up most mornings and so i have seen it every morning when I come to the wonderful Merchants Bank Building across the circle. I also hope you will do a write up on our bank building. Since you are the very best architectural writer it makes people stop and pay attention when you do a write up. Happy New York David.


    • I’m looking forward to Joe’s hotel, Ray, but since it is a restoration or renovation it cannot fit into my roundup. But I expect to write about it after it opens. As for the Merchants Bank, It deserves a post on general principles. Maybe I will start an occasional series featuring very lovely old buildings that are not quite state houses or city halls but are worthy of more attention than they get. I saw the apartments upstairs, and they are fabulous.


  6. LazyReader says:

    Was the tennis pavilion really necessary?
    trump doesn’t play tennis and Biden…..will break his foot


    • It was a new building, Lazy. Are you aware of others? I’m sure, hoping against hope, that almost every city and town has had an example of a modest new building designed with traditional principles and finished this past year that I do not know about and which are not reported by any newspapers or magazines, any more than the one I mentioned here in Providence, of which I am aware only because it was built here. Maybe there are such mute, inglorious rays of hope for trads out there. But I must hear of them in order to include them here.


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