It’s a common belief that laws require that no building in Washington, D.C. can be taller than the U.S. Capitol dome, which is 288 feet tall. That isn’t specified in the Height of Buildings Act and, according to reports of Congressional debates leading to the act, it was never discussed.
A positive of the height restriction is that the lower profile of buildings in D.C. makes it possible to see the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome from a variety of locations. A major negative is that the height limit restricts the amount of office or apartment/condo space that can be built in the city, which significantly increases the cost of office leases and residential rents within the city.
For instance, New York has more than 100 buildings that are taller than the Washington Monument. Chicago has 70, Houston has 20, Miami 19, Los Angeles 18. And most other major cities have at least one building taller than the Washington Monument. This has led to increased pressure from the D.C. city government to lift the height restrictions so skyscrapers can be built in D.C.
I understand the reasoning, but as a frequent visitor to D.C. I admit I like the the open feel created by smaller buildings.
After all, the low and sprawling Washington skyline aligns with Thomas Jefferson’s desire to make the nation’s capital an “American Paris” with “low and convenient” buildings on “light and airy” streets.
Plus one very tall monument to his friend George Washington, which started construction 22 years after Jefferson’s death.