The Height of Structures Act limits the height of buildings in Washington. The original Act was approved by Congress in 1899 in reaction to the construction of the Cairo Hotel in 1894, which is far taller than the remainder of the city's structures. The law has been updated over time to limit the rise of new structures accordingly.
In addition to being a capital city, Washington is also a state capital. As such, it needs to be able to represent each of its three branches of government. The White House is the president's residence, so it must be close to where he or she works. Capitol Hill is where the legislative branch meets, so it should be able to accommodate them all together. And finally, the Supreme Court building is where the judicial branch gathers, so it should be large enough for them to have ample room to work and store their files.
DC has many important governmental institutions, but they don't all fit on one small island. This means that they need houses that stand tall enough for others to notice, but not so tall that you can see them from across the Potomac River in Virginia or Maryland.
You might wonder why DC doesn't just expand its territory. Well, first of all, it's difficult to justify the cost of more land when you're already living beyond your means.
A common misconception is that the structures are so modest because a statute prohibits them from being taller than the Capitol or the Washington Monument. But this is a myth. In actuality, the height restriction is determined by the connection between the height of the structure and the width of the roadway. The law states that all buildings must be no more than 35 feet high off of a surface with a 10-foot wide roadbed.
The fact is that traffic arteries in our country were not designed to carry heavy loads for long distances, but rather as shortcuts through the city. They are usually not wider than 20 feet, which is why most buildings cannot exceed 35 feet in height. The exception is if they have a special permit from the city to be taller.
Even though the Washington Monument is not supposed to be taller than the White House, people always ask how Ben Franklin was able to build such a tall monument when Congress refused to approve its design. The answer is that the law at the time prohibited any structure from being taller than the Washington Monument, which is why Franklin needed to go to great lengths to prove that his monument was actually intended as a tribute instead of a rival to Washington's achievement.
In the end, it is clear that the Washington Monument is not banned from being taller because it was not meant to be taller. It is banned because it was not meant to be taller according to the design of the roads around it.
The skyline has remained low and expansive in contemporary times, in keeping with Thomas Jefferson's desire to make Washington a "American Paris" with "low and handy" buildings on "light and airy" streets.
The tallest buildings in Washington, D.C. are listed below. This list of the highest buildings in Washington, D.C. lists high-rises in the United States' capital city. The Washington Monument, which stands 555 feet (169 meters) tall and was finished in 1884, is the city's highest building, excluding radio towers.