The Markel Building – Richmond, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

The Markel Building

Inspired by a foil-wrapped potato, (seriously) the Markel Building has been deemed one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world. 


When architect Haig Jamgochian was served his steaming baked potato during an American Institute of Architect’s dinner, he was suddenly inspired.

Commissioned to design a headquarters location for The Markel Corporation in 1962, Jamgochian’s vision was a round, shiny, mammoth of a building. A potato may have been the original spark of inspiration for the design, but in the 60s, futuristic space aesthetic was a common trend in architecture as well as just about everything else. Calling it “The Potato Building” is snarky fun, but probably not completely warranted.

In 2009, Digital Journal declared the Markel Building to be one of “The World’s 10 Ugliest Buildings.”  While some may agree that the building is a bit of an eyesore, there’s no question that it’s unique; something it has in common with its quirky designer. The exterior of each floor is wrapped in a solid, unbroken piece of aluminum 555-ft. long. The material is significant due to the heavy presence of Reynold’s Metal in Richmond; the length because it is the same footage as the height of the Washington Monument. Much of the aluminum was textured and “crinkled” by hand (well, by sledge hammer) by Jamgochian himself. The building has now been patched up with duct tape and metal parts, which some feel has only added to its futuristic appearance. 

Ugly or inspired, the Markel Building is undeniably unique—Jamgochian designed only one other building, and it is no longer in existence. The other was a residence called “The Moon House,” a bullet-proof glass structure with a crescent moon-shaped roof. The house was commissioned by a paranoid used car salesman named Mad Man Dapper Dan, who was also known in some circles by his true name, Howard Hughes. The Moon House was bought and razed by a developer in 2005, making the Markel Building Jamgochian’s single existing piece of work. 

Know Before You Go

The Markel Building is located a block off of Broad Street in Richmond, less than 3 miles north of the Science Museum of Virginia. From the museum, drive until you see the Willow Lawn shopping center. Make a left at the light that leads into the shopping center (when you see Panera Bread Company), then take a quick right onto Markel Road.

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