The Architecture Buff

Few cities in the world have New York’s knack for staying modern while keeping itself classic, all while maintaining a mesmerizing, cohesive skyline. As a whole, from a distance or within the city itself, the concrete peaks and valleys flow into and ... more

Few cities in the world have New York’s knack for staying modern while keeping itself classic, all while maintaining a mesmerizing, cohesive skyline. As a whole, from a distance or within the city itself, the concrete peaks and valleys flow into and out of each other like a spectrum analyzer on a really good song. Taken building by building, however… well, that’s actually pretty fantastic too. There are as many ways to see the architecture of New York as there are buildings to see. If you’re up for a bit of walking, $15 will get you into one of the Municipal Art Society’s walking tours, which get as broad as a jaunt around Tribeca for a look at the residential and mercantile buildings littering the streets or as specific as tours around the World Trade Center site for discussions about the progress of the new Transportation Hub, 1 World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower), and the already completed 7 World Trade Center. Reservations are not required, but it pays to show up before the tour leaves. Gray Line’s New York Sightseeing buses are themselves city landmarks and offer quick, hop-on-and-off transportation around the city, saving precious time for those un... more

Few cities in the world have New York’s knack for staying modern while keeping itself classic, all while maintaining a mesmerizing, cohesive skyline. As a whole, from a distance or within the city itself, the concrete peaks and valleys flow into and out of each other like a spectrum analyzer on a really good song. Taken building by building, however… well, that’s actually pretty fantastic too.

There are as many ways to see the architecture of New York as there are buildings to see. If you’re up for a bit of walking, $15 will get you into one of the Municipal Art Society’s walking tours, which get as broad as a jaunt around Tribeca for a look at the residential and mercantile buildings littering the streets or as specific as tours around the World Trade Center site for discussions about the progress of the new Transportation Hub, 1 World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower), and the already completed 7 World Trade Center. Reservations are not required, but it pays to show up before the tour leaves.

Gray Line’s New York Sightseeing buses are themselves city landmarks and offer quick, hop-on-and-off transportation around the city, saving precious time for those uninterested in walking between the many arts and architectural areas. Helicopter tours take a completely different view of the city, giving riders aerial angles of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Hudson, also taking you past Midtown’s dazzling collection of skyscrapers.

Architecture: The Big Four
One important thing to keep in mind about doing things that are overly touristy: the most-visited spots in any city—New York in the extreme—are just so for a reason. The Empire State Building may have achieved landmark status in 1981, but there’s no denying its immediate and long-standing stature in the world of architecture and the hearts of New Yorkers especially. Built as the Great Depression consumed the country (and halving the expect cost of the building), the only building that King Kong cared to climb boasts panoramic views of Manhattan from both 86th and 102nd floor observatories (although the extra six floor come at a price).

Long usurped by its attention-stealing younger brother, the Chrysler Building is one of the few buildings that refuses to simply exist peacefully within the city skyline. A gigantic reflective obelisk—and briefly the tallest building in the world in the months between its and the Empire State Building’s completion—the 77-story building offers a stylistic alternative to its brother’s dark tones, and both are supreme examples of Art Deco architecture. The farthest into the Chrysler Building that anyone’s allowed is the lobby, which, along with the stunning views afforded visitors from a close view of the building from 42nd and 43rd Street, is well worth the trip.

Probably the best-known transit hub in the world, Grand Central Terminal has been a point of entry for and an architecture treasure of New York for over a century. Restored in 1988, the ceiling of the Main Concourse is one of the more stunning examples of Beaux-Arts architecture, with its massive rendering of the night sky—complete with constellations—and one still-grimy patch left by the restorers for contrast. Tours are offered at $5 per person for groups of ten or more or $50 for any group under ten, but its free to simply wander the hallways and rampways of the station. Grand Central’s website offers a do-it-yourself audio tour, an app for exploring the station, and a guided Grand Tour by the Municipal Art Society, all of which include iconic locations like Clock #1, the Sky Ceiling, and the Whispering Gallery.

Fourth is the Brooklyn Bridge, the world’s first steel suspension bridge and New York’s first bit of connective tissue between Manhattan and Brooklyn (which wouldn’t become a borough of New York for another fifteen years). Best approached from High Street station (A and C trains) on the Brooklyn side or the Chambers Street (J, M, & Z trains) and Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station (5 and 6 trains) on the Manhattan side, visitors can walk from one borough to the next on the world’s first elevated promenade, all while enjoying beautiful views of the East River, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

Other Awe-Inspiring Architecture
It’s impossible to list architectural wonders in New York City without missing a few, but here are a few you can’t miss. Rockefeller Center (including the GE Building) is the largest private building enterprise that’s ever been undertaken in the United States and accommodates massive amounts of shopping, an ice skating rink, and more references to the Greek god Zeus than is probably necessary. The Plaza and Waldorf Astoria hotels stand as two of the most brilliant—and expensive—pieces of real estate on the island, the latter of which has been around since 1893, although it was supplanted from its original location by a little thing we like to call the Empire State Building.

The New York Public Library's main branch and Jefferson Market branches of the New York Public Library are, literally, two of the most picturesque and architecturally interesting libraries in the United States. You may remember the former from its co-starring role in the first Ghostbusters movie.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Arc de Triomphe probably blushes at the thought of Washington Square Park, where the French Arc is recreated, standing astride Fifth Avenue, and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza, which—along with other monuments scattered around Prospect Park in Brooklyn and, indeed, a good deal of New York itself—celebrates the role of France in turning the tide of the Revolutionary War in America’s favor.

Still one of the fifty tallest buildings in the country, the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway is also one of the oldest in the city and easily one of the most recognizable, with its neo-Gothic design recalling the style of European cathedrals. Speaking of gothic cathedrals, if hordes of tourists are checking out St. Patrick’s Cathedral and any self-respecting architecture nut passes it by, they’re missing an all-marble masterpiece with gorgeous gothic spires reaching 330 feet into the air with two altars designed by Tiffany & Co., and an unknowable number of artistic intricacies that all combine to make one of the most celebrated buildings in the Decorated Gothic style. Rather imposing is the massive Cathedral of St. John The Divine, made originally in the Byzantine-Romanesque style and later transmuted to the more popular Gothic style. It has been under construction and renovation for over a hundred years and has never quite been completed, owing to the interruption of two world wars, one Great Depression, the death of one of the chief architects, and funding shortfalls. Incomplete, it stands as a testament to the difficult and time-consuming process of building such a cathedral and as a contrast to the accomplishment of St. Patrick’s.

The Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s last major work, stands as a piece of art itself but most likely wouldn’t fit inside of one of its own galleries. Nothing could be further from Wright’s design sense than the wedge of concrete known as the Flatiron Building—or the Fuller Building—one of the world’s very first skyscrapers and the source of the surround neighborhood’s moniker: the Flatiron District.

There are so many beautiful buildings to see in New York that true buffs would be foolish not to pick up a copy of the American Institute Of Architects' AIA Guide To New York City. The York chapter of the AIA also offers an architectural blog that’s a must-read for visiting and native architectural buffs alike.


Drag the street view to look around 360°.
Use the arrow buttons to navigate down the street and around the neighborhood!

Editorial Rating