New York City is arguably the greatest city in the world. So it stands to reason that some of the world’s greatest architects have done some of their greatest work in the greatest city.
Too often however, visitors whiz right by these structural masterpieces. What a shame!
This summer — actually whenever you’re in town — take the time to appreciate the grandeur and beauty of some of New York City’s most stunning architectural landmarks. It’s fun, edifying and completely free. Just put on a pair of walking shoes, grab a bottle of cold water, and treat yourself to a world-class architectural tour.
And pack a camera. Odds are good you’re going to want to treat your friends — the ones you hang with and the ones who follow you on social media — to all that grandeur too.
Architect: Santiago Calatrava
Look up in the sky. Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s the Oculus.
This giant-sized structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is officially the World Trade Center Transportation Center. And it is a PATH station and a 12-lines subway station. At least, underground. But above ground, this stunning white soaring edifice, known as the Oculus, has little to to do with catching a train. It is one gorgeous mega-space with a retractable roof. Just look up — and feel your jaw go south.
Made of glass and steel, this vast, natural-light-filled hub was designed to resemble a white dove taking flight. Its roof is 150-feet tall, its floors white marble, its mezzanine wide open, and its $4 billion-price tag? Huge; it is reportedly the world’s most expensive train station.
The Oculus is also a high-end shopping mall. (New York City, which used to pride itself on not having any malls, in the recent past has added a handful.) If you’re looking to part ways with some money, there are plenty of opportunities; shops include Ugg, Longines, Kate Spade and Cole Haan. If you’re looking for a bite, there’s Shake Shack, Epicerie Boulud, Sweetgreen and Pret a Manger, among other chains. But, for better eats plus gorgeous Hudson River views, walk five minutes west to the massive food court at nearby Brookfield Place, another relatively new, another high-end mall in the city, where you’ll find excellent hand-rolled Montreal-style bagels at Black Seed Bagels; deliciously gooey chicken parmigiana at Parm; a juicy burger at legendary P.J. Clark’s and delectable French fare at Le District, a mini French marketplace. Yes, more opportunities for you to part with your money.
Go: 70 Vesey St., officialworldtradecenter.com.
The Whitney Museum of American Art
Architect: Renzo Piano
The contemporary works of art inside the “new” Whitney in New York City’s fashionable Meatpacking District (the old one was on Madison Avenue and 75th Street) may be cool. But the building? It’s a work of art too.
Designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Renzo Piano (perhaps best known for The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris), the building may not impress as you drive or walk by. It is a jarring and aggressive structure that might remind you of some of the factories on the New Jersey side of the river. But go inside, and its charm is revealed immediately. It is open, airy, sleek and, yes, inviting. A staircase outside, not easily seen from ground level, leads you to terraces from which you can glimpse old New York — rooftop water tanks, cobblestone streets, metal sidewalk canopies. Its lobby is grand and, until recently, it housed Untitled, Danny Meyer’s James Beard-award winning vegetable-focused American restaurant. A grab-and-go restaurant, Whitney Cafe, has replaced it.
You don’t have to visit the museum to hang in the lobby or enjoy a sandwich at the cafe. Though, it would be a shame to make the trek there and then not see the work of some of America’s most celebrated artists including Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder (check out his delightful “Circus;” it’s worth the admission price alone — $18 to $25. Free Friday from 7 to 9:30 p.m.).
Go: 99 Gansevoort St. (between 10th Ave. and Washington St.); 212-570-3600, whitney.org.
Architect: Thomas Heatherwick
Call it King Kong’s jungle gym. Call it a colossal shawarma. Or call it a burrito from hell. The Vessel, the focal point of Hudson Yards, an ultraluxury neighborhood and mall that sprung up in New York’s far West Side two years ago, has been called all of that and more. And while critics don’t like it much (the New York Times described it as a “waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere, sheathed in a gaudy, copper-cladded steel”), the soaring spiral staircase nevertheless has managed to delight visitors. They come to climb its 2,500 stairs and not only get glorious (16-story-high) views of the city but bragging rights. For those who’d rather save their energy for shopping and eating at the sprawling mall (yes, still another in New York City) that the Vessel stands before, there’s an elevator.
The Vessel was designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who may have struck out with the Vessel but got high marks for his more recent design, media mogul Barry Diller’s Little Island, a delightful public park on 13th Street and the Hudson River (and do visit it too).
By the way, if you aren’t afraid of heights, consider checking out Hudson Yards’ observation deck, an all-glass triangular platform suspended in mid-air.
You will need a ticket to visit either one. The Vessel’s ticket costs $10 for anyone over age five (bring someone along; due to a number of suicides, no one is allowed to climb by themselves). A ticket for the deck costs $36.
Go: 20 Hudson Yards; 332-204-8500, hudsonyardsnewyork.com/discover/vessel.
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The IAC Building, New York, New York
Architect: Frank Gehry
It’s nearly impossible not to notice this all-glass, undulating building that sits on Eleventh Avenue and 18th Street; How in the world did someone manipulate glass to look like peek-a-boo pleats of a gigantic skirt? This architectural wonder is acclaimed architect Frank Gehry’s first building in New York City and the headquarters of media company InterActive Corp. (IAC).
In case you’re not a Gehry groupie (I confess to being one): Among his many award-winning works are the Guggenheim Bilbao (Philip Johnson called it “the greatest building of our time”), the magnificent Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the stunning theater on the campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. His work is surreal. Often his outer walls, usually made of titanium, billow out, curve dramatically and take on wild geometric shapes that look as if they have been placed haphazardly by a madman, when in fact they are brilliantly situated and impossible to discount.
Titanium was not used for the nine-story IAC building, but glass. It’s stunning, it’s unique, and, according to Vanity Fair, one of the most attractive office buildings in the world. Let’s just say, odds are good it’s nothing like where you work.
Pre-COVID, the public was allowed to visit the building’s lobby, which features the biggest (118-foot-long) video wall in the world and a wood bench that winds its way along one wall. It was also available to rent for parties and conferences. Currently only essential workers are allowed to enter the building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t peek through all that glass until all restrictions are lifted.
Go: 555 W. 18th St., 212-314-7300, iac.com.
100 11th Avenue
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Right next door to Frank Gehry’s IAC building is Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel’s 23-story residential tower. It looks like a funky quilt made up of various sized window panes that are tilted in different angles and in different directions. One of its sides alone is comprised of more than 1,600 windowpanes. The building even curves to give its lucky inhabitants more light and views. And passersby? Something to behold.
Go: 110 11th Ave., at 19th Street.
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Architect: Bjarke Ingels
A building shaped like a somewhat hollowed-out pyramid? Sure. As songwriter Cole Porter put it a long time ago, anything goes, especially in New York.
Danish architect Bjarke Ingels first New York building is a startling 709-unit residential complex that resembles a bent pyramid that deeply slopes toward the street. Some of its balconies are even skewed.
Having trouble picturing it? One reviewer described it as “a quarter of a watermelon that’s had a large chunk surgically extracted from its center.” Yes, you’ve gotta see it.
The building has won several awards, including the International Highrise Award (as did the Hearst Tower, also on West 57th Street but not as far west; see below).
Go: 625 W 57th St.
More must-see NYC landmarks
The Seagram Building. The building that paved the way for modern corporate skyscraper design, the Seagram Building, a Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson masterpiece, wowed the world when it was completed in 1958 and today is still one of the most revered office buildings. To some (many?) it may look like a boring bronze box, but oh what a box: its beauty is subtle, its symmetry compelling, its significance profound. 375 Park Ave. (between 52nd and 53rd St.)
Hearst Tower. Pritzker-award-winning architect Norman Foster (the restored Reichstag in Berlin and Apple Park in Cupertino, Californa) dared to put a super-modern glass skyscraper, the first skyscraper to be built after 9/11, on top of a century-old six-story stone building. And? “This 46-story tower may be the most muscular symbol of corporate self-confidence to rise in New York since the 1960s,” the New York Times proclaimed. A “gorgeous gem-like tower,” said the New Yorker. And the architectural profession spoke by giving it awards, including the International Highrise Award. 300 W. 58th St. (on 8th Ave.).
The Apple Store. Considering that Apple, the company, is known for its innovative future-forward design, any wonder its Fifth Avenue store looks, well, futuristic? A 32-foot glass cube. At night the cube lights up. It’s super cool. 767 5th Ave. (between 58th and 59th Streets).
One World Trade Center. One WTC is the tallest building in the nation and the sixth-tallest in the world. That may be reason enough to go see it. 285 Fulton St.
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
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