NYC Iconic Architecture
Image by Florin dr under Creative Commons License.

New York, New York Guide (D): NYC Iconic Architecture

New York City is well known for its skyline, architecture, and skyscrapers. This guide on iconic architecture shows some of the most important buildings that have shaped the history and unique character of the Big Apple.

Included are museums, historic buildings, observation decks, and cathedrals, among others. New York City is one of the few cities in the world with a rich architectural evolution that is both educational and entertaining.
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Attractions Map

Guide Name: NYC Iconic Architecture
Guide Location: USA » New York
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (D))
# of Destinations: 24
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Federal Hall   Trinity Church   St. Patrick's Cathedral   Metropolitan Museum of Art   Cathedral of St. John the Divine   Flatiron Building   Grand Central Terminal   Woolworth Building   New York Public Library   Chrysler Building   Empire State Building   Rockefeller Center   United Nations Headquarters   Seagram Building   Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum   Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts   World Financial Center   Hearst Tower   Bank of America Tower   Brooklyn Museum   Museum of Modern Art   High Line   Brooklyn Bridge   Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower  
Author: Norberto Figueroa
Author Bio: Norbert Figueroa is an architect who is always looking for new ways to reinterpret this world. When he's not designing new buildings and urban spaces, he is traveling around the world with his backpack looking for new experiences and inspiration.
Author Website: https://www.globotreks.com
1
Federal Hall

1) Federal Hall

Built in 1842.

This Greek Revival building was built to replace the old City Hall (built in 1700, demolished in 1812) on the same site that served as the nation’s first capitol building. It was here where George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. The Greek temple front symbolizes the young nation’s democratic ideals.

Two prominent American ideals are reflected in the building's architecture: The Doric columns of the façade resemble those of the Parthenon and serve as a tribute to Greek democracy; and the domed ceiling inside echoes the Pantheon and the economic might of the Romans.

Today it is a free museum and National Memorial that commemorates the historic events that happened there. Part of the original railing and balcony floor where Washington was inaugurated are on display in the monument, as well as the bible used to swear his oath to office.
Image by Gryffindor under Creative Commons License.
2
Trinity Church

2) Trinity Church

Built in 1846.

This is the third Trinity Church built on this site, after the first one was destroyed by fire and the second one weakened by snowstorms. The current church has a Gothic Revival architecture and at the time of its completion its 281-foot (86 m) spire and cross was the highest point in New York until surpassed in 1890 by the New York World Building.

In the churchyard, in addition to Alexander Hamilton's grave, there is a memorial to the unknown martyrs of the revolution buried on the grounds. During the September 11, 2001 attacks, as the 1st Tower collapsed, people took refuge from the massive debris cloud inside the church.

Hours of Operation

Trinity Church:

7am - 6pm Weekdays

8am - 4pm Saturday

7am - 4pm Sunday

Trinity Churchyard:

7am - 4pm Weekdays

8am - 3pm Saturday and Holidays

7am - 3pm Sunday

Trinity Cemetery & Mausoleum:

9am - 4pm Daily
Image by Wikikela under Creative Commons License.
3
St. Patrick's Cathedral

3) St. Patrick's Cathedral

Built between 1858 and 1878.

The Cathedral of St. Patrick (commonly called St. Patrick's Cathedral) is the largest decorated Neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral church in the United States.

The cathedral is the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and it can accommodate 2,200 people. It is located right across Rockefeller Center.

Construction began in 1858 but was halted during the Civil War and resumed in 1865. The cathedral was completed in 1878 and dedicated on May 25, 1879, its huge proportions dominated the midtown skyline during that time. Its spires reach a height of 330 feet (100m).

The cathedral and associated buildings were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Cathedral Hours:

Daily - 6:30 am to 8:45 pm
Image by Mr. Kjetil Ree under Creative Commons License.
4
Metropolitan Museum of Art

4) Metropolitan Museum of Art

Built in 1880.

The world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET) is housed in this Neoclassical building situated in the edge of Central Park and Fifth Avenue. The design shows strength, culture, and wisdom; symbolizing the art sheltered inside. The main building is one of the world's largest art galleries.

Represented in the permanent collection are works of art from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art, among others collections of various cultures. In total, there are over two million works of art in its various collections.

While the building looks like a single design structure, it is made of a series of expansions designed throughout the decades up until 1991 and occupying more than 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2).

Museum Hours:

Tues–Thurs: 9:30am – 5:30pm

Fri & Sat: 9:30am – 9:00pm

Sun: 9:30am – 5:30pm

Mon: Closed (except Holiday Mondays)
Image by Arad under Creative Commons License.
5
Cathedral of St. John the Divine

5) Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Built from 1892.

The cathedral began construction in 1892 and throughout construction it underwent massive stylistic changes that varied from Byzantine to Gothic. Its construction was interrupted by the two world wars, and still to this day it is not finished.

Cathedral Hours:

Monday - Saturday, from 7am to 6pm,

Sunday 7am - 7pm

Public Tours


Individuals and groups less than 10 people can walk through the bustling nave and through the serene chapels to learn about this grand structure. Tuesday - Saturday at 11am & 1pm and Sunday at 1pm

$6 per person; $5 per students/seniors.

Vertical Tours

Saturdays, 12 noon & 2pm. Tours last approx. 1 hour and climb 124 feet through spiral stone staircases to the top of the Cathedral. Where you can see the nave restoration, study its architecture and have a view of Morningside Heights area of Manhattan. Space is limited to 20 people and reservations are recommended. Bring a flashlight. $15 per person; $12 per student/senior.
Image by Louis Waweru under Creative Commons License.
6
Flatiron Building

6) Flatiron Building

Built in 1902.

Considered one of the first skyscrapers in the city, this eye-catching building combined elements of French and Italian Renaissance architecture. It was designed by Chicago's Daniel Burnham as a vertical Renaissance palazzo with Beaux-Arts styling. Like a classical Greek column, its facade is divided into a base, shaft and capital.

The Flatiron building, originally called The Fuller Building, is considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper. Upon completion in 1902 it was one of the tallest buildings in the city and the only skyscraper north of 14th Street.



The Flatiron Building has become an icon representative of New York City, but like with many groundbreaking buildings, the critical response to it at the time was not completely positive. Still, the building's triangular plan was a clever response to the shape produced by the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by 23rd street.

The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
Image by Imelenchon under Creative Commons License.
7
Grand Central Terminal

7) Grand Central Terminal

Built in 1903.

Built by and named for the New York Central Railroad in the heyday of American long-distance passenger trains, it is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44 platforms, with 67 tracks along them.

It's building is modeled on a merge between a Roman triumphal arch and a Roman bath. The Beaux Arts façade and interior concourse present a strong symbol that mixes antiquity with industrialization. It symbolizes the triumph of the railroad and it was envisioned as a gateway to the city.

There is the possibility to do a self guided walking tour of the main concourse and other interior spaces of the terminal.

Hours:

Open to the public daily from 5:30am until 2:00am.
Image by Diliff under Creative Commons License.
8
Woolworth Building

8) Woolworth Building

Built in 1911.

The Woolworth Building, at 57 stories, is one of the oldest skyscrapers in New York City. This once tallest building in the world is one of the masterpieces of early skyscraper design. Still to this day, it remains one of the fifty tallest buildings in the United States as well as one of the twenty tallest buildings in New York City.

The Woolworth Building was constructed in neo-Gothic style by architect Cass Gilbert, who was commissioned by Frank Woolworth in 1910 to design the new corporate headquarters of Woolworth.

The ornate terracotta cladding and design evoke the guildhall architecture of France and Belgium. The building has the title of “Cathedral of Commerce” thanks to the beautiful interior and exterior architectural details.

Since 1966 is has been a National Historic Landmark.
Image by Jonathan71 under Creative Commons License.
9
New York Public Library

9) New York Public Library

Built in 1911.

With a combination of Classical and Beaux Art design, the main branch of the New York Public Library was the largest marble structure in the United States during the early 20th century.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is the third largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries.

Since the New York Public Library is a network of 87 libraries, this building is also known as Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Even though its interior design is not as extravagant compared to other buildings of the era, it is still considered an architectural delight.

Hours:

Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat - 10:00am to 6:00pm

Tues, Wed - 10:00am to 8:00pm

Sun - 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Image by Ken Thomas under Creative Commons License.
10
Chrysler Building

10) Chrysler Building

Built from 1928 to 1930.

Standing at 1,047 ft it was the world's tallest building for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931. Even though it lived as the tallest building in the world only for a few months, the Chrysler building’s Art Deco design placed it in a monumental spot in New York’s skyline. Referencing the automobile, this is one of the first large buildings to use metal extensively on the exterior.

When the building first opened, it contained a public viewing gallery on the 71st floor which was later closed to the public in 1945.

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. It is considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in New York City.
Image by Misterweiss under Creative Commons License.
11
Empire State Building

11) Empire State Building

Built in 1931.

This Art Deco iconic building was the tallest building in the world from 1931 till 1975, when the World Trade Center took the title. After 9/11 it stood again as the tallest building in New York, until surpassed by the new Freedom Tower. The Empire State Building is the first building to cross the 100 floors mark (102 floors) and it broke the record of construction time. It took only one year and forty-five days to build, considering it was built during the Great Depression.

Its name is derived from the nickname for New York, the Empire State. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

The building's distinctive Art Deco spire was originally designed to be a mooring mast and depot for dirigibles, with the 102nd floor used as a platform, but the idea failed.

There is an indoor and outdoor observation deck on the 86th floor and there's another observation deck at the 102nd floor for an additional fee.

Hours:

8am to 2am seven days a week
Image by Jiuguang Wang under Creative Commons License.
12
Rockefeller Center

12) Rockefeller Center

Built in 1932.

This complex of 19 buildings is one of the best examples of urban planning in New York City. Here you will find Radio City Music Hall, the famous Rockefeller skating rink, and the Top of The Rock observation deck.

The centerpiece of Rockefeller Center is the 70-floor, 872-foot GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza ("30 Rock") —formerly known as the RCA Building— located behind the sunken plaza.

It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Its observation deck, Top of The Rocks, is one of the best place to see New York City from above. It offers an impressive view of Central Park as well as the Empire State Building and surrounding skyscrapers.

Hours - Top of the Rock:

Everyday from 8:00am to midnight.
Image by David Shankbone under Creative Commons License.
13
United Nations Headquarters

13) United Nations Headquarters

Built in 1947.

Standing on the eastern shore of Manhattan, on the banks of East River, the United Nations Headquarters remains both a symbol of peace and a beacon of hope.

This modern complex helped revitalize New York City at the end of World War II and it’s 38 stories tower was the first mayor International Style design constructed in the city. The design was based on the plans developed under the collaboration of architects Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier - two of the most well known modern architects of the time.

The complex is also notable for its gardens and outdoor sculptures, among those the "Knotted Gun".

Though it is in New York City, the land used by the United Nations Headquarters is considered international territory.

Guided tours of United Nations Headquarters are conducted Monday to Friday.

Hours:

Monday to Friday – 9:45 am to 4:45 pm
Image by Padraic under Creative Commons License.
14
Seagram Building

14) Seagram Building

Built in 1958.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, in collaboration with Philip Johnson, designed this often-overlooked tower. The building stands 516 feet tall with 38 stories. Although the Seagram Building wasn’t the first all stainless-steel and glass building constructed on Park Avenue, it’s one of the finest and most elegant examples of curtain-wall architecture in the world.

This structure, and the International style in which it was built, which expressed and articulated the structure of buildings externally, had enormous influences on American architecture and it is one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic that was made popular during this time. In addition, it is a masterpiece of corporate modernism and modular design.

Mies created an urban open space in front of the building, which today is a very popular gathering area.
Image by Tom Ravenscroft under Creative Commons License.
15
Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum

15) Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Built in 1959.

The Guggenheim is Frank Lloyd Wright’s (one of the best architects of all times) last major work and it is considered as one of the 20th century's most important architectural landmarks. Its unique form and design make this building an unmistakeable icon. Unlike conventional museums, the main gallery is a spiraling ramp that connects all six floors seamlessly. Its white curled ribbon appearance is in sharp contrast to the more typically boxy Manhattan buildings that surround it.

The museum houses permanent collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art, as well as special exhibitions throughout the year.

Hours:

Sun - Wed, Fri - 10 am–5:45 pm

Thur - Closed

Sat - 10 am–7:45 pm
Image by Figuura under Creative Commons License.
16
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

16) Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

Built in 1968.

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is comprised of a unity of several travertine buildings that surround an open, user-friendly plaza. The center, located between 62nd St. and 66th St. and between Colombus Av. and Amsterdam Av., is considered one of New York’s great collections of modern art and architecture. The Metropolitan Opera House, located on the west side of Lincoln Center, is the focal point of this cultural hub. It is also the largest of the buildings.

While the center's name was derived from its location, Lincoln Square neighborhood, it is unclear if the area was named as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

Guided tours show you the history of the center and take you behind the scenes at many of its venues. Who knows, you might see a famous artist rehearsing their act.

Hours:

Daily - 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Image by MBisanz under Creative Commons License.
17
World Financial Center

17) World Financial Center

Built between 1985 and 1988.

The World Financial Center is a group of four Post-Modernist towers built on the Hudson River landfill next to the World Trade Center site. While they might not be particularly iconic in terms of architecture, they hold an important place in New York’s economy and history. Portions of the complex, especially the Winter Garden, were severely damaged in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The complex was built on landfill used to build Battery Park City. The fill material came from dirt excavated during the building of the World Trade Center, as well as garbage, dirt and debris.

Today, there is a great selection of shopping and dining, as well as an impressive waterfront promenade with gorgeous views towards the Hudson River and New Jersey. In addition, the World Financial Center is the largest year-round, free arts presenter on the East Coast; so make sure to look at their current events.
Image by WiNG under Creative Commons License.
18
Hearst Tower

18) Hearst Tower

Base built in 1928 and Tower built in 2004.

This interesting building, the headquarters for the Hearst Corporation, combines an Art Moderne base with a Late Modern tower. The six-story base was built by the architect Joseph Urban and it was originally intended to be the base of a skyscraper, but the tower was not built due to the Great Depression. In 2004, the base got it's deserved tower, nearly 80 years after original construction.

The modern tower stands 46 stories tall and sharply contrasts the base with its steel and glass façade. The diamond shape pattern on the tower’s façade is derived from the creative structural frame designed by Sir Norman Foster. The original cast stone facade of the base has been preserved in the new design as a designated Landmark site.

Hearst Tower was the first skyscraper to break ground in New York City after 9/11, and it was the first "green" high rise office building completed in the city.
Image by Alsandro under Creative Commons License.
19
Bank of America Tower

19) Bank of America Tower

Built between 2008 and 2009.

This contemporary design incorporates a playful design with its tilted glass walls that deform the shape of the tower as it rises. It is currently New York’s second tallest building (1,200 ft or 366 m), only after the Empire State Building, and it is one of the most highly efficient and ecologically friendly buildings in the world.

The building had a total cost of US$1 billion and was designed by Cook+Fox Architects, currently one of the world leading architecture firms.
Image by User Jleon under Creative Commons License.
20
Brooklyn Museum

20) Brooklyn Museum

Built in 1897.

The Brooklyn Museum is one of the premier art institutions in the world. It is the second-largest art museum in New York City and one of the largest in the United States. Its permanent collection includes objects ranging from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art, as well as the art of many other cultures.

It is housed in a 560,000 square foot (52,000 m²) Beaux-Arts building designed with a steel frame structure but covered with classical masonry. The museum, designed by the famous architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, was supposed to be four times larger than the actual building; but the size was compromised due to New York City government specifications.

Next to it is the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Museum Hours:

Mon & Tues - Closed

Wed - 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Thur & Fri - 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Sat & Sun - 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Image by PaladinHero1 under Creative Commons License.
21
Museum of Modern Art

21) Museum of Modern Art

Built in 1939.

The Museum of Modern Art (also known as MoMA) has been important in developing and collecting modernist art and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. Some of the collections include architecture and design, painting, sculpture, photography, among other.

In 1929, the Museum opened in an existing building on 57th Street, but it wasn’t until 1939 when it moved to its present location. A number of additions attest to the success and popularity of modern art. Philip Johnson added a west wing in 1951 (now the site of the MoMA Tower), as well as an east wing and the widely admired sculpture garden in 1964.

From 1997 to 2004 the museum was redesigned by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

The museum also houses the award-winning fine dining restaurant, The Modern, run by Alsace-born chef Gabriel Kreuther.

Museum Hours:

Sat - Mon: 10:30am – 5:30pm

Tues: closed

Wed & Thurs: 10:30am – 5:30pm

Fri: 10:30am – 8:00pm
Image by hibino under Creative Commons License.
22
High Line

22) High Line

Railway Built in 1939, Park built from 2009 to 2011.

The High Line is a 1.45-mile (2.33 km) linear park built on a section of a former elevated freight railroad spur. The elevated park, designed by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, counts with a design that unifies various architectural pieces and public spaces.

The High Line Park currently runs from Gansevoort Street up to 30th Street.

The park's attractions include naturalized plantings, inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the tracks, as well as unique views of the Hudson River.

In addition to the integrated architecture and plant life, the High Line has cultural attractions as well, like art installations and free yoga classes.

Along the park some of the most iconic buildings are the Standard Hotel, which crosses right over the park, and the Chelsea Market, an enclosed urban food court built in the old Nabisco Factory.

Hours:

7:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily
Image by Beyond My Ken under Creative Commons License.
23
Brooklyn Bridge

23) Brooklyn Bridge

Built from 1870 to 1883.

The Brooklyn Bridge, originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and as the East River Bridge, is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. It connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. With a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m), it was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening until 1903, and the first steel-wire suspension bridge.

The bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, but its construction was finished by his son, Washington Roebling.

The Brooklyn Bridge took 13 years to complete construction and was opened for use on May 24, 1883; at that time the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Since its opening, it has become an iconic part of the New York skyline. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.
Image by Tiago Fioreze under Creative Commons License.
24
Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower

24) Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower

Built in 1927.

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower is the second tallest building in the borough of Brooklyn. At 37 stories and 512 feet (156 m) tall, it was the tallest and is still the third tallest building on Long Island, and is among the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world.

It was built by the architectural firm Halsey, McCormack and Helmer in a modernized (Art Deco) Byzantine Romanesque style. Its interior has a vast, vaulted banking hall, 63 feet (19 m) high. It stands as one of the most famous interiors in New York, decorated with limestone, marbles, mosaics, and huge tinted windows containing silhouetted iron cutouts with vignettes of workers and students, among others. On the exterior, the building features a gilded copper dome; carved lions, turtles and birds.

The building was declared a landmark in 1977.
Image by Gryffindor under Creative Commons License.

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