New York, USA - April 14, 2018. Tourists at 911 Memorial with Oculus (the World Trade Center Transportation Hub) in background in New York City, USA
Architecture Real Estate

Architecture Insider: Non-Residential Modern Structures in Manhattan

December 3, 2019

Architecture in New York is like flowers in a botanical garden – meticulously curated, wildly varied, and totally beautiful. Here we take a look at a shortlist of one of the varietals: non-residential modern structures. The classification may sound yawn-worthy, but, much like the Cymbidium Orchidaceae – or, simply, Orchid – it most definitely is not.

The Oculus

World Trade Center Transportation Hub NY, NY 10006
Financial District

Consistent throughout reviews of the Oculus – the architectural wonder that houses the World Trade Center transit station, along with 225,000 square feet of retail and dining – are the words “stunning,” “wow,” “must-see,” and “beautiful.” Conversely, it’s been publicly decried as “self-indulgent,” “kitsch,” “hideous,” and as a “monstrosity.” The controversy surrounding the structure aside, the $4 billion project which took eight years to complete, is, indeed, a sight to behold. The exterior of this massive, all-white structure is in the shape of a dove in flight. The interior was designed to let light stream down into the transportation center, and it does this via a skylight that runs the full length of the dove’s spine. The floors are of marble, and the walls are like that of soaring ribbed wings. Indeed, the inspiration for Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was that of “a bird being released from a child’s hand.” Apt symbolism for a structure at the sight of the National September 11 Memorial Plaza, conjuring thoughts of freedom, innocence, and letting go. Inside and out, this structure is spectacular. And, whether you’re in the camp of those deeming the Oculus “amazing and gorgeous,” or of those calling it a “Glorious Boondoggle,” the Oculus in the Financial District is definitely worth a look.

New York, United States - January 11, 2009: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Guggenheim Museum

1071 Fifth Avenue NY, NY 10128
Upper East Side

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) places a site on its World Heritage List, the international community considers that site a cultural treasure, as having “outstanding universal value.” Placement on this list ensures international cooperation for the site’s preservation and protection. Places like Yellowstone National Park, Machu Picchu, and Venice, Italy are on UNESCO’s list. In 2019, The Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s New York masterpiece, was added to that list. The building was commissioned to Wright in 1943, with the admonition from the Guggenheim collection’s curator, Hilla Rebay, “I want a temple of spirit, a monument!” Six separate sets of plans, 749 drawings, and 16 years later, in 1959, the Guggenheim Museum was finally opened to the public. The structure is an upward and outward spiral of massive coils of concrete, all white except for the seeming “negative space.” Inside, the spirals ascend to a glass dome resembling a mandala, which pours light from above into the interior. Paintings float from the walls on concealed metal arms. The building was immediately recognized as an architectural icon, and today is considered one of the most significant architectural icons of the 20th century. In the words of critic Paul Goldberger, “Wright’s building made it socially and culturally acceptable for an architect to design a highly expressive, intensely personal museum. In this sense, almost every museum of our time is a child of the Guggenheim.” 

New York -11 May 2019: the facade of New Museum of Contemporary Art. The New Museum of Contemporary Art, founded in 1977 by Marcia Tucker on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

New Museum

235 Bowery NY, NY 10002
Lower East Side

When, in 1977, former curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art founded the New Museum, her objective was to assimilate new work by living artists into the traditional art museum, opening up the art world to include all artists. When, in 2002, Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA won the commission to design the New Museum’s first freestanding building, they were surprised to find the site: a parking lot in the Bowery. At the time, the Bowery was gritty, and the lot – a mere 71-feet wide and 112-feet deep – was tight for what was wanted: a museum dense with work of varying heights and atmospheres, but with open, flexible gallery spaces. The architects’ solution to these challenges was what helped them win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010, name them one of “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” by Fast Company in 2016, and what the building is today: seven stacked, white rectangles of varying heights and sizes, clothed in a sheen aluminum mesh, “like a strong body in a delicate, filmy, softly shimmering skin.” The ground floor is open to the busy Bowery streets by floor-to-ceiling glass, from concrete sidewalks outside to polished concrete floors inside. Natural light illuminates the eight-level, column-free galleries; steep, narrow staircases lead to open vistas of the city below. In the galleries, the architects experimented with dimensions and the way that daylight falls into the spaces – each time you visit, you experience the art in different ways depending on various conditions and times of the day. The building is the Bowery; it is the Lower East Side – open, inclusive, gritty, expressive, and real. “Now we have a building that meets the city,” says SANAA. “The New Museum is intriguing because it is always trying to find itself and we hope that continues to be so. Our building is an attempt to express that adventurousness and freedom.” 

Ready to run the gamut? Head to the other side of the spectrum by exploring one of NYC’s oldest styles, Federalist Architecture.

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