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I Bet You’ve Never Heard of These Buildings in New York City

I Bet You’ve Never Heard of These Buildings in New York City

by Jamie M. Kwan
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New York City is a magical place.

Okay not really, but it is quite spectacular and is one of my favourite cities to explore. I’ve been several times in my young life, and as someone who plans out strategic walking tours of buildings I HAVE to hit in the most efficient way possible, there are still some places that I have yet to explore.

With winter rolling in, the “city that never sleeps” is a wonderland for tourism: Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…skating at Rockefeller Centre…the cliché date night at Serendipity for frozen hot chocolates …and of course the insane New Year’s Eve parties. If you want to skip the busy tourist sites and find a quieter moment in your trip to New York City this winter, take a walk and check out these awesome hidden architectural gems.

Storefront for Art and Architecture (1993), Vito Acconci and Steven Holl

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Photograph: Artandarch, May 2011

If you’re down near the Bowery or Lower East Side, there are a couple of amazing pieces of architecture that are forever in the shadows of the giant towers of Midtown. You might recognize Steven Holl’s name from several of his über famous buildings around the world (like this building in Beijing, or this one in Massachusetts), but this little museum is really quite amazing if you catch it at the right time. Designed by Holl with artist Vito Acconci, the Storefront is literally a storefront space that has been converted into a gallery for the latest trends in architecture and design. Conventional doors do not exist here. The walls pivot to reveal the Storefront, much like a giant 3D puzzle.

New Museum for Contemporary Art (2007), SANAA

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About a 15 minute walk from the Storefront is the New Museum, by the Japanese firm SANAA. Their only building in New York, SANAA won the Pritzker Prize (essentially…the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Architecture) in 2010 – following the completion of this and several other buildings. Anyways, if you’re walking in this area, it is extremely hard to miss the New Museum; its stark white façade consists of 3 offset masses, squished between two neighbouring heritage buildings. The museum is definitely worth a visit – amazing exhibit spaces as well as a rooftop balcony space midway up the building, where you can get a closer look at the small details in the white elevation (psstt it actually looks like metal fencing!).

Big Bus Tours New York


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Two buildings over is the Sperone Gallery by Norman Foster, whose other building in Manhattan is the Hearst Tower. Again, this one is a time-sensitive visit, as you have to catch the building while the elevator is in action to get the full impact of the architecture, but nonetheless this is a nice art gallery to visit if the frigid winter weather is getting to you. On the main elevation, you’ll see a red mass beyond the glazed façade – that’s the giant elevator. Now you might be thinking…okay big deal, a red elevator…but what you don’t know is that the elevator is really a dynamic extension of the exhibition space, which is capable of moving between floors. There aren’t any signs on the outside of this building indicating it being a gallery, purposely to make it feel exclusive and private. You will surely feel mighty hipster for knowing about this art gallery.

41 Cooper Square, Cooper Union (2009), Morphosis

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You’ll have to admire this one from afar, but this renovated architecture school is hands-down the most dynamic looking mid-rise building in New York City. Morphosis – the design architects for the project – use a folded metal mesh across a typical rectangular structure to create a form that is extremely massive but unique. It’s best to see this building at night, when the inside of the building glows through the meshed façade. If you want to be extra sneaky, act like a  student and walk through the front doors to see the amazing feature staircase – I bet you’ve never EVER seen anything like that before.

Paley Park (1967), Zion & Breen

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Okay, the last one isn’t a building. A little further away is one of the BEST parks in the city – and I’m not talking about Central Park. Paley Park, which was completed in 1967, is literally a hidden gem; you’ll never know it’s here unless you knew exactly what you were looking for. Located at East 53rd Street, the park takes the place of a building squashed between two mid-rise structures, and is considered one of the “finest urban spaces in the United States”. I’ve only been here in the summer, but I can only imagine how much this park transforms in the winter time with the Christmas lights and snow. The feature waterfall is designed to mask the urban noise from the street, making the space extremely serene and intimate. Definitely worth fighting the cold weather to check this park out, and – in my opinion – makes Central Park’s clichéd romantic spots look like anything but romantic.

So there you have it. If you’d like a break from the 2-hour line up at the Empire State Building, or crowds really aren’t your thing, check out these quieter spots in the heart of New York City.

Big Bus Tours New York


I Bet You’ve Never Heard of These Buildings in New York City. A photo tour by Calculated Traveller Magazine's resident architect through the streets of NYC.

Have any other suggestions for a quieter visit to one of the busiest cities in the world? Did I miss any architectural spots in New York City?


Looking for more New York City articles?
Check these out:

– 5 Must-See Works of Art at the Metropolitan Museum, NYC
– citizenM: A Micro Hotel in the Big Apple, NYC – Review

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Martin December 10, 2013 - 9:18 am

New York is on my ‘must see’ list, and this gives me something to put on my ‘must see in New York’ list. Thanks Jamie.

Michael November 26, 2013 - 9:10 am

What a great idea for an article! I’ve been to Paley Park by accident and I loved it.

Eileen November 23, 2013 - 4:07 pm

New York City is also one of my favourite cities to explore. Thanks for pointing out all these uniques spots. I will have to check them out the next time I visit!


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