Manhattan is so large that limiting lists
such as these is very difficult. I hesitate to make such lists,
at least publicly, but "What's your favorite building?"
is the most frequently asked question of a critic.
The Sherry Netherland
- The delicacy and romance
of its minaret spire, the superb proportions of its silhouette,
its great location, the rich dark brown of its brickwork above
its beige travertine base with its dragon lampholders, Harry
Cipriani's Bar, the Doubles Club, A La Vieille Russie gallery,
elegant street-clock, movie stars and just plain rich people
make this the supreme New York property. The hotel manages to
be dramatic and low-keyed at the same time and its knock-out
architecture has the distinctive ring of authority and audacity.
The Helmsley Building
Drive right up and spin your steering wheel
wildly through this imposing and elegant office building that
embraces and straddles Park Avenue with sweeping curves. Its
pinnacle is the city's most glorious chateau. Its
lobby is exhilarating, lush and palatial. This is the mother
of New York towers, regal, definitive andnot easily overwhelmed
even by the bully MetLife (formerly PanAm) Building just to the
The Chrysler Building
Although its entrance and base are less than
inspired and a little disappointing, the spectacular top would
be amazing even without the razzle-dazzle or the needle spire
and angled windows or the shiny eagles. What's truly great here
are the tower's proportions and the imagination.
The United Nations
Le Corbusier's Tower-in-the-Park, this stunning
complex combines a magnificent slab tower, the wonderfully fluid
General Assembly Building with its spectacular lobby, lots of
flags and a very fine riverfront park with interesting sculptures.
Clean lines, pleasant color, a base raised
on columns to provide a garden courtyard without breaking the
low-level street wall, a "floating," modest tower asserting
independence from the traditional full-frontal orientation to
the avenue and glass -- a modern masterpiece.
The Seagram Building
Understated elegance of deeply bronzed warmth,
great proportions and a very large plaza with two pools on a
raised, green-marble bordered podium only hint of the inner sanctums
of power. Confident, but not arrogant. Refined, and reeking of
quality, but open. Classic, but new.
Grand Central Terminal
A thrilling and monumental sculpture crowns
this vast nexus that was not as grand as the demolished Penn
Station across town, but was far more complex, a city-within-a-city
that spawned its own office buildings and hotels while also serving
as a major regional transportation hub.
The Empire State Building
The world's third most famous urban icon,
after the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Chrysler Building, this
handsome tower is awesome in its rare isolation on the skyline,
its expansive coverage in limestone and stainless steel and its
great light mass framed with the gigantic wings of eagles. King
Kong would have liked the addition of the high-tech antenna.
A bit stolid, but gloriously awesome.
The Paramount Building
This modest skyscraper, by Manhattan standards,
not only has a very distinctive silhouette, but also a fine globular
skyline beacon and a four-sided, rooftop clock. What more can
more ask? How about a spectacular and very luxurious movie palace,
incredibly demolished to provide more office space, initially
partially used by The New York Times, and a very attractive,
King Arthur would have seen this thrusting
Excalibur as the hearth of a great city, incandescent in its
shininess, awesome, powerful in its cut. An engineering marvel
of stilts, tuned-mass dampers and diagonal trusses with a kitchen
sink thrown in with a sunken plaza, a nestled church, double-deck
elevators and an atrium, this mighty tower is the city's lonely
but rich, high-tech orphan.
The University Club
A palazzo that the Medicis would want, this
McKim, Mead & White private club is incredibly sumptuous
with a fabulous library and main dining room.
The definitive grand hotel, this is a major
Art Deco monument as well as the major venue of many of the city's
most prestigious and powerful social events in its mammoth and
lavish ballroom. The lobbies are splendid and spacious and the
twin copper-covered tower ornaments are appropriately mysterious.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
The only thing missing from this full-block
property is great art. The architecture inside and out may be
derivative, but it is very beautiful and very impressive and
the location is, well, divine.
570 Lexington Avenue
An Art Deco masterpiece, this slender spire
sports a top more radical than the Chrysler Building and is an
unofficial campanile to the adjacent St. Bartholomew's Episcopal
Church on Park Avenue.
30 Rockefeller Plaza
The centerpiece of the world's most famous
and influential urban enclave, this soaring, finely modulated
slab skyscraper is distinguished by its graceful form, great
entrance and extensive lobbies and concourses. The small
setbacks are extremely effective in the subtle strength of this
giant, whose only flaw is the dastardly closing of its great
multi-level, open observatory, the finest in the city, to make
a little more room for the more expensive dining and drinking
facilities of the Rainbow Room and grill just below.
The Crown Building
For decades, this was the towering landmark
at the world's most important urban intersection at Fifth Avenue
and 57th Street. Technically, it still is, but nearby towers
like Trump Tower, 9 West 57th Street and 712 Fifth Avenue have
dwarfed it in height. Nevertheless, its stunning top and chimney,
perhaps the most glorious in the city, remain the centerpiece
of this elegant district.
Carnegie Hall Tower
The finest example of contextual skyscraper
design in the country, this vertiginous tower not only compliments
but also enhances its namesake concert hall. Architect
Cesar Pelli's abstract picket-fence of a cornice is a most interesting
and fairly sucessful experiment, by New York standards, even
if it is pretty tame by Deconstructivist standards.
The New York Public
One of the city's finest Beaux Arts building,
the library has a lovely large park behind it, but needs another
one in front of it as its two-block frontage on Fifth Avenue
is almost two large to appreciate. The rear facade, facing Bryant
Park, is not very attractive, but the building's interiors are
9 West 57th Street
A sloped, mid-block building scars its streetscapes
nastily, detractors yelled when this through-block behemoth between
57th and 58th Streets rose up behind the Plaza Hotel. True, but
when its black-glass curtain wall is so sleek and finely detailed
and framed in travertine marble it almost single-handedly and
overnight turned the "Plaza District" into the city's
most desirable business address. The through-block lobby
is travertine-sterile except at Christmas time when it dons golden
ornaments that enliven the tall Giacometti sculpture of a very
The Ritz Tower
This spiked luxury apartment hotel is a major
bulwark of pre-World War II Park Avenue. Its elegance also served
as the eastern anchor for 57th Street's fame.
A great mansion converted to retail uses celebrates
the Christmas season wrapped in enormous red ribbons. Hooray!
New York's most decorated building, this is
a marvelous fantasy.
The Chanin Building
Spectacular Art Deco designs on the exterior
of this tower's base and in its lobby are the finest in the city.
The former IBM Building
While the bamboo forest, unfortunately partially
cut down by new owners, in the enormous skylit atrium is the
piece de resistance here, the scary cantilever, fine materials
and angled form of this large office tower are powerful.
The Lipstick Building
With its usually elliptical plan and spectacular
red and stainless steel face, this medium-size office tower was
the city's boldest design since Citicorp Center. Although its
proportions leave something to be desired, this controversial
building is stunning.
This mid-block tower is the most interesting
and innovative mixed-use building in the city. Its tower, fortunately
setback from 57th Street, will win no beauty contest, but its
entrance and atrium are brilliant and its "wintergarden"
balconies and roof-top tenant recreational space are special.
135 East 57th Street
The concave front of this office tower creates
an unusual corner plaza in midtown that is marred somewhat by
a tempietto folly that includes a fountain. The circular "temple"
was a nice idea, just poorly executed, but the project is still
well done even though its very attractive basement retails levels
The Swiss Center
Modesty in the lee of Rockefeller Center.
This small office building is a fine and striking Art Deco masterpiece
with a lovely lobby.
The Four Seasons Hotel
A conservative, corporate, luxury hotel whose
subtlety is surprising given its size. The lobby is suitably
enormous and impressive, but the grace is the Art Deco-style
beacons atop the various setbacks that provide brilliant downlighting.
A finely restrained, but flamboyant hybrid between Post-Modern
A bundled stack of columns, this huge apartment
tower near the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel bursts with
energy and has a palatial lobby.
The former Union Carbide
Building at 270 Park Avenue
Stainless steel penetrating the heavens, this
large tower is potent.
The Home Savings Bank (formerly the Bowery)
An awesome banking hall worthy of a Romanesque
101 Park Avenue
A black slab that is finned and angled and
not in context with anything but its own dynamic.
The New York Marriott
Originally the Shelton Hotel, this Lexington
Avenue hotel inspired Georgia O'Keefe with its massive form,
which is evocative of Hugh Ferris's great architectural drawings
of the city's zoning potential. The boxy structure has a plethora
of gargoyles and decorative sculpture.
Park Avenue Tower
This mid-block, slanted tower is one of the
rare skyscrapers with an appropriately grand and handsome entrance
plaza and through-block lobby. White the tower is a bit too bulky,
this is the best work in the city by Chicago's Helmut Jahn, one
of the world's most interesting architects. The open pyramid
top is simple but different.
Perhaps midtown's most unabashedly modern
tower, this rakish, sleek, black monolith spars with two other
nearby skyscrapers near Carnegie Hall in uptown's only answer
to Lower Manhattan's canyonitis.
Park Avenue Plaza
Take Lever House, refine its green-glass curtainwall,
explode it in scale, plunk it down behind a prestigious, palazzo-style
private club and create a smashing large lobby and you have this
Brassy, yes, but a very fine form and a very
successful and interesting atrium with a great waterfall.
450 Park Avenue
By simply curving the upper and lower portions
of some window bays, this straight-forward, black, medium-size
office tower is transferred from boxiness almost into poetry.
All the chic dreams of Hollywood's urban romances
in the 1930's rolled up into one mighty residential luxury high-rise
palace. Thorn shorn of its own dock, it still houses a prestigious
club, the River Club, and its apartments are splendiferous. The
Dead End Kids that used to haunt the neighborhood are hard to
MetLife (formerly the
Although it just about ruined the vistas of
Park Avenue by dominating the great Helmsley Building, this is
a great, though very flawed building that is the most important
example of Brutalism in the world. Despite cheap materials and
a corny renovation of its vast lobby spaces, this building has
a powerful form and its public circulation layout works superbly.
The former American Radiator Building
Although it was the first skyscraper to be
designated an official New York City landmark, it is not the
most important skyscraper in the city. It is simply a very intriguing
one because of its dark color and gold accents.
The Fred F. French Building
This ornate, setback, slab tower has
rich, colorful and mythic decoration and fine proportions.
World Wide Plaza
This very attractive, Post-Modern uptown version
of the great New York Life Insurance Building on Madison Square
not only makes all the right urban design gestures, but was a
courageous foray into a dangerous no-man's-land by the developers.
Its roof-top beacon is marvelous.
Republic Bank Building
A very complex solution to preserving a landmark,
this is a grandly ambitious and expensive project that is most
interesting even if not perfect.
Like the former Union Carbide Building, the
verticality of this building's form soars, although the dark
glass and charcoal gray stone facade are much more somber than
the former's stainless steel. Derisively known as "The Black
Box," the building is an abstract sculpture, but not a great
one. The tower is significantly enhanced by its slight
sunken plaza and also by the nice park created by the Deutsche
Bank Building (formerly the E. F. Hutton Building) directly to
The New York Hilton
Although its massive base is bland, the blue-glass
bay windows of the large slab tower are very attractive.
The Queensboro Bridge
Intricate and dense rather than delicate and
graceful, this is fascinating and romantic and its prospect is
the main attraction for the Sutton Place area.
A palazzo-style private club with sumptuous
interiors and its own impressive gated driveway.
True artists' studios with double-height ceilings
and a richly decorated facade should be the model for most apartment
The former McGraw-Hill Building on West
This "Green Giant" office tower
on West 42nd Street is severe modernism tempered by its unusual
color, a great ribbed top and its curved entrance.
The New York Yacht Club
This mid-block private club exudes exuberance
and the indulgence of whimsy.
17 State Street
The best new building built after World War
II in the city, this curved, reflective-glass tower overlooking
the Battery and the harbor is supremely elegant and stunningly
The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller
Perhaps the best of the first generation of
skyscrapers, this triangular tower at the prominent intersection
of Fifth Avenue and Broadway combines massive facades of great
articulation and modulation on its long sides and a very narrow,
rounded edge facing north. The effect is monumental, but graceful,
a difficult and rarely achieved result.
The Guggenheim Museum
Up close and personal, this famous building
is a little disappointing because of the imperfections of its
relatively cheap facade. Still, there is no denying that this
is immensely powerful architecture, not at all lessened by Gwathmey-Siegel's
quite excellent tower expansion at the rear, always planned by
Frank Lloyd Wright, the museum's architect. While it is true
that the museum might have been even more spectacular if it had
been built in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, those who criticized
it for interrupting the street-wall of Fifth Avenue were barking
up the wrong tree. As it occupies a full block-front, it is self-contained
and self-propelling, greatly enhancing its surroundings with
drama, surprise, and, more views. The spiral rotunda, of course,
is the great focus here, the best place in the world to look
at large abstract buildings. Of course, one should be on the
other side of the inclined ramps to do so.
The former U. S. Customs House at the foot
The city's finest Beaux Arts structure now
houses a branch of the National Museum of American Indians and
its elliptical rotunda with large murals of the harbor by Reginald
Marsh are wonderful. Daniel Chester French's heroic sculptures
of the "four continents" facing Broadway, of course,
enliven this robust structure.
70 Pine Street
This spectacular tower boasts the city's greatest
room, the observatory which is enclosed entirely with windows
and balconies at the base its lofty spire. Although the Art Deco
building is rather spartan in its decor, its vertical thrust
25 Broadway (formerly the Cunard Building)
From the outside, this is just a very handsome
palazzo-style, medium-size office tower, but the interior former
shipping hall is breathtaking despite the intrusion of a space-frame
postal station that fortunately did not ruin the sensational
decorations of the mammoth space.
This sleek, black office
tower that would be just very handsome but is made soaring by
Isamu Noguchi's fine red cube sculpture at its entrance.
55 Wall Street
An altered landmark, this low-rise building
boasts the city's most sumptuous banking hall that one developer
in 1996 threatened to turn into a disco, which was not such a
1 Wall Street
A simple fluted tower of great elegance with
a raffishly red mosaic banking hall and board room.
Federal Reserve Bank
This mighty fortress is as fine an Italian-Renaissance
palazzo as one could hope to find anywhere.
A dark brown church of great dignity with
a large cemetery sited at the seat of power in New York's ascendancy
to greatness. The somber church is handsome and impressive, but
it is the surrounding graveyard that is wonderful. This
is the epicenter of Lower Manhattan and one of the nicest small
A curved, palazzo-style office tower topped
by a handsome lantern.
Jefferson Market Court House Library
A charming, eclectic and handsome Victorian
Cesar Pelli's spectacular centerpiece for
his World Financial Center is the city's finest interior space,
opening onto the North Cove Marina and the Hudson River. This
is what waterfront urban development should be.
The World Financial Center and the Battery
Park City Esplanade
Although the towers are rather clumsy, the
detailing and scale of this vast complex is only rivaled by Rockefeller
Center. Many of the second generation residential buildings are
quite pleasant, and this vast complex has an ambitious and good
The World Trade Center
A terrible project that nonetheless is awesome
looking thanks to its innovative structure that permitted large
column-free spaces in the towers although the narrow spacing
of the mullions obstructed its own vistas. For all its many flaws,
this is still monumental. It was demolished in the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001.
77 Water Street
A simple, clean-cut, boxy office tower of
extraordinary invention and fantasy including a rooftop sculpture
of a World War I fighter plane and a country general store behind
a moat instead of a lobby.
The Woolworth Building
Although the company fought landmark status,
it has lavished millions on the careful and well-done restoration
of this great terra-cotta, Gothic-style skyscraper, for many
years the tallest office building in the world. It is majestic
and regal in its proud, most erect posture and boasts a sumptuous,
almost Byzantine splendor in its high-vaulted lobby of gilded
mosaics and Gothic-style woodwork.
The MetLife Tower at One Madison Avenue
An exploded, improved rendition of the great
tower in Venice, this triumphant clocktower happened to contain
a lot of offices and a major observatory that has long since
been sadly closed to the public. The insurance company made a
bad decision in "modernizing" the facade of this great
tower a few decades ago, but the new facade, which blurred and
erased a lot of detailing, did not make much of a stylistic change,
11 Madison Avenue
Another MetLife property, this one was truncated
at its base and had been planned as the world's tallest office
building and its base can still support such a plan. Cut-off,
it still is a great building, even greater than the adjacent
MetLife Tower for which it was built to serve as an annex. The
scalloped facade and the four great arched corner entrances,
as well as the impressive lobby, give this massive, full-block
behemoth a grandeur, elegance and energetic dynamic without peer.
James Renwick's supremely graceful church
set in a lovely garden.
Straddling Chambers Street, this broad, bent
city office building sports a lovely gilded skyline ornament,
a free-standing colonnade and a large and attractive, vaulted
loggia. It is awkward in its siting, but its pomp is undeniable.
This huge residential complex on a platform
along the East River is resonant with its own presence and that
of the surrounding city, Tall, chamfered, slightly cantilevered
towers rise mightily.
Appellate Division Courthouse
Small, but deliciously ornate inside and out.
The Statue of Liberty
Lovely. Just lovely.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Rather ungainly, but entrenched.
A building of which Paris could be proud.
The public interiors are palatially proper.
San Remo apartment
The best of Emery Roth & Sons twin-towered
residential buildings on Central Park, this sets the standard
for innovative, glamorous, high-rise living.
The Beresford apartment
Emery Roth & Sons' only triple-towered
residential building, this very fine building is quite daring
in its asymmetry even if its proportions are bit too robust.
The Whitney Museum of American Art
Marcel Breuer's rigorous but inviting Brutalist
legacy, replete with deep moat, crazed windows, and looming cantilevers.
It's not great, but its spaces work very, very well with flexible,
high galleries, a fine stairway and marvelous materials. It's
not great, but it is better than an awful lot else. Thankfully,
Michael Graves horrible, awful and arrogant proposed expansion
over and next to it did not find financing!
1199 Plaza (112th Street and the East River)
This cluster of four stepped, U-shaped, dark
red-brick apartment towers along the East River in East Harlem
is the city's finest public housing. Aggressive forms in earthy
color exuding the sense of community and protection.
Arthur A. Schomburg Plaza
(Fifth Avenue and 110th Street)
The second-best public housing development
in the city, these two octagonal towers at the northeast corner
of Central Park are very handsome and just the proper gateway
to a new Harlem that unfortunately has not yet followed in its
The Frick Collection
The exterior is pleasant, especially the Fifth
Avenue garden, but the interiors are the best in the country.
To its shame, however, the Frick tore down the handsome
Widener mansion to the east to create a totally unnecessary,
though pleasant walled/fenced garden.
Sacred Heart School (the former Otto Kahn
mansion) (Fifth Avenue & 91st Street)
Its pale yellow facade and its great cast-iron
fence are the real glories here, not the ritzy tenants in their
very spacious apartments. The building is divided into
four main apartment sections each with their own entrance from
the large courtyard.
41 Madison Avenue
A bland, uninspired office/showroom tower
built by the Rudins, who later began to erect
much finer buildings. This bronze-glass tower
ruined the great architectural ambiance and heritage of Madison
439 Fifth Avenue
A thin, undistinguished office tower across
from the New York Public Library.
55 Water Street
A mammoth office complex that has no redeeming
The abominable bane of Columbus Circle. The
city's former convention center combined with a mid-sized office
building epitomized everything that was wrong with much post-World
War II design. Inexcusable blandness. Finally replaced
in 2004 by Time-Warner Center.
The Park Lane Hotel
What a wasted opportunity to add to the exotic
roofline of Central Park South!
2 Penn Plaza
This is what Penn Station was demolished for.
What an indictment of the city.
The Asia Society
Nice materials cannot conceal the inert boxiness
of this building even if its side-street garden facade is not
too bad. The society hangs an uninspired large flag on Park Avenue
that no one has complained publicly about, surprisingly.
An ugly residential tower with a very unattractive
fence blocking its sidestreet garden from public access.
A routine, bland apartment tower with a fake-front
mansard roof. Philip Johnson's worst building even if he used
some limestone and tried to continue the cornice line and courses
of the adjacent, authentic "luxury" apartment building.
The Lexington Avenue frontage is not too bad
and has some Art Deco touches, but this full-block department
store is a mess, all the more galling because of its pretense
This grim warehouse on York Avenue at 72nd
Street can't possibly have anything to do with art!
Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building
A ghastly, inexcusable intrusion into Foley
Square, whose plaza for a while sported a hideous and controversial
monstrosity of a curved metal wall sculpture designed by
Richard Serra but which now has a fairly pleasant plaza that
nonetheless does not make the terrible architecture any better.
Lenox Hill Hospital
Park Avenue pink? No, puke!
St. Vincent's Hospital
Surely there was no reason not to tear down
one of the city's most attractive Georgian-style buildings, as
well as the finest movie palace in Greenwich Village to put up
an unattractive building and a parking lot for trucks.
Community Garden behind
the Jefferson Market Courthouse
Let's make a nice garden on the site of the
demolished Art Deco Women's Prison and put up a very large and
very unsightly chicken-wire fence around it!