The List

By Carter B. Horsley

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 Best

Midtown

 

The Sherry Netherland Hotel

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 south.

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.

Lever House

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, multi-vaulted lobby.

Citicorp Center

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 Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

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 Library

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 quite fine.

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 lean man.

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.

Cartier's

A great mansion converted to retail uses celebrates the Christmas season wrapped in enormous red ribbons. Hooray!

Alwyn Court

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.

The Galleria

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 have suffered.

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 and Modern.

Corinthian

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) Building

An awesome banking hall worthy of a Romanesque cathedral.

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 Hotel

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.

Metropolitan Tower

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 impressive tower.

Trump Tower

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.

River House

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 find anymore.

MetLife (formerly the PanAm) Building

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.

CBS Building

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 east.

The New York Hilton Hotel

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.

Metropolitan Club

A palazzo-style private club with sumptuous interiors and its own impressive gated driveway.

The Gainsborough Apartments

True artists' studios with double-height ceilings and a richly decorated facade should be the model for most apartment buildings.

The former McGraw-Hill Building on West 42nd Street 

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.

Downtown

 

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 modern.

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building)

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 of Broadway


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 is inspiring.

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.

120 Broadway

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 bad idea.

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.

Trinity Church

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 parks anywhere.

26 Broadway

A curved, palazzo-style office tower topped by a handsome lantern.

Jefferson Market Court House Library

A charming, eclectic and handsome Victorian clocktower.

The Wintergarden

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 art program.

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, thankfully.

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.

Grace Church

James Renwick's supremely graceful church set in a lovely garden.

Municipal Building

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.

Waterside

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.

Surrogate's Court

A building of which Paris could be proud. The public interiors are palatially proper.

 

Uptown

 

San Remo apartment building

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 building

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 wake.

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)

Solid wealth.

The Dakota 

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.

The Worst

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 Square.

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 value.

The Coliseum

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.

800 Fifth Avenue

An ugly residential tower with a very unattractive fence blocking its sidestreet garden from public access.

1001 Fifth Avenue

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.

Bloomingdale's

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 and popularity.

Sotheby's

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!

 


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