Filled with iconic buildings, New York City has always been shaped by its architecture. It’s this architecture that has helped New York transform from farmland to the bustling metropolis we know today. In fact, the built environment is so intertwined with the city that it’s impossible not to think of these famous buildings when mentioning New York.
While monuments like the Statue of Liberty are often synonymous with the city, there are a few other famous buildings in New York that also symbolize its rich history. As skyscrapers continue to emerge across Manhattan, there is still a deep love for historic architecture and a New York architecture stroll is the perfect way to get the flavor of the city across different eras.
So what are some of the must-visit pieces of architecture in New York City? While the list could go on and on, we’ve honed in on five buildings that aren’t just architectural gems, but symbols of a city and its history. Check out our list; and when you’re ready to plan your next trip to the Big Apple, don’t forget to check out My Modern Met’s New York City travel guide.
Here are 5 pieces of historic New York architecture any culture lover must visit.
Empire State Building (1931)
It’s hard to imagine New York City without the Empire State Building. This iconic art deco skyscraper reigned as the world’s tallest for almost 40 years prior to the construction to the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Located in Midtown, the Empire State Building was constructed on what was once an 18th-century farm. As historic as the building is now, it underwent 15 design revisions before architects Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon settled on the final design. Today, it’s possible to make your way to the 102nd-floor observatory to take in the sensational panoramic views of Manhattan. (Insider tip: Pick up CityPASS and you’ll have free admission to the Empire State Building!)
Address: 20 West 34th Street
Chrysler Building (1930)
An embodiment of American art deco architecture, the curves of the Chrysler Building are unmistakable. Built as the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation, the skyscraper has always been in competition with the Empire State Building. In fact, the Chrysler Building enjoyed the title of world’s tallest building for just 11 months, prior to being knocked off by its rival. Still, its steel metal frame with decorative metal cladding and ornamental sculptures, as well as its lush interior, help it remain at the top of lists of great American architecture.
Address: 405 Lexington Avenue
Flatiron Building (1902)
Though it’s not as tall as some of the other skyscrapers in the city, the 20-story Flatiron Building was one of the tallest in the city when it was completed just after the turn of the 20th century. Originally called the Fuller Building, the charming architectural gem got its name from its shape, which resembles a cast iron. Architect Daniel Burnham based the design on classical elements, with the Flatiron Building having a base, shaft, and capital similar to a Greek column. Currently an office building, the owners of this historic gem are looking to transform it into a hotel—something that could take years as the leases of the current tenants must run out first. The New York architectural icon is one of the most photographed monuments in the city and is often featured in television and film since its inclusion makes any location instantly recognizable as New York.
Address: 175 Fifth Avenue
Guggenheim Museum (1959)
Not only was the Guggenheim Museum Frank Lloyd Wright‘s last project, it also completely changed the way the world thinks about museum architecture. Though the building faced criticism when it first opened—some critics called it “a giant toilet bowl”—its reputation has only grown over time. As much a showstopper as the art it houses, its unique interior spiraling ramp gently guides art lovers throughout the collection. Wright’s brief was to design a “temple of the spirit” that would allow the public to engage with the collection in a meaningful way. The world-famous building has continued to inspire architects, who were shown that the design of a building can be a work of art itself. Masters like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry certainly took this lesson to heart.
Address: 1071 Fifth Avenue
United Nations Headquarters (1952)
To come up with the perfect design for a building intended to headquarter the United Nations, a brain trust of the world’s best architects was gathered. This included Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, among others from China, Australia, Belgium, Sweden, and the UK. In the end, projects submitted by Le Corbusier and Niemeyer were combined together to create the iconic New York architectural masterpiece. Built in the International Style, the complex overlooks the East River and welcomes over 1 million visitors each year.