Travel Guide: The Lesser-Known Architectural Gems of New York City

Experience NYC’s contemporary design away from the traditional tourist hotspots.

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

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Our travel series aims to guide you through a great day out in iconic cities around the globe — with an architectural twist. These tours offer the chance to experience contemporary design away from the traditional tourist hotspots, offering an alternative angle on the world’s metropolises. Up this week: New York City!

Wake up at: The Standard, High Line by Ennead Architects

Why simply walk with the rest of the tourists when you can drink your morning coffee far above them? Ennead’s 18-story hotel straddles one of Manhattan’s most successful urban regeneration projects, the High Line park by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The building’s bold, tapering stilts support a concrete and glass structure that harks back to the golden days of midcentury modernism, offering spectacular views north and south along the Hudson River.

View art at: David Zwirner 20th Street by Selldorf Architects

After you’ve enjoyed an espresso over a copy of the New York Times, head down the High Line to a gallery containing extraordinary exhibitions of contemporary art — all hidden behind a concrete and teak façade that emanates an air of sheer sophistication. Inside, a restrained palette of white render, steel balustrades, and warm timber floors allow the art to take center stage. Fans of minimalism will enjoy a slow walk up the main staircase, which ascends an atrium wrapped with cool, board-formed concrete.

Gaze up at: Hearst Tower by Foster + Partners

It’s not a skyscraper that every tourist frequents, primarily because it is a commercial structure where public access is limited to the entrance lobby. However, it is well worth strolling along West 57th to check out Norman Foster’s first tower in New York City, which forms a bold vertical extension above Joseph Urban’s original Art Deco building. The sleek, high-tech design illustrates why the British architect has become globally renowned, and more work by ‘BIG’ name architects can be found just up the road: take a peek at Bjarke Ingels’ striking pyramidal apartment block, just a few blocks west.

Grab lunch at: Baked by Fjord Architecture

Originally a trendy Brooklyn haunt, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked café spawned a stylish new branch in Tribeca last year decked out with natural finishes and a dash of contemporary flair by Fjord Architecture. The modern interiors are sleek yet comfortable, and the menu offers a wealth of unusual treats including toast topped with zucchini butter and coconut curry-spiced chocolate cookies, no less.

Take a peek at: 170 Amsterdam by Handel Architects, LLP

Fans of structural expressionism can find a hidden gem a couple of blocks west of Central Park in the form of Handel Architects’ 170 Amsterdam, a condominium with an unusual concrete exoskeleton. The lattice of tubular elements was designed to maximize floor space for the units within the long, narrow site, and the concrete was mixed with a special aggregate that gives it the appearance of limestone, a nod to the surrounding neighborhood.

Catch a performance at: Alice Tully Hall by Diller Scofidio Renfro

Of course, there are countless world-class venues on Broadway to view opera or a theater performance, but few possess as much architectural allure as the recently renovated Alice Tully Hall. Diller Scofidio Renfro’s intervention forms a radical yet respectful adaption of Pietro Belluschi’s brutalist Juilliard Building with some seriously atmospheric lighting design, as the architects note: “Illumination emerges from the wood skin much the way a bioluminescent marine organism exudes an internal glow.”

Enjoy dinner at: Pio Pio by Sebastian Mariscal Studio

Situated in Hell’s Kitchen, this restaurant was conceived as “a finely crafted wooden box” inserted into an existing building on 10th Avenue. Textured concrete elements echo the board-formed surfaces of the aforementioned David Zwirner gallery, while further walls and ceilings are clad with slender wooden sticks. Collectively, this melting pot of natural materials provides as big a treat for architects as the hearty Latin American cuisine on offer.

Rest your head at: Hotel Americano by TEN Arquitectos

Returning along the High Line in the evening, Hotel Americano provides a fitting end to a day of architectural decadence. TEN Arquitectors’ interiors are wrapped with exposed concrete and illuminated by moody lighting, making common spaces appear more like a contemporary art gallery than a hotel. By night, the ambience is suitably sensual, which the architects themselves allude to in their description of the building’s veiled façade: “a metal mesh curtain creates an alluring play between in and out, seducing but not showing all, like sexy silk stockings.”

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