Travel Guide: New York City for Design Lovers

Travel Guide: New York City for Design Lovers

Putting together a guide to New York City is tough, because the city provides so much for so many people. It’s harder to figure out what not to comprise than to determine what to emphasize. As far as possible, this manual avoids the apparent icons which come to mind when Folks consider NYC: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center site, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Times Square, although a few (Central Park, the Guggenheim, Grand Central Terminal) are included. Yes, we will start with Times Square, however, only as a jumping-off point to some of the delights that city of 8.25 million people provides.

John Hill

Just as New York City devotes America while being completely different from the rest of it, Times Square sums up much of what the city provides much since it is nothing like the areas found in the rest of Manhattan and beyond. A great deal of resorts are located in and around Times Square, so it’s easy to stay close there and feel its pull, but this guide proposes things beyond this hub of subways, roads and LEDs. Times Square should be experienced at least once, preferably in the night. This manual, however, looks elsewhere for recommendations.

A couple notes about the information that follows: Prices provided are for adults not eligible for a discount; in most cases kid and senior prices are reduced. And all the places are in Manhattan, together with speech and neighborhood provided, unless noted otherwise.

John Hill


“Top of the Rock”: An observation deck beneath “30 Rock”
Cost: $27
Location: 30 Rockefeller Plaza (on W. 50th St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Midtown
Noteworthy: Panoramic views of New York City and New Jersey

Before hitting the town to see museums, eat at fancy restaurants or do some shopping, it is great to get some bearings with a trek up to among the city’s sky-high observation decks. The deck at 1 World Trade Center won’t be open until 2015, so I recommend the one at “30 Rock” within the one on top of the Empire State Building, partly because the former gives visitors a view of the latter.

“Top of the Rock” also has more generous terraces and a fantastic light display at the glass-top elevator on the way down and up. The panorama features close-up views of Midtown, distant views of Lower Manhattan, along with a fantastic, all-encompassing view of the next must-see, Central Park.

More info: Top of the Rock

John Hill

Central Park: The 1.3-square-mile green center of Manhattan
Cost: Free, although places like the zoo charge admission
Location: From 59th Street to 110th Street, between Fifth and Eighth avenues
Noteworthy: The banquet, Bethesda Fountain, Central Park Zoo, the Fantastic Lawn, Strawberry Fields, the Ramble, the Conservatory Garden … too many Fantastic places to record

While it’s Difficult to envision Manhattan without its tall buildings, it is even harder to consider the island with no Central Park. The city had the foresight to set aside 150 cubes (roughly 800 acres) in the early 19th century for a large park, well prior to the built-up section of the island went beyond what is now considered downtown.

Not surprisingly, a few of the very valuable real estate in New York City (and the planet) lines Central Park. However what makes the adventure of the park so amazing is being in some elements in its center without feeling the city around it.

More info: Central Park

John Hill

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: A world-famous museum of modern and contemporary Global art
Cost: $22; cover What You Want on Saturday evenings
Location: 1071 Fifth Ave. (at 89th Street), Upper East Side
Noteworthy: James Turrell exhibition (his first in an NYC museum as 1980) in summertime 2013

Along much of Central Park’s east edge is Museum Mile, operating from 82nd Street to 110th Street on Fifth Avenue, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Museum for African Art (under construction).

Most striking is Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Guggenheim, an inverted cone which altered museum architecture forever upon its 1959 completion. The art appears to be secondary to the construction, but thankfully the curators understand how to host proves which frequently benefit from the unique atrium space.

Take the elevator to the top floor and descend via the spiral slide round the full-height atrium, taking in the adjoining skylit galleries. Grab lunch at The Wright on the ground floor in a space made by Andre Kikoski.

More info: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

John Hill

Grand Central Terminal: The best of New York City’s train stations
Cost: Free
Location: 42nd Street and Park Avenue, Midtown
Noteworthy: Grand Central Terminal is celebrating its 100th birthday at 2013, with events throughout the year.

Grand Central Terminal might be one of New York City’s icons — like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and even Central Park — which visitors do not need to be told about, but it is worth highlighting for its amazing architecture, expansive spaces and hidden gems. Along with a recovery in the 1990s means the construction celebrates its centennial with no looking a day over 10!

The plan of both Reed and Stern with Warren and Wetmore elevates and reroutes Park Avenue around the construction to, among other things, create the expansive main hall (seen here awaiting its newest tenant, the Apple Store). A subtle sign of the before condition can be seen by looking to the northwest corner of the ceiling, in which a tiny dirty patch can be viewed, exhibiting the decades of cigarette smoke which lined the surfaces.

Hidden gems contain the whispering gallery outside the Oyster Bar and the Campbell Apartment (a bar), accessed via an elevator off among those ramps leading down to the whispering gallery.

More info: Grand Central Terminal

John Hill

41 Cooper Square: Cooper Union’s engineering construction
Cost: No public access past the reception
Location: 41 Cooper Sq. (at East Seventh Street), East Village
Noteworthy: Those reductions in the metallic facade replicate the atrium inside; take a few steps inside to grab a glimpse upwards.

Since 2000 many developers and institutions have enticed big-name architects to design dramatic parts of buildings that stand out from everything around it (Wright’s Guggenheim apparently affected more than just museums). The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art — an art, architecture and engineering school that’s traditionally tuition free for pupils — hired Thom Mayne, the Pritzker Prize–winning head of Morphosis Architects, to design a building for the engineering students, across the road from the 1858 Foundation Building.

The new building is about the same size as the older one, but it is an entirely different beast — metal rather than stone, irregular rather than routine, gray rather than brown. The construction can be situated at the northern end of the Bowery, historically a holdout to gentrification but now home to the New Museum (at Prince Street), museums, expensive restaurants and, as we will see, some fancy resorts.

More info: 41 Cooper Square

John Hill


Morimoto: The NYC restaurant of “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto
Cost: $125 for the “Chef’s Choice” tasting menu
Location: 88 10th Ave. (between 15th and 16th streets), Chelsea
Noteworthy: A stunning interior designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Tadao Ando

It’s difficult to go wrong with any food in New York City, as long as you stray from chains and tourist traps around Times Square. But since restaurants can have a brief shelf life in Manhattan, it is worth highlighting a couple recent examples with fantastic design and a few (relative) longevity.

This Asian-fusion restaurant is tucked beneath the High Line at the Chelsea Market. Access is by way of an opening in a wall of dark metallic panels, an arch wrapped with Western noren (drapes). The two-story interior is light and bright, marked by a wall made from tens of thousands of water bottles. Tadao Ando’s signature concrete can be found in partial-height columns, but thicker elements, like the draped ceiling, prevail.

More info: Morimoto

John Hill

Brasserie: A restaurant at the cellar of the Seagram Building
Cost: $35 for a prix fixe dinner
Location: 100 E. 53rd St., Midtown
Noteworthy: Voyeuristic interior designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Whenever the Seagram Building was completed in 1958, it comprised two pubs: The Four Seasons and the Brasserie, both designed by Philip Johnson. The first has remained basically unchanged since its opening, but the latter was renovated in 2000 by then-avant-garde architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio. They made a URL to the outside by means of a surveillance camera which would take a photograph whenever somebody entered the revolving door, submitting the photo above the bar for everybody to see.

The camera no longer functions, however, the shallow stair nevertheless provides diners into the center of the room like a catwalk that places those coming and going on screen. The food is adequate, but a trip is worth it only for the design and the people-watching.

More info: Brasserie

Blanca: A tasting kitchen supporting the popular restaurant Roberta’s
Cost: $180 for a 20-course tasting menu; drinks not included
Location: 261 Moore St., Bushwick, Brooklyn
Noteworthy: This place sums up Brooklyn’s culinary revolution.

One of the hippest places in the hip neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn, is Roberta’s, an unassuming pizzeria with a few shipping containers at the side yard which are topped by herbs and vegetables used in the pizza and other foods. Behind Roberta’s, and run by the same people, is the 12-seat Blanca, an ultraexclusive area (only 12 diners per night, five days a week, feasting to a 20-course tasting menu) in which the kitchen takes up more room than the seating. Eric Safyan explains his style as “a state-of-the-art kitchen plus a casual and elegant dining room.” It looks more akin to the collection of America’s Test Kitchen than a typical restaurant. Reservations are taken only one day per month for the prized spots at the counter.

More info: Blanca

John Hill


High Line: A 1.5-mile park atop an old elevated railroad
Cost: Free
Location: From Gansevoort Street on the south to West 30th Street to the north, together 10th Avenue
Noteworthy: One of the most unique adventures in the city and a magnet for developments alongside it

Trains ran up and down the west side of Manhattan as early as the 1860s, but it wasn’t until 1934 that an elevated segment was built from 34th Street to Spring Street in SoHo, in reaction to the hazardous conditions along “Death Avenue.” But the rise of trucking that started in the 1950s meant that the usefulness of the elevated line was short-lived; the last car ran in 1980. In response to local land owners’ shouts to rip it down, Joshua David and Robert Hammond started Friends of the High Line in 1999. And good thing that they did, for today residents and visitors can traverse more than 20 cubes three stories above traffic and take in the buildings — new and old alike — it at the Meatpacking District and Chelsea.

The park itself was designed by landscape architect James Corner with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It’s a great spot to take a stroll after a meal, although it’s an equally good spot for eating lunch and soaking in the sights and sun.

More info: High Line

John Hill

Brooklyn Bridge Park: A new park on industrial piers overlooking Lower Manhattan
Cost: Free
Location: East River, south of the Brooklyn Bridge
Noteworthy: Great views of Lower Manhattan

The iconic Brooklyn Bridge is suitably the namesake for a new park designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh that overlooks the bridge and much of Lower Manhattan. The park occupies former industrial piers that run from the bridge down to Atlantic Avenue. The park is a mix of comfort and play spaces, with seating, playgrounds and places for strolling between the piers.

Some borders of the park, such as the one shown here, are made to deal with the rising waters which Hurricane Sandy made apparent are a component of NYC’s future.

The best way to experience the park is to start near City Hall in Manhattan, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and descend at Washington Street, walking through Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and south to the park. It’s also worth checking out Jane’s Carousel at the Empire-Fulton Ferry Park (now a part of Brooklyn Bridge Park), just north of the Brooklyn Bridge; the older carousel is inside an enclosure made by Pritzer Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel.

More info: Brooklyn Bridge Park

John Hill

FDR Four Freedoms Park: A memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his famous “Four Freedoms” address
Cost: Free, but total fare for the tram to Roosevelt Island is $2.50
Location: Southern tip of Roosevelt Island
Noteworthy: The fantastic architect Louis Kahn’s design was accomplished four decades following his death.

“Better late than never,” they say. Such is an appropriate phrase for Kahn’s posthumously completed FDR Four Freedoms Park. It transforms the southern tip of Roosevelt Island (in the East River between Midtown Manhattan and Queens) into a tree-lined place for relaxing, walking and remembering. Louis Kahn’s design is formal and symmetrical, culminating in an outdoor room at the tip where the heavens is more expansive than anywhere else in new york. Views of Midtown, such as the United Nations (shown here) are a treat, as is taking the tram to get to and from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island.

More info: FDR Four Freedoms Park

John Hill

Center for Architecture: Home of the local American Institute of Architects chapter and the nonprofit Center for Architecture
Cost: Varies; usually $10 for non-AIA associates, but sometimes events are free
Location: 536 LaGuardia Pl., Greenwich Village
Noteworthy: The three-story space hosts at least one and often two or three events almost every night of the year.

If you’re interested in design and architecture, it is worth seeing what’s happening at the middle for Architecture, be it an exhibition, lecture, book launching or even celebration. Events are free for AIA members (who receive continuing education credits for attending), but a few events will also be free for nonmembers.

The extent of the three-story space can be grasped from the storefront, which gives glimpses to the cellar lecture hall.

More info: Center for Architecture

John Hill

Storefront for Art and Architecture: A nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of innovative positions in architecture, art and design
Cost: Free
Location: 97 Kenmare St., Nolita (North of Little Italy)
Noteworthy: A hinged facade opens and closes depending on the time of season and needs for the exhibition or event indoors.

If the Center for Architecture is the center of the profession in NYC, then the Storefront is its avant-garde heart. The organization started in 1982 and moved into its distinctive pencil-tip-shaped space, designed by Steven Holl and Vito Acconci, in 1993. The hinged facade is usually an invitation to step inside the gallery from the sidewalk and see what’s on screen. Likewise, when you’re indoors, the road is a constant presence instead of something that’s ignored. There’s always something of interest in the distance, be it an exhibition, a demonstration or sometimes both simultaneously.

More info: Storefront for Art and Architecture

John Hill

MoMA PS1: A contemporary arts establishment housed in an old public school
Cost: $10; free with MoMA ticket
Location: 22-25 Jackson Ave. (at 46th Avenue), Long Island City, Queens
Noteworthy: Each summer the courtyard is taken over by an installation that’s a background for weekend “warm ups.”

Everybody visiting NYC understands about MoMA, but its younger sister association is also worth seeing. MoMA PS1 takes its name from the construction (Public School 1) in which it is housed, but in the summer the focus is on the triangular courtyard. This is where the winner of the annual Young Architects Program constructs a pavilion that sunglasses, cools and functions as a background for warm-weather parties with lots of dancing and music.

Pictured is the 2012 installation, “Wendy,” by HWKN; the grim explosion housed fans and sprayed mist over revelers, but it was also treated with a nanoparticle spray which actually cleaned the atmosphere.

More info: MoMA PS1

John Hill

Historic House Trust of New York City: A nonprofit organization working together with the city to support houses of architectural and cultural importance, all open to the public
Cost: From $3 to $8
Location: Homes in all five boroughs
Noteworthy: The Historic House Festival (in October) included tours, tours and other events.

For individuals interested in background and houses, the Historic House Trust provides access to nearly 30 houses in all five boroughs, reaching back more than 350 years. Many of the houses are situated in parks, such as the King Manor Museum at King Park, revealed here. This house may seem like it’s found out of NYC, but it is in Jamaica, Queens, a couple blocks from the Long Island Railroad and the county’s court buildings.

More into: Historic House Trust of New York

John Hill


The Standard, East Village: The Bowery sister to The Standard Hotel atop the High Line
Cost: From $275
Location: 25 Cooper Sq. (Bowery at East Fifth Street), East Village
Noteworthy: A swooping design by architect Carlos Zapata

It’ll hardly be a surprise that staying at a hotel in NYC isn’t inexpensive, especially if you opt for hip areas and cool architecture and decor. While the Bowery hardly exudes hipness, the connotations of the thoroughfare are shifting, as a result of buildings like Cooper Union, the New Museum and this hotel that towers above its surroundings. The verticality may be its best draw, giving guests great views of Lower Manhattan. The pub and restaurant spaces are well done, and also a renovation in progress will make those even better.

More info: The Standard, East Village

John Hill

Fantasy Downtown Resort: Two maritime union buildings converted into a hotel
Cost: From $275
Location: 355 W. 16th St. (near Ninth Avenue), Chelsea
Noteworthy: A glass-bottom pool observable from the lobby

The sloped facade of Albert C. Ledner’s design for the National Maritime Union is an immediate diagram of the city’s zoning envelope, which facilitates light to the roads and is ordinarily addressed through miniature setbacks. Ledner created this wall even more distinguishing through round windows which directly reference his customer.

Fifty years after the building was converted to a hotel. Handel Architects made even more curved openings, extending them throughout the rest of the plan. Between the angular building and a reduced rectangular slab on the south are an outdoor deck and deck; the latter has a glass bottom that’s observable from the lobby below through (no surprises) big circular openings in the ceiling.

More info: Fantasy Downtown Hotel

John Hill

Ace Hotel: The old Breslin Hotel, renovated and now a popular place for tourists and locals alike
Cost: From $99
Location: 20 W. 29th St., Garment District
Noteworthy: The reception is a magnet for local creative types working on their notebooks.

The resorts included in this manual illustrate that choosing one can be as much about a hotel’s amenities as its rooms. (Disclosure: I have not stayed at one of these hotels.) The Ace Hotel’s lobby and adjacent storefronts (coffee shop, restaurants, retail) have made the place among the very popular for locals in addition to people visiting from outside of town.

The dimly lit reception is always crowded, typically by people staring at their notebooks. The eclectic design, by Roman & Williams, extends to the other spaces from the lobby, but they work together to create a microcosm of hipness within a place (wholesale and Flower District) where one would have expected it.

More info: Ace Hotel

John Hill

Wythe Hotel: The conversion of a 1901 mill into a 72-room hotel
Cost: From $179
Location: 80 Wythe Ave. (at North 11th Street), Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Noteworthy: A rooftop bar with views of Manhattan

If any area exudes the hipster phenomenon, it is Williamsburg; reach its center by becoming off the L train at the first stop in Brooklyn. Its gentrification this century has been predominantly residential, but the Wythe adds a hotel to that mix, bringing tourists to a place they could otherwise pass over or see very little of.

Morris Adjmi’s design additional floors atop the older brick mill construction, popping it up proudly above its neighbors. A pub and restaurant are popular neighborhood spots, offering some fantastic views of Manhattan — views which will disappear in the coming years since developers build up along the East River waterfront.

More info: Wythe Hotel

John Hill

Must-Visit Shops

MoMA Design Store: The SoHo store for the Museum of Modern Art
Location: 81 Spring St., SoHo
Noteworthy: A glowing interior made by 1100 Architect

Visitors to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on the Upper East Side can browse the bookstore inside the museum or walk Throughout the road to visit the Plan store. Yet in SoHo those two types of shops are united into a single, at a two-story space made by 1100 Architect. Upstairs are furnishings, design items and children’s toys, while downstairs are books, furniture plus a Muji store. It’s no surprise that the selection of contemporary design elements is topnotch.

More info: MoMA Design Store

John Hill

ABC Carpet & Home: Seven floors of furniture, rugs and furnishings near Union Square Park
Location: 888 Broadway (at West 19th Street), Gramercy
Noteworthy: there’s something for everybody in this massive store.

ABC Carpet & Home is about the size of a department store, but its eclectic selection of furniture and wares makes it something else entirely. The rugs are on the floor, but a stroll down shows modern and contemporary furniture, antiques, knickknacks, jewelry and just about everything in between. It’s more a bazaar than a single store, originating from the seven floors as well as the juxtaposition of diverse objects throughout. People on a budget can go down to the cellar to see what has been marked down by roughly half.

More info: ABC Carpet & Home

John Hill

Van Alen Books: The ground-floor publication of the nonprofit Van Alen Institute
Location: 30 W. 22nd St., Chelsea
Noteworthy: New York City’s only bookstore devoted to design and architecture

MoMA may have a Fantastic Choice of books, but much greater is Van Alen Books near Madison Square Park. It is the only publication in NYC devoted to design and architecture titles, filling the gap left by the closure of Urban Center Books at 2010.

The store can be remarkable for the design of its little yellow space (200 square feet). Architecture company LOT-EK added some actions made from old doors which act as chairs during book launches and other events.

More info: Van Alen Books

John Hill

Hidden Stone

Paley Park: A classic “vest pocket park” in Midtown
Cost: Free
Location: 3 E. 53rd St., Midtown
Noteworthy: The trees and waterfall drown out the sights and sounds of the surrounding traffic and buildings.

New York is a city of roads, so its hidden gems are places of respite from the traffic and crowded sidewalks. Paley Park is a little distance (42 by 100 ft) whose impact is much greater than its size.

A half block from Fifth Avenue, the place is a great place for sitting under the honey locust trees and allowing the noise of the waterfall clean the city off.

The park was designed in 1967 by Zion & Breen, and four years later came another vest pocket park nearby: Greenacre Park, made by Hideao Sasaki. Both these parks predate the city’s authorized privately owned public spaces, which grant developers extra square footage in exchange for public spaces. These two parks and their owners return to the city with no necessity for further profit.

More info: Paley Park; Greenacre Park

John Hill

Close to General Theological Seminary: The central green space of the seminary’s full-block home
Cost: Free
Location: 440 W. 21st St., Chelsea
Noteworthy: A peaceful alternative to the people-packed High Line neighboring

The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church occupies all a full city block in Chelsea. Its set of primarily 19th-century buildings encompasses a central green space called the Close. Access to the distance is limited to certain days and times; buzz the gate on West 21st Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues to gain access.

This photograph shows the new residential development capping the block on Ninth Avenue, Chelsea Enclave, made by Ennead Architects and completed in 2010. Since that time the seminary’s dorms are converted to condos, and construction of a building on West 20th Street has started. Let us hope these modifications respect the silent of the Close, a pleasing antidote to the active High Line.

More info: Close at General Theological Seminary

John Hill

Ford Foundation Atrium: Headquarters of the Ford Foundation, near the United Nations
Cost: Free
Location: 320 E. 42nd St. (enter on East 43rd Street), Turtle Bay
Noteworthy: The glass and Cor-Ten steel construction has a 160-foot atrium at its core

The Ford Foundation’s headquarters represent the short-term tendency of covering buildings in Cor-Ten steel in the 1960s. Too much of the material can be harsh, but at the construction designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates with landscape architect Dan Kiley, the atrium space softens the steel. Large glass walls face south and south, bringing light into the 160-foot-high space. Walking about the atrium is a delight, as it entails a whole lot of ups and downs among the various terraces and plant.

More info: Ford Foundation Atrium

John Hill

David Rubenstein Atrium: Privately owned public space near Lincoln Center
Cost: Free
Location: 61 W. 62nd St., Upper West Side
Noteworthy: Vertical green walls, circular skylights and a large mural create a pleasing space.

While privately owned public spaces are supposed to provide the public something in exchange for the developer’s ability to construct greater, too frequently the spaces are badly designed or limited in their audience. The latter proved to be the case with a semiopen through-block connection across from Lincoln Center; its main element was a climbing wall, hardly an amenity for people to utilize.

Now employed by Lincoln Center for a discount ticket booth and (frustratingly, since the booth then closes) the occasional performance, the distance is now fully enclosed and much more in line with today’s usage of public space (sitting, eating, with Wi-Fi).

Produced by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the space is comfortable; it is characterized by skylights, a long mural and a couple vertical green spots near the entrances.

More info: David Rubenstein Atrium

John Hill

Noguchi Museum: An industrial building converted by artist Isamu Noguchi into a studio and museum
Cost: $10; cover what you wish the first Friday of each month
Location: 9-01 33rd Rd. (at Vernon Boulevard), Long Island City, Queens
Noteworthy: The enclosed garden is a beautiful space where you can appreciate Noguchi’s sculptures.

Back in 1974 Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi purchased a 1920s factory in Long Island City, turning it into a studio and warehouse. Eleven years after (three years earlier Noguchi’s death) the building opened as a museum.

To this very day the museum gifts Noguchi’s sculptures inside the construction and courtyard spaces he designed; it is rare to see such a fusion of art and architecture by a single artist in NYC (the Donald Judd Studio will start in 2013 after rehab).

Long Island City is now home to some of significant arts associations (MoMA PS1, the Museum of the Moving Picture, Socrates Sculpture Park), however the Noguchi Museum excels in creating a tranquil location for the contemplation of art.

More info: Noguchi Museum

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