While 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for New York City architecture, 2018 left us whelmed. (You read that right: certainly not overwhelmed, and not quite underwhelmed, just whelmed.) We’re counting plenty of major developments in NYC, of course, and any year that includes the imminent arrival of a massive corporate behemoth is going to have a tangible effect on the built environment. We’re hard-pressed to think of a single newly completed building that inspired much chatter, awe, or outrage—for example, no one took much issue with Zaha Hadid’s posthumous debut, and we’re not counting the preservationists’ knowing disapproval of a few key historic places under threat.
If buildings were boring, green spaces were thriving: Three beautiful new parks opened along the East River, and the Ford Foundation’s indoor botanical garden got a much-needed refresh.
2019 will almost certainly be a bit more interesting: Hudson Yards will officially debut (that’s right, it’s not even open yet), MoMA’s long-planned expansion will open its doors, and the TWA Hotel is set to let visitors inside Eero Saarinen’s Jet Age terminal once again. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But for now, we’re evaluating the year that was: Here now, the best new architecture—reveals, makeovers, and parks included—of 2018.
It’ll be a while before The Fitzroy, the condo designed by Roman & Williams, welcomes its first residents, but the building itself is already a lovely addition to the West Chelsea landscape. Art Deco architecture inspired the design—Roman & Williams cite Los Angeles’s magnificent Eastern Columbia building as a direct influence—and its green terra-cotta facade, punctuated with pops of copper, is a gloriously retro counterpoint to the neighborhood’s swath of boxy contemporary structures.
Best reason(s) to get outside
The East River waterfront was positively brimming with new park openings this year, with three noteworthy expanses—the second phase of Hunter’s Point South Park, Domino Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 3—debuting over the summer.
Each serves a different purpose: Where Domino is bustling with activities that seem reverse-engineered to suit the megaproject on the rise behind it (splash pad! Bocce court! taco stand!), Pier 3 and Hunter’s Point are both intended for so-called “passive” recreation. At Brooklyn, that means a wide, open expanse not unlike Central Park’s Great Lawn; in Queens, there are winding waterfront pathways and a series of newly established wetlands.
While these spaces have replaced the post-industrial landscape that once dominated the neighborhoods hugging the East River, the change is a welcome one. “What these parks represent is a comprehensive reimagining of a once-neglected waterfront,” Karrie Jacobs wrote in her meditation on the three very distinct green spaces.
Two years after the Ford Foundation announced that it would refurbish its circa-1967 headquarters on 42nd Street, the fruits of that project were unveiled—and as Curbed critic Alexandra Lange put it in her review of the renovation, “the foundation rose to the challenge of aligning its architecture with its values.” Gensler oversaw the revamp of the building, originally designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates, and spruced up the things that make it special—its indoor botanical garden, the building-topping atrium—while updating it for the present day. The result is a building that’s more accessible, in keeping with the foundation’s ethos, while maintaining its midcentury bona fides. As Lange put it, the reno proves “[a] landmark can rise to meet the challenges of the future, and not get left behind.”
The superlative supertalls
We’re not here to argue whether the cloud-piercing skyscrapers that are popping up throughout Manhattan are good or bad on the whole; rather, we’d like to call attention to two that made significant progress this year, and may actually be a welcome addition to the skyline once they’re complete.
53W53, Jean Nouvel’s 82-story tower rising next to the Museum of Modern Art, topped out this year, and the slender skyscraper, with its distinctive crisscross facade, plays nicely with the museum campus next door. (Though we would have preferred if the American Folk Art Museum hadn’t been lost in the process.) A few blocks away, SHoP’s skinny, Steinway-straddling tower at 111 West 57th Street also made progress: In addition to finally launching sales, it crept closer to its 1,428-foot pinnacle, and more of its elegant facade (more terra-cotta!) was revealed. Both are on track to finish up by or before 2020; we can’t wait to see what they’ll look like in a year’s time.
Best reason to visit Coney Island
The Coney Island Boardwalk became a scenic landmark over the summer, but that wasn’t the only development this year at the people’s playground. Six years after the New York Aquarium was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy, its marquee exhibit, “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” finally debuted. The exhibit—which will house hundreds of marine animals, including the titular saw-toothed predators—is located in a pavilion inspired by the ocean. There’s a kinetic, 1,100-foot “shimmer wall,” created from tens of thousands of aluminum pieces, that evokes waves on the water; the building’s shape, meanwhile, resembles a nautilus shell.
Fun to watch rise award
It’s not often that you get to watch an entire neighborhood materialize out of thin air, but that’s exactly what has happened over the past few years at Hudson Yards. Many of the megaproject’s public-facing spaces—Thomas Heatherwick’s architectural geegaw Vessel, the high-end shopping mall, and the Shed—have come into focus in the past 12 months, and while questions about who these shiny new amenities are for remain, watching these structures take shape has been a trip.
Best reason to book a staycation
British chain The Hoxton finally landed in New York City this year, opening its first U.S. outpost on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. In keeping with the chain’s commitment to stylish spaces at an affordable price (rooms can be had for under $200/night), the new hotel—built on the onetime site of a wooden water tank factory—has chic rooms kitted out with local wares (including bedding by Brooklyn-based Curbed fave Dusen Dusen). The nearby Wythe Hotel paved the way for this kind of effortlessly cool lodging; the Hoxton takes it to the next level.
David Adjaye’s first NYC skyscraper, a nearly 800-foot-tall tower on William Street, is still a ways off from being complete—its first move-ins aren’t expected for another year or so—but the glimpses we’ve gotten of the facade thus far live up to the promise of its renderings. The building is Brutalism by way of the 17th century; Adjaye was inspired by “New York’s heritage of masonry architecture,” which translates to a concrete pillar with a dark, textured facade that’s punctuated with bronze accents and arched windows. It has the potential to be one of Manhattan’s most interesting new buildings once it’s finished.
The “oh my god, finally!” award
Another piece of the World Trade Center site crossed the finish line in 2018, with 3 World Trade Center opening over the summer. The skyscraper, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners, is the second-tallest building in the WTC complex, and—for now—the fifth-tallest building in NYC overall. It’s taken a bit to get here, though: Construction originally began all the way back in 2010, but stalled until an anchor tenant could be secured. Eight years—and several signed leases—later, the structure has finally taken its place among the WTC site’s completed towers.
Building of the year: Readers’ choice
The readers have spoken via unofficial poll, and their choice for NYC’s building of the year is Pier 17, the newest addition to the revamped South Street Seaport. SHoP Architects is responsible for the design, which replaced the dusty old mall that once stood at the edge of the East River. The glass cube that makes up the main structure is a nice addition to the waterfront, but the design also incorporates an abundance of open space with lots of benches and other seating areas—something that was sorely lacking before.