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The Guggenheim Museum in NYC
The Guggenheim Museum in NYC
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14 NYC museums with outstanding architecture

Design and art collide at these New York City cultural institutions

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The Guggenheim Museum in NYC
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The country—heck, the world—is full of architecturally significant, beautifully designed museums. But here in New York City, we're lucky to have a particularly high concentration of lovely cultural institutions, representing all manner of styles, time periods, and architects' whims. (How many cities can say that two museums are designed like inverted ziggurats?)

Here, we've collected 13 of New York City's most architecturally significant museums, designed by everyone from McKim, Mead & White to Frank Lloyd Wright. They're worth visiting not just for their collections (which, to be fair, are also outstanding), but also for the sheer "stand and gawk at the building" factor.

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New Museum

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The New Museum's Lower East Side outpost debuted a decade ago, and has already become an indelible part of the neighborhood. Japanese architecture firm SANAA was behind the design, which they said is meant to be "elegant and urban." That's achieved through a mixture of a minimalist look (the exterior, made of aluminum mesh, is neutral without being boring) and a design that takes the building's narrow footprint into account. The ground level, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, helps further connect the institution to the urban fabric. An addition, designed by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas, is in the works.

A building with a gray metallic exterior and several setbacks. Shutterstock

Whitney Museum of American Art

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Renzo Piano's design for the Whitney building over the High Line wasn't exactly beloved when it debuted in 2015; New York's Justin Davidson compared the structure to a "prodigiously misassembled" Ikea object. But there's no denying its impact on the city's cultural landscape, and unlike some other institutions, it fits its surroundings in a way that's meaningful and in context. And the Piano structure is already serving its purpose well: the Whitney now accommodates more visitors than ever before.

Max Touhey

Rubin Museum of Art

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There are still some signs of the former Barneys store that used to occupy the Rubin Museum's Chelsea headquarters; the spiral staircase that winds through the center of the building, designed by Andrée Putman, is the biggest remnant. And the building's transformation into the Rubin, which houses an impressive collection of art from the Himalayas and its surrounding areas, includes some new features that nod to its mission. Its main entrance on 17th Street, for example, is shaped like a Mandala—a hat-tip to the many objects within the collection, and also a space that's "meant to represent a gateway to Himalayan art."

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Fotografiska New York

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A New York City outpost of the Swedish photography museum opened in a landmarked Park Avenue building in 2019. That 19th-century structure, known previously as the Church Missions House, was designed by architects Robert Williams Gibson and Edward J. Neville Stent. According to the LPC designation report, the building “combines the frank expression of contemporary steel-frame construction with a sophisticated adaptation of motifs from Northern European secular architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries.” The museum showcases contemporary photography from around the world.

The Morgan Library & Museum

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Where to begin with this gorgeous institution? It's an utterly unique mix of old and new. The campus is made up of a turn-of-the-20th-century McKim Mead & White building (which holds the stunning library, pictured above); a 1920s brownstone-turned-annex (which is not home to the gift shop); and the contemporary Renzo Piano addition, which serves as a bridge between the two older buildings. It sounds like it shouldn't work, and yet it does, thanks to thoughtfully designed interiors that seamlessly connect the three disparate buildings. Also, seriously, don't miss out on that library.

A library filled with books. Shutterstock

Museum of Arts & Design (MAD)

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This may prove to be a divisive addition to this list, given the controversy surrounding the refurbishment of this Midtown institution. Edward Durrell Stone's original building—christened "the lollipop building" thanks to an unfavorable Ada Louise Huxtable review—was revamped by Allied Works Architecture. The lollipops are gone, and a glass skin that almost spells out the word "HI" is in its place. But in the years since the new design debuted, it's grown on us; the interior, including a lovely floating staircase, is quite beautiful as well.

A building with an awning and a sign that says “Museum of Arts and Design.” Shutterstock

The Frick Collection

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Henry Clay Frick was one of the most powerful industrialists of the early 20th century, so it's no surprise that he commissioned a starchitect of the time—Thomas Hastings, of Carrère and Hastings—to design his private residence on what was then Manhattan's Gold Coast. But luckily, us commoners can enjoy the Gilded Age mansion these days: As the Frick Collection, it's both a lovely art museum (with an emphasis on European painting and sculpture) and a serene oasis in the midst of a bustling city. And soon, it'll get even bigger: Annabelle Selldorf will design the museum's long-planned (and oft-contentious) expansion.

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The Met Breuer

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Luckily, the Whitney's former home isn't going to waste—the Met Museum took it over, giving it the moniker The Met Breuer. It's named for the modernist architect Marcel Breuer, who designed the Brutalist building as a stark, granite-covered counterpoint to the staid Upper East Side buildings surrounding it. A restoration courtesy of Beyer Blinder Belle brought the museum back to its 1960s glory; indeed, when it opened again in early 2016, Curbed critic Alexandra Lange said "it has been some time since the original building looked this good."

Max Touhey

Metropolitan Museum of Art

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A slew of architects have contributed, in one way or another, to the Met's immense building: Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould designed the original museum, and remnants of their work can still be found in the current iteration. Richard Morris Hunt created the Fifth Avenue facade and the Great Hall, and McKim, Mead & White added the north and south wings. In the latter half of the 20th century, Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates added some of the museum's newer wings: the Sackler Center, home to the Temple of Dendur, and the American Wing (pictured here), among others. And yet somehow, the museum doesn't feel disjointed; the sum truly is greater than its parts.

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Solomon R Guggenheim Museum

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Frank Lloyd Wright didn't design many New York City buildings, but one of those—the Guggenheim Museum—is arguably the architect's best-known masterpiece. It was first conceived in 1943, but didn't open until 1959, just a few months after Wright's death. It remains a modernist masterpiece to this day; it's designed as an "inverted ziggaraut," which is intended to lead visitors to the top and then slowly work their way down along a winding pathway.

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Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

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The Cooper-Hewitt sits just two blocks up from the Guggenheim, but the buildings couldn't be more different. Where the Gugg is the pinnacle of modernism, the Cooper Hewitt—housed in a building that was once the home of Andrew Carnegie—is an exemplary bit of ornate, turn-of-the-20th-century architecture. It was designed by Babb, Cook & Willard, and despite its old-world feel, it featured many innovative design touches. (Per the museum, "it was the first private residence in the United States to have a structural steel frame and one of the first in New York to have a residential Otis passenger elevator." Cool!) The Cooper Hewitt moved in in 1976, and recently, a team of architects (including Beyer Blinder Belle and Diller Scofidio + Renfro) worked to restore the beautiful building to its former glory, while updating it for 21st-century audiences.

Scott Lynch

Bronx Museum of the Arts

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Though a number of architects worked on the Bronx's premier cultural institution, most visitors probably know it best for the folded aluminium entryway designed by Miami-based firm Arquitectonica. That facade, which opened in 2006 as part of a larger expansion project, is in many ways a precursor to many of the more modern museums that would debut in New York City over the next decade.

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The Noguchi Museum

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While the exterior of this museum isn't as awe-inspiring as, say, the Guggenheim, its interiors—including a peaceful garden—are simply stunning. That's no surprise, though; it was designed by Isamu Noguchi himself before his death in 1988. Visitors can appreciate the celebrated artist's work in the galleries themselves, or in the sculpture garden, which is one of the hidden gems of New York City.

Brooklyn Museum

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Brooklyn's biggest museum predates its obvious Manhattan counterpart, the Met, by a good few decades, but its buildings were constructed around the same time—and McKim, Mead & White, who also worked on the Met, conceived of the master plan for the Brooklyn Museum (it was originally planned as part of a larger campus that would have also included the nearby Botanic Garden; alas, that wasn't meant to be). But even with those similarities, the museum stands on its own as a beautiful Beaux Arts structure. In 2015, its Eastern Parkway entrance got a modern upgrade by Brooklyn firm SITU Studio, which makes the entryway more useful for 21st-century patrons (there's additional seating, better wayfinding, and more).

Shutterstock

New Museum

A building with a gray metallic exterior and several setbacks. Shutterstock

The New Museum's Lower East Side outpost debuted a decade ago, and has already become an indelible part of the neighborhood. Japanese architecture firm SANAA was behind the design, which they said is meant to be "elegant and urban." That's achieved through a mixture of a minimalist look (the exterior, made of aluminum mesh, is neutral without being boring) and a design that takes the building's narrow footprint into account. The ground level, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, helps further connect the institution to the urban fabric. An addition, designed by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas, is in the works.

A building with a gray metallic exterior and several setbacks. Shutterstock

Whitney Museum of American Art

Max Touhey

Renzo Piano's design for the Whitney building over the High Line wasn't exactly beloved when it debuted in 2015; New York's Justin Davidson compared the structure to a "prodigiously misassembled" Ikea object. But there's no denying its impact on the city's cultural landscape, and unlike some other institutions, it fits its surroundings in a way that's meaningful and in context. And the Piano structure is already serving its purpose well: the Whitney now accommodates more visitors than ever before.

Max Touhey

Rubin Museum of Art

Shutterstock

There are still some signs of the former Barneys store that used to occupy the Rubin Museum's Chelsea headquarters; the spiral staircase that winds through the center of the building, designed by Andrée Putman, is the biggest remnant. And the building's transformation into the Rubin, which houses an impressive collection of art from the Himalayas and its surrounding areas, includes some new features that nod to its mission. Its main entrance on 17th Street, for example, is shaped like a Mandala—a hat-tip to the many objects within the collection, and also a space that's "meant to represent a gateway to Himalayan art."

Shutterstock

Fotografiska New York

A New York City outpost of the Swedish photography museum opened in a landmarked Park Avenue building in 2019. That 19th-century structure, known previously as the Church Missions House, was designed by architects Robert Williams Gibson and Edward J. Neville Stent. According to the LPC designation report, the building “combines the frank expression of contemporary steel-frame construction with a sophisticated adaptation of motifs from Northern European secular architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries.” The museum showcases contemporary photography from around the world.

The Morgan Library & Museum

A library filled with books. Shutterstock

Where to begin with this gorgeous institution? It's an utterly unique mix of old and new. The campus is made up of a turn-of-the-20th-century McKim Mead & White building (which holds the stunning library, pictured above); a 1920s brownstone-turned-annex (which is not home to the gift shop); and the contemporary Renzo Piano addition, which serves as a bridge between the two older buildings. It sounds like it shouldn't work, and yet it does, thanks to thoughtfully designed interiors that seamlessly connect the three disparate buildings. Also, seriously, don't miss out on that library.

A library filled with books. Shutterstock

Museum of Arts & Design (MAD)

A building with an awning and a sign that says “Museum of Arts and Design.” Shutterstock

This may prove to be a divisive addition to this list, given the controversy surrounding the refurbishment of this Midtown institution. Edward Durrell Stone's original building—christened "the lollipop building" thanks to an unfavorable Ada Louise Huxtable review—was revamped by Allied Works Architecture. The lollipops are gone, and a glass skin that almost spells out the word "HI" is in its place. But in the years since the new design debuted, it's grown on us; the interior, including a lovely floating staircase, is quite beautiful as well.

A building with an awning and a sign that says “Museum of Arts and Design.” Shutterstock

The Frick Collection

Shutterstock

Henry Clay Frick was one of the most powerful industrialists of the early 20th century, so it's no surprise that he commissioned a starchitect of the time—Thomas Hastings, of Carrère and Hastings—to design his private residence on what was then Manhattan's Gold Coast. But luckily, us commoners can enjoy the Gilded Age mansion these days: As the Frick Collection, it's both a lovely art museum (with an emphasis on European painting and sculpture) and a serene oasis in the midst of a bustling city. And soon, it'll get even bigger: Annabelle Selldorf will design the museum's long-planned (and oft-contentious) expansion.

Shutterstock

The Met Breuer

Max Touhey

Luckily, the Whitney's former home isn't going to waste—the Met Museum took it over, giving it the moniker The Met Breuer. It's named for the modernist architect Marcel Breuer, who designed the Brutalist building as a stark, granite-covered counterpoint to the staid Upper East Side buildings surrounding it. A restoration courtesy of Beyer Blinder Belle brought the museum back to its 1960s glory; indeed, when it opened again in early 2016, Curbed critic Alexandra Lange said "it has been some time since the original building looked this good."

Max Touhey

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Shutterstock

A slew of architects have contributed, in one way or another, to the Met's immense building: Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould designed the original museum, and remnants of their work can still be found in the current iteration. Richard Morris Hunt created the Fifth Avenue facade and the Great Hall, and McKim, Mead & White added the north and south wings. In the latter half of the 20th century, Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates added some of the museum's newer wings: the Sackler Center, home to the Temple of Dendur, and the American Wing (pictured here), among others. And yet somehow, the museum doesn't feel disjointed; the sum truly is greater than its parts.

Shutterstock

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum

Shutterstock

Frank Lloyd Wright didn't design many New York City buildings, but one of those—the Guggenheim Museum—is arguably the architect's best-known masterpiece. It was first conceived in 1943, but didn't open until 1959, just a few months after Wright's death. It remains a modernist masterpiece to this day; it's designed as an "inverted ziggaraut," which is intended to lead visitors to the top and then slowly work their way down along a winding pathway.

Shutterstock

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Scott Lynch

The Cooper-Hewitt sits just two blocks up from the Guggenheim, but the buildings couldn't be more different. Where the Gugg is the pinnacle of modernism, the Cooper Hewitt—housed in a building that was once the home of Andrew Carnegie—is an exemplary bit of ornate, turn-of-the-20th-century architecture. It was designed by Babb, Cook & Willard, and despite its old-world feel, it featured many innovative design touches. (Per the museum, "it was the first private residence in the United States to have a structural steel frame and one of the first in New York to have a residential Otis passenger elevator." Cool!) The Cooper Hewitt moved in in 1976, and recently, a team of architects (including Beyer Blinder Belle and Diller Scofidio + Renfro) worked to restore the beautiful building to its former glory, while updating it for 21st-century audiences.

Scott Lynch

Bronx Museum of the Arts

WireImage

Though a number of architects worked on the Bronx's premier cultural institution, most visitors probably know it best for the folded aluminium entryway designed by Miami-based firm Arquitectonica. That facade, which opened in 2006 as part of a larger expansion project, is in many ways a precursor to many of the more modern museums that would debut in New York City over the next decade.

WireImage

The Noguchi Museum

While the exterior of this museum isn't as awe-inspiring as, say, the Guggenheim, its interiors—including a peaceful garden—are simply stunning. That's no surprise, though; it was designed by Isamu Noguchi himself before his death in 1988. Visitors can appreciate the celebrated artist's work in the galleries themselves, or in the sculpture garden, which is one of the hidden gems of New York City.

Brooklyn Museum

Shutterstock

Brooklyn's biggest museum predates its obvious Manhattan counterpart, the Met, by a good few decades, but its buildings were constructed around the same time—and McKim, Mead & White, who also worked on the Met, conceived of the master plan for the Brooklyn Museum (it was originally planned as part of a larger campus that would have also included the nearby Botanic Garden; alas, that wasn't meant to be). But even with those similarities, the museum stands on its own as a beautiful Beaux Arts structure. In 2015, its Eastern Parkway entrance got a modern upgrade by Brooklyn firm SITU Studio, which makes the entryway more useful for 21st-century patrons (there's additional seating, better wayfinding, and more).

Shutterstock