clock menu more-arrow no yes
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

New York’s most iconic modern architecture, mapped

From a Midtown apartment complex to museum buildings

View as Map

When it comes to modern architecture, what New York City lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. The five boroughs don’t have quite the same concentration of modernist buildings as a city like Los Angeles, but the gems we do have—works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and Gordon Bunshaft, among others—are some of the most impressive in the movement’s history.

To take a deeper look at NYC’s modern architecture, we turned to the experts at Docomomo New York/Tri-State, which works to “increase public awareness and appreciation of Modern movement architecture.” The group stresses that this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list of the city’s modern structures, but rather a list of buildings that “remind us every day about the importance of good design in making great urban areas.” Let’s take a look, shall we?

Buildings are arranged geographically, starting at the southern end of Manhattan and heading north from there.

Read More

1. One Chase Manhattan Plaza

Copy Link
Pine Street
New York, NY

Now known as 28 Liberty Street, this Financial District tower is one of many modernist masterworks from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architect Gordon Bunshaft (his name will appear on this list again). Designed in the International Style—Docomomo says it was the first building of its kind in Lower Manhattan—the 60-story tower is clad in aluminum, and has a 2.5-acre plaza at its base. That open space is home to two iconic public art pieces: Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Plaza, a serene space that incorporates Uji River basalt; and Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees, which was installed in 1972.

Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

2. NYU Silver Towers

Copy Link
100-110 Bleecker St
New York, NY

The late Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei designed this three-building “superblock” in Greenwich Village along with his partner James Ingo Freed. “Their elegantly proportioned and meticulously detailed cast-in-place concrete walls reveal the modular layouts of apartments inside,” according to Docomomo. The buildings each stand 30 stories and are “laid out in pinwheel fashion around a 100-foot-square plaza,” with a 36-foot concrete sculpture at its center. The three buildings were designated as New York City landmarks in 2008.

John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

3. O'Toole Medical Services Building

Copy Link

Docomomo calls this iconic West Village building “the rare New York example of architecture influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright,” as it was designed by one of that legendary architect’s students, Albert C. Ledner. The building, which opened in 1964, was originally constructed for the National Maritime Union; it later became part of St. Vincent’s Hospital, and was spared when the rest of that hospital was transformed into swanky condos (hello, Greenwich Lane). Now, after what Docomomo calls a “respectful renovation,” it’s back to being used as a medical facility.

Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

4. Ford Foundation

Copy Link
320 E 43rd St Fl 4
New York, NY

Built in 1967, the Ford Foundation’s Midtown headquarters is a 12-story cube surrounding one of the city’s loveliest public atriums. “Its unusual composite structure combines Cor-Ten steel beams with granite clad concrete vertical supports,” according to Docomomo, which calls it “among the finest works of Kevin Roche,” who designed the building along with John Dinkeloo. The landmarked space recently received a major renovation that, according to Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange, proved the building could “rise to meet the challenges of the future, and not get left behind.”

John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

5. United Nations Headquarters

Copy Link
760 United Nations Plz
New York, NY
(212) 963-8687
Visit Website

The process of creating the United Nation’s Midtown East headquarters was not an easy one; as Docomomo puts it: “A committee of architects from 13 countries was led by New York architect Wallace K. Harrison. An overall concept variously attributed to Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer was adopted, the details worked out by Harrison's firm.” That led to the creation of the iconic Secretariat building, with its striking glass curtain wall, as well as the General Assembly building and the structure’s midcentury interiors.

Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

6. Four Freedoms Park

Copy Link
1 FDR Four Freedoms Park
New York, NY
(212) 204-8831
Visit Website

Architect Louis Kahn designed this serene waterfront park in the 1970s, but it wasn’t completed until nearly 40 years after his death. Docomomo calls the design, which occupies the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, a “minimalist masterpiece,” with a large bust of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at its center. “The landscape, with its elegant and dramatic forced perspective, and the views along the East River toward the United Nations and city skyline, make this one of the most contemplative public spaces in the city,” says Docomomo.

Meredith Bzdak/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

7. Seagram Building

Copy Link
375 Park Ave
New York, NY

“Seagram is both an icon of Modern architecture and a benchmark for office building elegance,” says Docomomo. The building was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and got around the stepped-back look of previous NYC skyscrapers by having the building itself occupy only 25 percent of its lot, eventually paving the way for changes to the city’s outdated 1916 zoning code. But, as Docomomo notes, it’s not merely a slender office tower; “it is much more complex, with rear extensions to accommodate more office area plus restaurants fronting both side streets.” Those restaurants are now part of the Major Food Group series of restaurants.

8. Lever House

Copy Link
390 Park Ave
New York, NY

Built in 1952, the former headquarters of the British company Lever Brothers was the building that “brought fame” to SOM’s Gordon Bunshaft, according to Docomomo. Designed in the International Style, the skyscraper (which sits across the street from the Seagram Building) was among New York’s first structures to use a glass curtain wall. Its “juxtaposed horizontal and vertical volumes, clad entirely in blue-green glass, hover above its once revolutionary plaza,” per Docomomo, and make it one of the city’s most distinctive modern buildings to this day.

Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

9. Paley Park

Copy Link
3 E 53rd St
New York, NY

One of the city’s many privately-owned public spaces, Paley Park (named for the father of CBS executive William Paley, who financed the pocket park) “exemplifies the renewed interest in the standard of living in urban areas,” according to Docomomo. It opened in 1967, and is notable for its many crowd-pleasing design elements courtesy of landscape architects Zion & Breen Associates. Those include a noise-dampening waterfall, as well as green walls on either side of the park, which make it “the perfect escape from the city within the city,” per Docomomo.

John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

10. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Copy Link
11 W 53rd St
New York, NY
(212) 708-9400
Visit Website

As Docomomo notes, the Museum of Modern Art’s Midtown HQ “is an accretion of contributions by various architects over several decades.” Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone were responsible for the original 1939 building, whose facade remains on 53rd Street; Philip Johnson contributed the sculpture garden, pictured above, which was added in 1964; and Yoshio Taniguchi worked on a 2004 renovation that added present-day lobby and some gallery spaces. The museum recently reopened after a years-long renovation project, spearheaded by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler, that added more galleries while restoring and more seamlessly integrating the older, disparate spaces.

John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

11. Rockefeller Apartments

Copy Link
Rockefeller Apartments, 17 W 54th St
New York, NY 10019

This apartment complex dates back to 1937, when Nelson Rockefeller (hence the name) hired architect Wallace Harrison to construct the buildings. Per Docomomo, “its spare brick facades are enlivened by semi-circular vertical window bays and steel transom, casement, and hopper windows,” and it further ups its modernist bona fides by overlooking the Museum of Modern Art.

12. 500 Park Avenue

Copy Link

Also known as the Pepsi-Cola Building, this glass box is another SOM building designed by—you guess it—Gordon Bunshaft, though Docomomo notes that Natalie de Blois was given second billing, a rarity for female architects at the time. The “jewel box,” as Docomomo puts it, stands only 10 stories, and “the veil-like quality of the exquisitely detailed glass and aluminum curtain walls extended inside with then-innovative vertical blinds.” It was joined two decades later by a 41-story addition next door.

Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

13. The Met Breuer

Copy Link
945 Madison Ave
New York, NY
(212) 731-1675
Visit Website

The Whitney Museum’s former Upper East Side headquarters was reborn in 2016 as the Met Breuer, named for its architect, Marcel Breuer. While the large, “fortress-like” concrete building seems out of place on otherwise staid Madison Avenue, Docomomo notes that its bulk “was countered by opening up the street floor and basement toward the street with expanses of uninterrupted glass and extending a welcoming canopied bridge across the resulting moat.” Beyer Blinder Belle led the restoration of the building before the Met moved in, which left the structure looking spiffier than ever.

Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

14. Asphalt Green

Copy Link
555 E 90th St
New York, NY 10128

Designed by architects Kahn & Jacobs and opened in 1944, the former Municipal Asphalt Plant is one of the city’s earliest examples of modern architecture, according to Docomomo. The design, inspired by French airship hangars, is “exceptionally visible, rising boldly along the FDR Drive,” and after a renovation, it was “ingeniously adapted by architects Pasanella+Klein as the centerpiece of the foundation-sponsored Asphalt Green Sports and Arts Center, opened in 1984,” per Docomomo.

Wikimedia Commons

15. Solomon R Guggenheim Museum

Copy Link
1071 5th Ave
New York, NY
(212) 423-3500
Visit Website

Docomomo calls Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim building “arguably the most iconic work of Modern architecture in the city, if not in the entire country.” Completed in 1959, just a few months after Wright’s death, the building is one of the city’s most popular museums, though it was not beloved when it opened. As Docomomo notes, its rotunda “has long been criticized as a space whose architecture competes too much with art displayed there.”

John Dixon/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Loading comments...

1. One Chase Manhattan Plaza

Pine Street, New York, NY
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Now known as 28 Liberty Street, this Financial District tower is one of many modernist masterworks from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architect Gordon Bunshaft (his name will appear on this list again). Designed in the International Style—Docomomo says it was the first building of its kind in Lower Manhattan—the 60-story tower is clad in aluminum, and has a 2.5-acre plaza at its base. That open space is home to two iconic public art pieces: Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Plaza, a serene space that incorporates Uji River basalt; and Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees, which was installed in 1972.

Pine Street
New York, NY

2. NYU Silver Towers

100-110 Bleecker St, New York, NY
John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

The late Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei designed this three-building “superblock” in Greenwich Village along with his partner James Ingo Freed. “Their elegantly proportioned and meticulously detailed cast-in-place concrete walls reveal the modular layouts of apartments inside,” according to Docomomo. The buildings each stand 30 stories and are “laid out in pinwheel fashion around a 100-foot-square plaza,” with a 36-foot concrete sculpture at its center. The three buildings were designated as New York City landmarks in 2008.

100-110 Bleecker St
New York, NY

3. O'Toole Medical Services Building

New York, NY
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Docomomo calls this iconic West Village building “the rare New York example of architecture influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright,” as it was designed by one of that legendary architect’s students, Albert C. Ledner. The building, which opened in 1964, was originally constructed for the National Maritime Union; it later became part of St. Vincent’s Hospital, and was spared when the rest of that hospital was transformed into swanky condos (hello, Greenwich Lane). Now, after what Docomomo calls a “respectful renovation,” it’s back to being used as a medical facility.

4. Ford Foundation

320 E 43rd St Fl 4, New York, NY
John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Built in 1967, the Ford Foundation’s Midtown headquarters is a 12-story cube surrounding one of the city’s loveliest public atriums. “Its unusual composite structure combines Cor-Ten steel beams with granite clad concrete vertical supports,” according to Docomomo, which calls it “among the finest works of Kevin Roche,” who designed the building along with John Dinkeloo. The landmarked space recently received a major renovation that, according to Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange, proved the building could “rise to meet the challenges of the future, and not get left behind.”

320 E 43rd St Fl 4
New York, NY

5. United Nations Headquarters

760 United Nations Plz, New York, NY
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

The process of creating the United Nation’s Midtown East headquarters was not an easy one; as Docomomo puts it: “A committee of architects from 13 countries was led by New York architect Wallace K. Harrison. An overall concept variously attributed to Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer was adopted, the details worked out by Harrison's firm.” That led to the creation of the iconic Secretariat building, with its striking glass curtain wall, as well as the General Assembly building and the structure’s midcentury interiors.

760 United Nations Plz
New York, NY

6. Four Freedoms Park

1 FDR Four Freedoms Park, New York, NY
Meredith Bzdak/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Architect Louis Kahn designed this serene waterfront park in the 1970s, but it wasn’t completed until nearly 40 years after his death. Docomomo calls the design, which occupies the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, a “minimalist masterpiece,” with a large bust of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at its center. “The landscape, with its elegant and dramatic forced perspective, and the views along the East River toward the United Nations and city skyline, make this one of the most contemplative public spaces in the city,” says Docomomo.

1 FDR Four Freedoms Park
New York, NY

7. Seagram Building

375 Park Ave, New York, NY

“Seagram is both an icon of Modern architecture and a benchmark for office building elegance,” says Docomomo. The building was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and got around the stepped-back look of previous NYC skyscrapers by having the building itself occupy only 25 percent of its lot, eventually paving the way for changes to the city’s outdated 1916 zoning code. But, as Docomomo notes, it’s not merely a slender office tower; “it is much more complex, with rear extensions to accommodate more office area plus restaurants fronting both side streets.” Those restaurants are now part of the Major Food Group series of restaurants.

375 Park Ave
New York, NY

8. Lever House

390 Park Ave, New York, NY
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Built in 1952, the former headquarters of the British company Lever Brothers was the building that “brought fame” to SOM’s Gordon Bunshaft, according to Docomomo. Designed in the International Style, the skyscraper (which sits across the street from the Seagram Building) was among New York’s first structures to use a glass curtain wall. Its “juxtaposed horizontal and vertical volumes, clad entirely in blue-green glass, hover above its once revolutionary plaza,” per Docomomo, and make it one of the city’s most distinctive modern buildings to this day.

390 Park Ave
New York, NY

9. Paley Park

3 E 53rd St, New York, NY
John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

One of the city’s many privately-owned public spaces, Paley Park (named for the father of CBS executive William Paley, who financed the pocket park) “exemplifies the renewed interest in the standard of living in urban areas,” according to Docomomo. It opened in 1967, and is notable for its many crowd-pleasing design elements courtesy of landscape architects Zion & Breen Associates. Those include a noise-dampening waterfall, as well as green walls on either side of the park, which make it “the perfect escape from the city within the city,” per Docomomo.

3 E 53rd St
New York, NY

10. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

11 W 53rd St, New York, NY
John Arbuckle/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

As Docomomo notes, the Museum of Modern Art’s Midtown HQ “is an accretion of contributions by various architects over several decades.” Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone were responsible for the original 1939 building, whose facade remains on 53rd Street; Philip Johnson contributed the sculpture garden, pictured above, which was added in 1964; and Yoshio Taniguchi worked on a 2004 renovation that added present-day lobby and some gallery spaces. The museum recently reopened after a years-long renovation project, spearheaded by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler, that added more galleries while restoring and more seamlessly integrating the older, disparate spaces.

11 W 53rd St
New York, NY

11. Rockefeller Apartments

Rockefeller Apartments, 17 W 54th St, New York, NY 10019

This apartment complex dates back to 1937, when Nelson Rockefeller (hence the name) hired architect Wallace Harrison to construct the buildings. Per Docomomo, “its spare brick facades are enlivened by semi-circular vertical window bays and steel transom, casement, and hopper windows,” and it further ups its modernist bona fides by overlooking the Museum of Modern Art.

Rockefeller Apartments, 17 W 54th St
New York, NY 10019

12. 500 Park Avenue

New York, NY
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Also known as the Pepsi-Cola Building, this glass box is another SOM building designed by—you guess it—Gordon Bunshaft, though Docomomo notes that Natalie de Blois was given second billing, a rarity for female architects at the time. The “jewel box,” as Docomomo puts it, stands only 10 stories, and “the veil-like quality of the exquisitely detailed glass and aluminum curtain walls extended inside with then-innovative vertical blinds.” It was joined two decades later by a 41-story addition next door.

13. The Met Breuer

945 Madison Ave, New York, NY
Samantha Marsden/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

The Whitney Museum’s former Upper East Side headquarters was reborn in 2016 as the Met Breuer, named for its architect, Marcel Breuer. While the large, “fortress-like” concrete building seems out of place on otherwise staid Madison Avenue, Docomomo notes that its bulk “was countered by opening up the street floor and basement toward the street with expanses of uninterrupted glass and extending a welcoming canopied bridge across the resulting moat.” Beyer Blinder Belle led the restoration of the building before the Met moved in, which left the structure looking spiffier than ever.

945 Madison Ave
New York, NY

14. Asphalt Green

555 E 90th St, New York, NY 10128
Wikimedia Commons

Designed by architects Kahn & Jacobs and opened in 1944, the former Municipal Asphalt Plant is one of the city’s earliest examples of modern architecture, according to Docomomo. The design, inspired by French airship hangars, is “exceptionally visible, rising boldly along the FDR Drive,” and after a renovation, it was “ingeniously adapted by architects Pasanella+Klein as the centerpiece of the foundation-sponsored Asphalt Green Sports and Arts Center, opened in 1984,” per Docomomo.

555 E 90th St
New York, NY 10128

15. Solomon R Guggenheim Museum

1071 5th Ave, New York, NY
John Dixon/DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

Docomomo calls Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim building “arguably the most iconic work of Modern architecture in the city, if not in the entire country.” Completed in 1959, just a few months after Wright’s death, the building is one of the city’s most popular museums, though it was not beloved when it opened. As Docomomo notes, its rotunda “has long been criticized as a space whose architecture competes too much with art displayed there.”

1071 5th Ave
New York, NY