New York City architecture is truly one of a kind. The city’s skyline features many of the most iconic and instantly recognizable structures in the world, including the One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, or the Flatiron Building. Taller and skinnier skyscrapers continue to crowd the NYC skyline, as developers and architects look for innovative ways to build taller, better, and more sustainable towers.
Over the years, New York City has seen its share of unusual buildings. The crowded island of Manhattan houses some truly fascinating and one-of-a-kind properties. The tumultuous history of the city can inspire architects to think outside the box and come up with never-before-seen shapes. Take a walk anywhere around Manhattan and you’ll inevitably run into unusual structures that make you wonder how they came about. Today, we’re presenting five of the most unusual buildings in New York City, so that next time you walk by these properties, you’ll understand a bit more about them and why they’re unique. Read on to learn more, and stay tuned for more unusual buildings in a future blog post.
56 Leonard Street, the tallest building in Tribeca, was completed in 2017, boasting a design by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Due to its stacked appearance, the building was immediately nicknamed ‘the Jenga Building’ or ‘Jenga Tower.’ The architects describe the building as ‘houses stacked in the sky,’ and that’s exactly what it looks like. If you’ve ever played Jenga, looking at this property might give you the impression that each floor is removable. But while the exterior can look deceivingly wobbly, the interior is pure luxury. 56 Leonard Street consists of 145 luxury condominiums ranging from 1,400 to 6,400 square feet. Because of the building’s unique shape, each residence features private outdoor spaces and exquisite views of Manhattan.
The Jenga Building is not the only unusual structure in Tribeca. Walking along Thomas Street, we come across a menacing, windowless skyscraper known as the AT&T Long Lines Building. Located at 33 Thomas Street and completed in 1974, the property is a classic example of Brutalist architecture. Designed by John Carl Warnecke, 33 Thomas Street is a telephone exchange/wire center building that also houses state-of-the-art data center space. The building was built to withstand nuclear fallout and is regarded as one of the most secure properties in the country. But there might be more to this building than meets the eye. An investigation by The Intercept suggests that 33 Thomas Street houses an NSA mass surveillance hub codenamed TITANPOINTE. Coincidentally (or not), the Long Lines Building is located right next door to the FBI’s field office, which further adds to the mystery behind its purpose.
The global headquarters for Hearst, one of the largest media and communications companies in the world, is another striking architectural gem in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Its history began in 1928, when the original, six-story Hearst Magazine Building was completed, designed by George B. Post & Sons. Then, in 2006, a 46-story tower was developed by Hearst Corp. and Tishman Speyer right above the original building. It was designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. The Hearst Tower now includes 856,000 square feet of top-class Manhattan office space, and is one of the greenest buildings in the city. Its triangle-shaped facade catches the eye from afar, and the building has become one of the most recognizable structures in the U.S. It even won the 2006 Emporis Skyscraper Award and the British Construction Industry Award in 2007.
A relatively new addition to New York City architecture, Oculus is by far one of the most visually striking and most innovative structures in the city, and even in the country. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava and cost $4 billion to develop. The Oculus serves as the main station house for the WTC Transportation Hub, and opened to the public in 2016. Its intricate steel ribs design was carefully constructed to honor the legacy and history of the former World Trade Center site. The Oculus was built in alignment with the sun’s solar angles each September 11 at 8:46 AM, when the first plane struck WTC, until 10:28, when the second tower collapsed. During this time, a beam of light illuminates the Oculus floor through the structure’s central skylight. More interesting facts: Calatrava’s work on Oculus took 14 years to complete, and turned out to be the most expensive train station in the world.
For the last property on our list, we’re heading over to the East Village in Lower Manhattan, towards the Cooper Union campus in Cooper Square. Here we find an unusual structure designed by Thom Maybe of Morphosis, dubbed 41 Cooper Square. The nine-story, 175,000-square-foot building is home to the Albert Nerken School of Engineering, and was completed on the site of the former School of Art Abram Hewitt Building. Construction on this unusual structure began in 2006, and the project was met with controversy in the East Village due to its aggressive design. However, critics thought differently. Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times described the building as ‘an example of how to create powerful architecture that is not afraid to engage its urban surroundings.’