Iconic New York Architecture

When I visited New York City this spring, I had two absolute 'must-sees' on my list — neither of which is a museum.

I have long been fascinated in architecture. Not surprisingly, I'm not typically drawn to modern and contemporary architecture we often see today.

I much prefer old, marbled, monoliths of buildings that provide a royal first impression through their incredible exteriors and nod at the precious items they hold within.

New York City architecture is an amazing mix of centuries' worth of architectural styles, and I especially like the beautiful Beaux Arts icons that were built at the beginning of the 20th century.

Still drawing from the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the robber-barons, and railroad monopolies — it's no wonder New York has a few perfect specimens of what could be built with the amassed wealth of the world's elite. Beaux Arts incorporates Neoclassical details, creating opulent interiors that reflect classical and Gothic styles.

After a stop at the Morgan Library, which I talked about in this post, we went to the main New York Public Library branch — the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Detail of Rose Main Reading Room's coffered ceiling

Originally, the building was simply called the Central Building, and its current name is thanks to a generous donation for restorations made in the early 2000s.

Empire State Building peaking into the Library.

The project took over a decade to fully complete, constructed by smaller firm, Carrere and Hastings. A grand opening ceremony in 1911 was attended by then President William Howard Taft.

Reading room filled with portraits of New York City's early 20th century elite and other historic figures.

The famous Library Lions flank either side of the main steps and watch over visitors walking inside, a regal indication of the interiors within.

Just like many libraries, this building exudes intelligence and confidence — that feeling you get (or at least I do) when you're in a beautiful space, filled with knowledge, that makes you think you could do the best research, write the most exceptional thesis, and read the most poignant books available because you're smart and belong in the space.

My mom is a librarian, and so libraries have often felt like comfortable places for me to spend my time.

The last real stop on the trip was to Grand Central Station — a true gem of New York City architecture, and a contemporary of the Schwarzman Building.

In the late 19th century it became increasingly apparent that the station on site wasn't enough to handle the number of passengers and lines.

Thus, a call for designs was sent out and Minnesota-based Reed and Stem won the competition. Grand Central sees tens of millions of visitors a year (not counting passengers) and has been included in various films and books.

Though not entirely accurate, the ceiling constellations are a focal point in the grand hall, and the main reason why I wanted to go inside.

One of the similarities I like about these two buildings is the seemingly lesser-known status of the architectural firms that were awarded the projects. In all honesty, while I love the Beaux Arts movement in architecture, there are few firm names that I know beyond McKim, Meade, and White and architect Richard Morris Hunt.

I find I like masterpieces even more when they weren't created by the 'obvious' choices.

Detail of Schwarzman Library Rose Main Reading Room ceiling

Do you have a favorite architectural style or building design?

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