By all accounts, New York is a great city, but you’d be hard-pressed to say that it’s a great city for architecture. New York—by which most mean to say Manhattan—is not defined by its iconic buildings in the way that a metropole like Chicago or even L.A. is. For every Empire State Building or UN Building, you get several more off-puttingly pastiche eyesores. You really have to wade through a lot of junk before stumbling on an architectural gem.
The search, however, is part of experiencing Manhattan and its totalizing grid. Still, for the harried tourist without knowledge of the cardinal directions, MoMA has made the chore of sightseeing that much easier. The museum recently teamed up with Foursquare to bring you New York’s ultimative architectural scavenger hunt. The guide consists of 21 "landmarks of modern architecture," featuring buildings that exhibit aesthetic, tectonic, and construction qualities affiliated with the Modern movement.
More specifically, the curated list of buildings focuses on those that bear the influence of proto-modern architect Henri Labrouste and his modernist successor Le Corbusier. The MoMA’s current architectural program is dedicated to retrospectives of both architects. The exhibitions, "Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light" and "Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Architecture," offer new insights into the legacies of Labrouste and Corbu; the former’s work paved the way for a modern architecture, while the latter, often regarded as the high priest of abstract, functional modernism, reinvigorated the movement with artistic and humanistic dimensions.
All of MoMA’s selections are in Manhattan, with the majority of the buildings clustered between Sixth and Lexington Avenues. The list, much of which includes corporate office towers, is more skewed to the influence of Le Corbusier than that of Labrouste. Rockefeller Center is noted for its "resemblance" to the blocks of Corbu’s utopian urban project, the Ville Radieuse ("Radiant City"). An obscure townhouse on the Upper East Side by Corbu disciple Paul Rudolph sports a free facade—an "invention" of the Franco-Swiss architect—that reveals the interiors to the street and sidewalks outside. The UN campus is an absolute must, of course, being the only building to have been designed, in part, by the master himself.
As for Labrouste, the obvious reference is the New York Public Library, whose grandeur can be compared to the architect’s paradigmatic Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève Nacionale. The Beaux-Arts facade of Grand Central terminal has, in MoMa’s description, "a sense of lightness similar to that achieved in Labrouste’s buildings."
Check in at these archi-locations, and visitors will receive a $5 discount off admission fare. The scavenger hunt lasts through July 31, so get archi-spotting!