In the ever-changing skyline of New York, it is difficult to keep track of the most notable structure, and the city has undergone a surge in new construction in the past ten years. It was an era that brought us projects in the New Museum’s revitalization of the Bowery to The High Line’s lifting of park space to new levels.
John Hill, contributor and creator of Archidose, has closely chronicled the design of this decade, choosing buildings that have a point of perspective, and creating walking tours organized by neighborhood to make it easy to take your own guided tour. His new novel, Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture, lets you read up on the buildings and organize your tour — and it will not add much weight to your luggage when you take it to the streets.
While Hill recommends the AIA Guide and admires it as a company full of buildings in the prior centuries, he sees it is not the simplest tome to bag on a city walk.
His guide is compact and portable, with a strong cover and binding that may stand up to numerous urban explorations. The guide covers all five boroughs and all types of buildings (from glass high rises to townhouses; from Prada to firehouses) and public spaces.
This guidebook lets you in on secret details you may miss if you are not looking out for them. “A closer look at the three casting windows reveals some unusual particulars: diamond tread sills and projecting handles on the jambs. The bay windows are in fact the rear frames of truck bodies,” he writes.
Design by LOT-EK 2007
This facade close to the High Line carries a piece of Cor-ten steel so large they had to close a level of the George Washington bridge to transfer it in New Jersey to Manhattan.
It provides a big notice to the rhythm of the block, making a transition between the steel beams onto the building on the left and also the more traditional brick building on the right.
Believing this home may be a bit dark inside? Count on Hill’s guide to put you straight. “Most of the normal light in the home arrives through the completely glazed rear facade and throughout skylights,” he explains.
Though the steel is one large-scale, 1.25-inch-thick piece, Hill notes that the rust variation adds its own layout.
Because the layout passed the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Hill asserts “its acceptance is evidence of a taste for contemporary buildings that differentiate themselves from older neighbors.”
Design by Matthew Baird Architects, 2005
One trend that has marked the decade is utilizing materials in fresh and surprising ways. This facade is made from polypropylene panels that are generally used inside of trucks to keep things cool. “Up close, this skin. . .evidences a texture that arises from screen printing the panels with black ink. It’s one of the most densely populated facades in this book,” Hill writes.
Design by Adjaye Associates with David Hotson Architect, 2005
The book also clarifies materials and architectural conditions throughout its guided tours. By way of example, for this home Hill educates us that “baguettes may be bread, but in the area of architecture, they are ceramic pipes, generally at square cross-section, in most cases integrated into larger rain screen facades.”
Due to the small scale of those “baguettes,” Hill says, “it is a good example of a building that’s trying to be contemporary while relating to the older brick neighbors through the scale of the pipes.”
When you have the building close up, you can observe the way the sticks offer privacy while letting in the light and perspectives. Hill calls this “a great alternative for those who reside in glass houses.”
Layout by Workshop/apd, 2010
In this block full of standard buildings, this one certainly stands out. “The perforated metallic rain screen of the facade incorporates random openings about the size and scale of a normal brick, providing the brand new townhouse a relationship to its neighbors although it seems at odds with these,” Hill writes.
Here’s a closer look at the layout. Hill describes that “the zigzag pattern at the perforations follows a stairs all the way up the front of the building.”
Layout by Peter Gluck and Partners, 2009
“This building is modest but substantial,” Hill says. He also makes note of those flipped steel rings that give various peeks into the lower storage space based upon the angle. Locating these architectural gems one of the skyscrapers that he also writes about is a very fun part of this guided treasure hunt.
Layout by Christoff: Finio Architecture, 2006
A tree keeps growing in Brooklyn. This home “is intended around the tall windows framing the maple tree that commands the space in front of the home,” he writes. “It is impossible to consider the home without the tree, and it’s not difficult to see why the architects made it a driver of the inside design.”
Design by noroof Architects, 2005
This unique Brooklyn townhouse facade relates to other buildings with wood siding on precisely the exact same street. “The diverse size and spacing of the boards lends the home a contemporary twist that is not alienating,” Hill writes.
Here’s a closer look at the spin Hill said: Variated overlap generates unique rhythms, taking the traditional material and utilizing it in a fresh manner. Hill contrasts this rhythm to that of a washboard.
Layout by Tina Manis Associates, 2005
This home in the Bronx brings up another fad from the centuries; the vast improvements upon the design, affordability and sustainability of the home. “The home really stands out in its locality,” Hill says.
Layout by Resolution: 4 Architecture, 2008
Moving on to a larger scale project, this row of townhouses in Brooklyn provides a transitional part of the cube that’s in between low-rise houses and mid-rise buildings. “The buildings are pared down but capture their personality from various bricks, punched-out windows and roof terrace openings. They have got an A-B-A-A rhythm down the block,” Hill says.
Designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, 2006
On a far larger scale, this is the largest affordable housing project in the history of New York City. The pieces of the job were prefabricated in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard foundry. The facades are comprised of inexpensive fiber cement cladding. “Using the cladding in vivid colors gives individuality to the cookie components,” Hill explains.
Layout by Alexander Gorlin Architect, 2008
It was only a small taste of what Hill’s new guide offers, focusing on the residential. The full guide also includes much-anticipated projects in the works for the next decade.
Book info: Find out more about the book and order from the publisher here
More: Read John Hill’s articles on
Next: More Book Tours
Garden Inspiration from New York City’s High Line