The Oculus, World Trade Center Transportation Hub
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava looked to nature as inspiration for his sculptural addition to the World Trade Center redevelopment. The all-white transit hub is meant to resemble the wings of a dove, but also bears similarities to a rib cage. Sitting just below street level, the massive marble concourse has become an Instagram hit; looking up, visitors see a glass skylight that opens once a year on the anniversary of 9/11.
Thanks to its enormous size and odd shape, some likened the Barclays Center to an alien spaceship when it landed, er, opened in Downtown Brooklyn back in 2012. Each one of its rusted steel exterior panels has a unique shape and size, courtesy of a computer-aided design program employed by SHoP Architects. A nearly 90-foot-long cantilever juts out over the main entrance.
Jenga Building, 56 Leonard St.
In 2013 a building started to rise in Tribeca that resembled a high-rise version of the block-stacking game Jenga. Topping out at 60 stories, the so-called Jenga Building was designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & De Meuron and features deluxe residences with 14-foot glass walls and dramatically cantilevered balconies.
TWA Flight Center, John F. Kennedy International Airport
Opened in 1962, this mod masterpiece was an active terminal until 2001. Designed by Eero Saarinen, who also did the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the building became a symbol of the ’60s but closed after TWA went under. The landmark has since been opened for occasional tours and events, and is being renovated into a hotel.
Edna St. Vincent Millay House, 75 ½ Bedford St.
At this address you’ll find a tiny West Village townhouse that’s only 9 ½ feet wide—said to be the City’s narrowest abode. The quaint home, which dates back to 1873, was once the New York residence of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay; other former tenants include Margaret Mead, John Barrymore and Cary Grant, who stayed there while doing shows at the nearby Cherry Lane Theatre.
Spring Street Salt Shed, 336 Spring St.
This massive sculptural structure near the West Side Highway looks like it could have landed from Superman’s home planet. Its actual use is a little more earthbound; the windowless hulk acts as a salt shed for the City’s sanitation trucks that operate out of a brand-new garage across the street. The design was inspired by the shape of a tiny salt molecule.
New York State Pavilion, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Built for the 1964 World’s Fair, the Philip Johnson–designed Pavilion remains one of Queens’ quirkiest pieces of architecture. Aside from making cameos in movies, the structure has mostly sat unused—but there’s a movement to restore this modern ruin and reopen it to the public.
AT&T Long Lines Building, 33 Thomas St.
A building to inspire conspiracy theories, this 550-foot monolithic slab of a skyscraper doesn’t have any windows, just a discreet entrance on Thomas Street. So what’s inside? Built in 1974, the Long Lines Building originally housed telephone exchanges for long-distance calls. These days it’s a modern data center. Fans of the TV series Mr. Robot, take note: it recently served as a key location for the high-stakes second season finale…no spoilers.
Charles Street Farmhouse, 121 Charles St.
On the edge of the West Village is a country-style farmhouse that looks like it was plucked from a rural Midwestern town and dropped in the City. In truth it came on a truck from the Upper East Side, where the early 1800s home sat until the mid-1960s, when its lot was slated for redevelopment. The couple who lived there loved it so much they reached a deal to save it from demolition and moved it downtown.
Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 E. 52nd St.
Reminiscent of the steep angles of the Alps, this building brings a touch of Austria to Midtown. The slender, sloping skyscraper has a dynamic glass surface, rising nearly 24 stories on a lot that is barely 30 feet wide. The curious can also view it from the inside thanks to regularly held exhibits and performances.
Via 57 West, West Side Highway at West 57th Street
If you’re traveling along the Hudson River near Midtown, there is no missing this massive silver tetrahedron. The luxury apartment complex, designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, is known as Via 57 West and will feature an eight-screen movie theater on its ground level.
Staple Street Skybridge
Staple Street is a tiny, two-block-long road between Duane and Harrison Streets in Tribeca. It would probably not draw much attention except for the fact that there’s an old-fashioned skywalk that crosses it, making it one of the City’s most popular filming spots. Dating from the late 1800s, the bridge was built to link a hospital to its stables and laundry facilities. It now connects two luxury apartments.
Can You Believe They Built These in NYC?
New York City is home to architecture that’s recognizable all around the world: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and One World Trade Center immediately come to mind. But NYC also has striking and downright strange structures that raise the question, What is that? Two citywide October events—Archtober and Open House New York—celebrate a number of these unusual buildings. We celebrate them too in this slideshow; click through for a look.