5 The Morgan Library & Museum
Three disparate buildings have been knit together to create this unheralded Midtown gem, but the best interiors can be found in the stately McKim, Mead, & White-designed structure at the south end of the complex. There, you’ll find J.P. Morgan’s exquisite library—essentially the Platonic ideal of such a room—along with the splendid, marble-covered rotunda, a red-paneled study, and other glorious rooms.
6 New York Public Library
There are many beautiful spaces within the New York Public Library’s majestic Fifth Avenue building, but perhaps the most spectacular is the Rose Main Reading Room. After a years-long renovation that spiffed up the enormous research room—which is about as long as two city blocks—its plater rosettes, celestial mural, and ornate chandeliers are all looking better than ever. (The room itself is not landmarked, but preservationists and some local officials are hoping to change that.)
7 United Nations
Where to begin with this landmark structure? There is, of course, the lobby of the Secretariat Building, designed by architects Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer; its modern design perfectly complements the building’s starkly simple exterior. The General Assembly, which was recently renovated, is another stunner. You can see that latter on one of the U.N.’s guided tours.
8 Edgar J. Kaufmann conference rooms
We’d be remiss to not mention the Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Center, designed by Finnish greats Alvar and Elissa Aalto; the room’s soaring ceilings, and stately birchwood sculpture, are simply lovely. They’re also, alas, currently unprotected from destruction, and their fate is currently up in the air.
9 Ford Foundation
The Landmarks Preservation Commission put it best in its 1997 designation of the Ford Foundation’s interiors: it’s “one of the most successful and admired interior spaces in a modern building” in New York City. The atrium was part of Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s initial design for the space (Dan Kiley was responsible for the landscaping), and intended to create a beautiful, lush space for both the building’s workers and the general public. A planned $190 million renovation will change the space somewhat, but as Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange notes, those modifications will create “a greener, safer, more accessible and less hierarchical Ford Foundation.”
10 Radio City Music Hall
One of New York’s many Art Deco stunners, Radio City Music Hall is full of gorgeous interior spaces. The soaring lobby, covered in a mural by Ezra Winter, is just the beginning; everything from the theater itself, with its simple-but-beautiful design, to the downright luxurious bathrooms, feels as beautiful as it must have when the theater opened in the 1930s. (A restoration helmed by Hugh Hardy certainly helped.)
11 David H. Koch Theater
Thank the 1964 World’s Fair for this untouchable midcentury gem: Built as part of the state’s cultural participation in the fair, the David H. Koch Theater (the New York State Theater until the oil billionaire donated $100 million in 2008) was designed by midcentury master Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The AIA Guide to New York City describes the building as the “most frankly Classical building facing the [Lincoln Center] plaza,” citing its “under-stated Baroque” lobby and ornate foyer with “tiers of busy railings,golden chain drapery, and a velvet ceiling, all dominated by two superb white marble sculptures.”
12 Park Avenue Armory
When the Landmarks Preservation Commission describes something as “the single most important collection of 19th century interiors to survive intact in one building,” it’s no joke. Built in 1881, the Park Avenue Armory has been bestowed with both exterior and interior landmark status, and for good reason: masters of the American Aesthetic Movement as well as artists and designers like Stanford White and Louis Comfort Tiffany contributed work to the former home of the National Guard’s Seventh Regiment. The armory has since been transformed into a cultural institution, and is now undergoing a renovation by a team of modern-day masters in Herzog & de Meuron and Platt Byard Dovell White Architects.
The city’s only bookstore devoted to French titles is as striking as you’d expect, especially considering its location: it sits on the first and second floors of the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue, which itself is located in Stanford White’s stunning Payne Whitney House. The bookshop is a beautiful place to wile away an afternoon, not least because of its ceiling, a stunning hand-painted mural that was “modeled after the extraordinary ceiling of the music room at the Villa Stuck in Munich, Germany,” per the shop.
14 Gould Memorial Library at Bronx Community College
Thank Stanford White for this glorious structure, which the architect designed to mimic Rome’s Pantheon. Its best-known interior space is the rotunda, which is topped with an enormous dome; marble columns and stained-glass windows are other decorative elements. And per a Times article on the space (which is in need of a restoration), both the Bible and Paradise Lost are quoted, appropriately, on various parts of the structure.
15 Marine Air Terminal
Not everything at LaGuardia Airport is terrible. Take, for example, the Marine Air Terminal, built during the Great Depression and yet somehow more exuberant than any other part of that reviled airport. The best feature of the Art Deco building can be found indoors: Its walls are covered in a mural called Flight, created by artist James Brooks as part of the Works Progress Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. The kinetic, colorful piece depicts the evolution of flight, as experienced by man.
16 New York Hall of Science
Architect Wallace Harrison is responsible for this imposing concrete structure, whose shimmering interior is one of New York’s greatest surprises. The Great Hall, as it’s known, was created using a technique called dalle de verre, in which thousands of bits of blue glass were embedded into the concrete, creating an eerie, lost-in-space effect. (That’s no accident, obviously; the building opened during the future-obsessed 1964 World’s Fair.) The hall recently received a renovation courtesy Ennead Architects that spiffed up the space without taking out its original character.
17 TWA Flight Center
Despite years of disuse, Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport is still a pristine, space-age marvel. Its gorgeous curved structure—innovative at the time, and still fresh to this day—is the opposite of what one expects from an airport experience, made all the more interesting thanks to the pops of color throughout. Stepping into it is like entering a time capsule back to the golden age of air travel—and with any luck, that feeling will be preserved when it’s incorporated into a boutique hotel in the coming years.
18 Kings Theatre
One of Brooklyn’s most majestic theaters wasn’t always that way. King’s originally opened in 1929 as one of several Loew’s Wonder Theaters; but by the 1970s, it was underutilized, and was eventually left to rot for nearly four decades. But thanks to a painstaking restoration, completed in 2015, the theater is back and better than ever. Its opulent decorative details were re-created (down to the paint colors), and it’s now one of Brooklyn’s most beautiful music venues.