10 of NYC's most unusual buildings (slide show)

Skyscrapers, schmyscrapers: The city’s coolest, most unusual structures are unique homes, futuristic buildings and livable art projects.

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New York City is known for its impressive buildings, from iconic skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, to innovative, eco-friendly structures, such as the Hearst Tower. But look beyond the famous New York attractions and you’ll find some truly unique places that are notable for their size (or lack thereof), decorations, or simply for being so out of place in NYC. We’ve rounded up ten of our favorite unusual NYC buildings, including a home built entirely from shipping containers, a spooky skyscraper and a subway stop built into what looks like a European villa.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Broken Angel House

    This amazing Clinton Hill home may not be around for much longer: According to Gothamist, owner Arthur Wood was evicted from the space earlier this year, so its days are numbered. Check it out while you can: Wood and his late wife, Cynthia, bought the property in 1979, and the building became a massive art project, with mosaics, stained glass and more. (The house has a cameo in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, which was filmed on the same street.) Various attempts have been made to save Broken Angel since it was damaged by a fire in 2006, but it seems like the most recent eviction may really be the final straw for the space.

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    East 180th Street subway station

    A stately structure that wouldn’t look out of place in the Spanish countryside is actually the entrance to the East 180th Street subway station, servicing the 2 and 5 lines. This impressive building was constructed in 1912, and was used by the defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway; when that company went out of business, the MTA repurposed the edifice as a subway station. After a $66.6 million face-lift, the stop now features an open plaza and colorful mosaics that evoke Bronx locales (including the Bronx Zoo), courtesy of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program.

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    The Mosaic House

    Tucked away on a quiet Brooklyn block is artist Susan Gardner’s cheerful abode, covered in thousands of pieces of marble, buttons, mirrors and other materials. Gardner began sticking baubles to the exterior of 108 Wyckoff Street (located between Hoyt and Smith Streets in Boerum Hill) in 2001; she’s since created flowers, human figures and animals from these fragments, and has added printed tiles, Ikea mirrors and plastic beads to the display. It’s hard to miss at any time, but the mosaic looks especially nice at night, when fairy lights strung on nearby trees illuminate the colorful tableaux.

  • Photograph: Walter Dufresne

    Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

    This Greenpoint poop-processing plant is notable for many reasons: It’s the largest of the city’s 14 waste-treatment facilities, and can process more than 300 million gallons of water every day; it also features a lovely nature walk that overlooks the less-than-lovely Newtown Creek. But the plant’s most famous—and bizarre—trait is its eight digester eggs, used to convert sewage and other nasty business into less toxic stuff. The stainless-steel, teardrop-shaped orbs light up at night, and have sparked one of the funnier nicknames we’ve heard for a city property: the Shit Tits.

  • Photograph: Andrew Kelly

    New York Hall of Science

    Though this Queens institution comprises several buildings, it’s the slightly imposing Great Hall—built for the 1964 World’s Fair—that’s the most intriguing. The curved structure looks like any other old edifice at first glance; its exterior is a drab tan, with small windows embedded into concrete. The interior, however, is another story: Those windows are actually pieces of cobalt-colored glass, which let streams of eerie blue light into the building. Echoing the fair’s prevailing theme of progress, this effect—a technique called dalle de verre—was meant to conjure the feeling of floating in the vast darkness of space.

  • Photograph: Kayla Rice

    75½ Bedford Street

    Most New York City residents are familiar with tight quarters, but we’re guessing few people have ever tried living in a building that’s barely ten feet wide. And yet: The townhouse at 75½ Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, reportedly the city’s skinniest house, has seen its fair share of famous residents, including Cary Grant and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Somehow, the 990-square-foot home crams in three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a quite nice backyard—if you don’t mind cozy quarters, this might just be the space for you.

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    351 Keap Street

    Though shipping containers have been used to create public spaces in NYC (such as the erstwhile DeKalb Market), the house at 351 Keap Street in Williamsburg may be among the city’s first homes built from the boxy structures. InHabitat interviewed its owners, David Boyle and Michele Bertoman, and detailed the work required to make shipping containers livable dwellings (including the use of radiant heat, upcycled fixtures and cutting out pieces of the boxes to make windows and balconies).

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Sylvan Terrace

    More an entire block than a building, this narrow Washington Heights alley (between St. Nicholas Avenue and the Morris-Jumel Mansion) is one of the more genteel spots on this list. The charming clapboard houses that line the cobblestone street look like set dressings from a film about early-1900s New York (and in fact, according to a Scouting NY post, a scene from Boardwalk Empire was filmed on Sylvan Terrace). The buildings are private residences, and one has even been converted into a guesthouse, should you want to experience sleeping in an old-timey home.

  • 33 Thomas Street

    Otherwise known as “that weird building without windows,” this stark, Brutalist tower rises above Tribeca like some evil supervillain’s lair. In fact, it was constructed to house telephone switching hubs, and was used by AT&T for a number of years. According to a New York Times article published nearly two decades ago—the building has been freaking people out for that long!—the bizarro windowless exterior served two purposes: to help prevent overheating, which could damage the telephone lines, and to help guard against terrorism or natural disasters.

  • Photograph: Wikimedia Commons/ Evan P. Cordes

    TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport

    Travelers are likely familiar with this swooping structure from flying in and out of JFK Airport. The building was designed by architect Eero Saarinen (the dude responsible for St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, among other iconic structures), and opened in 1962 as a way station for Trans World Airlines. Though parts of the terminal were incorporated into a new JetBlue space that was completed in 2008, the “head house”—Saarinen’s iconic, curved design—remains closed to the public, although tours have been offered during Open House New York for the past two years.

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Broken Angel House

This amazing Clinton Hill home may not be around for much longer: According to Gothamist, owner Arthur Wood was evicted from the space earlier this year, so its days are numbered. Check it out while you can: Wood and his late wife, Cynthia, bought the property in 1979, and the building became a massive art project, with mosaics, stained glass and more. (The house has a cameo in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, which was filmed on the same street.) Various attempts have been made to save Broken Angel since it was damaged by a fire in 2006, but it seems like the most recent eviction may really be the final straw for the space.


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