The Architectural Boat Tour: A Journey around Manhattan

The AIA NY Chapter sponsors a boat tour highlighting notable architececture around Manhattan, also highlighting New Jersey, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

The architectural boat tour sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York chapter is arguably one of the most informative and enjoyable tours in New York City. The Classic Harbor Line is docked at Pier 62 in Chelsea and the boat is the picture of elegance. The ship’s deck is made of fine teak and the interiors are plush and comfortable. Architect Anthony Platt, who seemed no stranger to the microphone, gave the tour. He rattled off dates, names and architectural styles with the same ease as reciting the alphabet. His knowledge seemed to know no bounds and it was actually difficult to keep up with all the information, though still enjoyable nonetheless. As we pulled out of Pier 62, he told us that Chelsea Piers is over one hundred years old and began as a luxury liner pier. The Titanic was scheduled to dock there, but the survivor ship, The Carpathia, took its place. After the height of luxury liners came to an end, the piers were turned over for shipping and fell into disuse in the 1970s. In the 1990s, the piers were rehabilitated for adaptive reuse as seen today as the mega-sports complex, Chelsea Piers. 

As we pulled out of the boat slip and into the Hudson River, the West Side of Chelsea came into full view. Recently Chelsea has seen a surge of starchitecture and the viewpoint from the water was a different way to see how it all comes together against the skyline. Our tour guide started out by pointing towards the wonderful Jean Nouvel residential tower, noting the 1,700 different panels all situated in different directions to give the illusion of different shades of blue. We were then pointed towards the iceberg-esque Frank Gehry building, home to the IAC. The glass was warped into shape and then sprayed down with silicone to give it its ghostly appearance.

As we floated down the river, Mr. Platt was quick to point out architecturally significant buildings both old and new. We moved from recent history to older with the Westbeth Artist Community, a building whose beginnings started as the Bell Laboratories and is one of the first examples of adaptive reuse in the city. It opened in the late 1960s as artist live-work studios for 384 individuals. The project was the first important public commission for Richard Meier. In 2011, the building was marked as a New York City Landmark.

Naturally, the new World Trade Center was highlighted on this tour. The mega architecture firm S.O.M. is in charge of the design, following Daniel Libeskind’s master plan. Four World Trade Center is designed by Fuki Mahki and will prove to be another interesting addition to the lower Manhattan skyline. The new Goldman Sachs tower was pointed out on both the Manhattan side and the New Jersey side. I.M. Pei’s firm designed the Manhattan tower and the New Jersey office is the tallest building in the state, though few from Goldman Sachs actually use those offices.

We moved towards the tip of the island towards Battery Park City, a former landfill. Work began on this section of Manhattan around the same time as the original World Trade Center. New York State created the public-private Battery Park City Authority to build the development. One notable structure is the ziggurat-like Jewish Heritage Museum. This building surely is unique in style among the hundreds of New York City structures and serves as a great homage to Jewish people and their heritage.  Moving forward, we rounded the island and headed up the East River towards the Harlem River. Obvious important structures were pointed out like Frank Gehry’s residential tower, “New York by Gehry” and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The newest addition on this tour perhaps was the new FDR Four Freedoms Park at Roosevelt Island. The tip of the small island has been made captivating and serves as a nice, fresh juxtaposition from the ruins of the old small pox hospital. New Yorkers have another reason to visit the East River island.

Moving towards High Bridge Park we were informed of Bette Midler’s involvement through the New York Restoration Project in cleaning up and restoring this park perched on a cliff. For a moment it feels as if you are way up the Hudson River and not Manhattan, especially when you come upon the boathouse designed by Robert A. M. Stern. Its bright colors are a welcome respite from the relentless glass and steel seen earlier.

As we trolled through the no wake zone of the Harlem River, Mr. Platt pointed towards Columbia University’s playing fields and a cliff that children are wont to jump off of in the warm summer months. The beautiful fall foliage helped to transport us out of Manhattan once again. We passed the Cloisters and were reminded of just how much the Rockefellers contributed to Manhattan’s glory both now and in time past.

Passing midtown Manhattan, we saw the new development in the beautiful starchitecture towers of Sir Norman Foster, Robert A. M. Stern, Renzo Piano and other well-known mega firms. The recession seems to be over in Manhattan by evidence of the countless cranes and construction sites. The new development initiated by Donald Trump has done much to change the long empty portion of the East Side waterfront. As we pulled back into the slip at Pier 62, I was reminded that it was a Friday and I wasn’t on vacation. The 2 hour 45 minute trip was over and I needed to get back to my workday, sadly. All in all, this is a tour that I would highly recommend to both tourists and New York residents alike. It isn’t for the faint of heart though. Be ready to learn more in a short period about architecture then you ever thought possible. It just may send the architecture novice’s head reeling but there’s one free drink if this may cause some anxiety.

Find out more about the AIA New York Chapter and the Center for Architecture.  

 AIA, east river, frank gehry, hudson river, tours, world trade center

One Response
  1. Looking for 90 minute architecturally oriented boat tour to take my 8 & 10year old grandchildren on
    over their Spring Break, March 24-March 28>
    Do you run a tour? Can you supply website to buy tickets.

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