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New York City has been called "the greatest city in the world" numerous times by its own

people and
visitors to the city. New York is civilization's greatest world within a city. It gives the overpowering
impression of being a magnet and mirror for all of humanity and all that humanity does. For a city so
young, New York is home to number of architectural classics. Two of these masterpieces of architecture are
the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. Both continue the metaphor of New York
being a world within a world and possess the latent fusion of form and function, one dependent on the
other. The Metropolitan Museum is the epitome of neo-Classical style while the Guggenheim is a modernist
powerhouse. Each museum serves the same purpose: displaying humanity's greatest achievements. By
comparing and contrasting their history, location, façade and interior, I will investigate how they arrive at
this goal in contrasting styles
Location of a building is significant, often giving an insight into the edifice's function. The Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum is located on Fifth Avenue between 88th and 89th streets (picture1). It was
commissioned by Solomon Guggenheim in 1943. Guggenheim chose Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new
building to house Guggenheim's four-year-old Museum of non objective painting. Wright was reluctant on
New York being chosen as the city to house the museum but he finally decided on its current location. Its
proximity to Central Park was a vital factor in his decision - the park offers a respite to the hustle and bustle
of the city and gets as close to nature as possible in the City (picture 2). Like Robie House and Falling
Water, the museum is a product of its environment and finds its inspiration from nature. As is stated on the
official website, the Guggenheim Museum is an "embodiment of Wright's attempts to render the inherent
plasticity of organic forms in architecture." People visit the museum as much for its architecture as its art; it
is an icon of modern architecture and designed specifically to showcase and complement modern art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by wealthy American businessmen and artists of the
time with the sole purpose to create a museum bringing art and education from around the world to the
citizens of America. The original central pavilion was designed by Richard Hunt, with the newer Lehman,
Sackler, American, Rockefeller, Wallace and Kravis wing's designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and
Associates. Located on Fifth Avenue and 83rd street (just inside Central Park), it is a living encyclopedia of
world art (picture 12). Every culture from every part of the world, from past to present is represented and is
in fact the largest collection of art work in the entire Western Hemisphere. Let us now take a look at the
impression each building gives the viewer.
The Met and the Guggenheim possess two of the most famous museum façade's in the world. Upon first
glance at the Guggenheim Museum, one is both impressed and intrigued by its design (pictures 1-4). It is an
organic form that derives its source from Central Park located just opposite. The best impression of the
structure is obtained from just across the street (picture 1). The attention to detail is evident everywhere -
the circular pattern of the sidewalk outside the museum, the porthole-like windows on its south side
(picture 4), and the smoothness of the hand plastered concrete. The main component on the west façade
(facing Fifth Ave) is represented by an upward spiraling helix (pictures 1-3). Horizontal lines are stressed
throughout the exterior, with the museum being longer than it is tall. There are very few corners, with
smoothness and blending of form the focus. The museum gives an impression of stacked shapes with its
long horizontal base, the viewing room capped by a steel structure on the north façade, the spiraling helix
and the rectangular core. Like his other constructions, Wright makes use of cantilever architecture where
the corners are free.
As is seen in Robie House, the Museum seems to take the overall shape of a ship or locomotive - hallmarks
of the industrial revolution. The south façade slightly juts out from the main structure with 'porthole'
windows cleverly placed at the bottom. These windows serve to enhance the steam ship analogy that is
characteristic of Wright's architecture. The core of the building emanates from the central pillar that is seen
just atop the spiraling structure. Like Robie House, this gives support to the overall structure (top of
pictures 1, 2).
The Metropolitan Museum is a colossus (relative to museums) and upon first inspection of the Fifth Avenue
facade, the viewer is immediately struck by its awesome size (pictures 12, 15). As aforementioned the
Museum houses the largest collection of art in the western hemisphere and is built of limestone. The neo-
Classical style hails back to the great civilizations of Greece and Rome. The area surrounding the entrance
is the main component of the façade. The steps leading up to the entrance is reminiscent of the Parthenon
and gives the building a sense of grandeur (picture 15). This façade has three grand arches defined by pairs
of Corinthian columns. There is a cornice directly above the capitals . At the uppermost section of the
entablature there is another cornice that outlines the roof of the entire building (picture 16).
The main component of the façade is flanked by the west wing and east wing. The eastern section is
characterized by large dome shaped windows interrupted in between engaged Corinthian columns (picture
13). Above the columns is another cornice that surrounds the length of the building. There is a stepped in
section that is perhaps designed to hold a sculpture. The south façade is modernist and contrasts the
classical style of the rest of the museum (picture 18). It is composed of glass with a pyramidal dome in the
central section. Each façade of the Met conveys a sense of symmetry and order, in contrast to the
Guggenheim Museum which is a fusion of different forms.
The interior of both the Met and Guggenheim continue the theme of contrasting styles. The Guggenheim
Museum is a work of art itself and is as much a sculpture as it is architecture. Reinforced concrete is used
to create a soaring spiral that swells as it rises, culminating in an open window rooftop. The viewer enters
the museum through the central section of the façade and arrives at the ground floor (picture 6). The
entrance blends in with the surrounding sidewalk and is difficult to perceive at first glance. Once inside,
one sees the ramps of the building spiraling upwards with the artwork displayed within each ramp (picture
5). Light streams down from the glassed rooftop bathing the interior in sunlight giving the museum a warm
ambience (picture 8,9,11). Wright designed the museum so that the art-goer could take the elevator on the
left side of the ground floor to the top ramp and gradually descend around an open court (picture 7). This
gives the viewer the option to skip levels and finally, at the end of the exhibition, find himself on the
ground floor, near the exit. By doing this, the viewer is made to experience the entire building, from the top
ramp, to the bottom and perceive the overall effect of the museum as a whole. One of the consequences of
this multi-ramp, open design is that the viewer can witness artwork on multiple levels from one spot
(picture 7). This is a unique attribute of the Guggenheim that is not featured in other museums. However, a
drawback to this is that walls of the interior are angled, making it sometimes difficult to display
conventionally shaped paintings. By using this style, Wright conveys a very modernist sense to a building
designed to display modern art. The Met takes an almost completely opposite stance in performing its
The entrance to the Met is grand and inviting. Whereas the Guggenheim's entrance is almost imperceptible
with the sidewalk, the Met features nine ceremonial elevated staircases on which stand Corinthian columns
and grand arches (picture 15). As you enter the building through the steps on the Fifth Avenue façade, you
arrive at the Great Hall, one of the landmark rooms in New York, comparable to Grand Central Station
(pictures 19-23). The Great Hall is a huge, open room with high domed ceilings, continuing the classical
style (in particular, Romanesque) of the exterior. Ionic columns flank the Great Hall on all four sides
(picture 22). Above the columns there is a cornice, above which is a balcony on the second floor. There are
three directions in which the viewer can access the displays, north, east, and west. If one continues straight
(from the entrance), there is a large grand staircase leading directly up to the second floor. Surrounding this
staircase is a set of parallel columns (picture 21). Just above the start of the staircase is a grand statue of
Perseus with the Head of Medusa. Unlike the Guggenheim museum, the Met offers a more conventional
method to view art. The art-goer walks through a number of interlocking rooms with paintings on the sides
and sculptures generally in the central area of the rooms. There is an impression of class, symmetry and
grandeur given by the Great Hall, viewing rooms and the architecture of the Met.
The Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of New York are both masterpieces of
architecture that communicate their form and function in contrasting styles. The Met gives the viewer a
sense of grandeur and hails back to classical styles and forms while the Guggenheim Museum intrigues and
appeals to the aesthetic side of the viewer. Both Museum's are products of their environment and
accomplish the aesthetic effect that the art works inside them possess. If the Met is considered graceful, the
Guggenheim can be characterized as simply beautiful. Both are priceless elements of the New York City
architectural landscape.