Anyone who’s chugged around Manhattan on the Circle Line knows that the tour’s ever-voluble guides have Gotham factoids down pat, but can stumble when it comes to telling Emery Roth from Hugh Stubbins from Davis Brody Bond. Well, if you’ve longed for a hard-core architecture aficionado at the helm, your yacht has come in. Last Saturday, the second Around Manhattan Official NYC Architecture Tour shoved off from the archi-sparkling skyline at Chelsea Piers.
Hosted by the AIA New York chapter, the nearly three-hour-long journey surveyed the landmarks, boom-time hotspots, and as-yet untrammeled thickets of the city’s shores, focusing on what chapter executive director Rick Bell called “the things that made New York special as a riverine city.”
The crowd of about 50 embarked on the Classic Harbor Line’s Manhattan, built in 2005 in the style of a 1920s commuter yacht, a surprisingly intimate vessel with a comfortable windowed observatory and benches topside for wide-open views. The biweekly tours will feature a rotating cast of guides, and on this trip Bell was joined by architects Deborah Young of Perkins+Will and Michael Bischoff of Pei Cobb Freed, who traded narration along stretches of the East, Harlem, and Hudson rivers.
Though inspired by the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s popular River Cruise, the New York trip is necessarily a different sort of journey, touring the edges rather than the heart of the city, and offering a panoramic passage around the island rather than a detailed close-up of architectural sights. The cruise is actually quite fast-moving, leaving little time for commentary on any particular building or architect, and at times the guides struggled to keep pace with the shoreline sliding by. Indeed, the crew is still polishing the script, and invites public input on the evolving tour. (Hint: New Jersey should at least rate a mention.)
Still, for an archi-centric afternoon on the water, you could hardly do better, particularly with raconteurs who have had first-hand experiences among the city’s shores. Himself a tug-boat veteran in one of many previous lives, Bell pointed out his former residence at the 79th Street Boat Basin on the West Side, where he lived for eight years on a 36-foot houseboat, and elsewhere offered plenty of pointed commentary on the social connectivity of the eventually-to-reopen High Bridge and new development on the Domino Sugar site.
The $75 ticket includes hors d’oeuvres and one free drink—those in search of a booze cruise will need to look elsewhere—making for a civilized circumnavigation in AIA-endorsed company.