top of page

DOWNTOWN DESIGN: Five Free Architecture Activities in Downtown Manhattan

Architecture is free, in a sense. Sure, living or even stepping inside certain architectural spaces can cost a fee, especially in New York. However, there are also numerous architecture activities around the five boroughs that allow design-minded New Yorkers the opportunity to explore and immerse themselves in architectural design. In a way, our city is an open museum with works of art from throughout history on display.

As the first part of the island to be developed after being colonized in the late 16th century, downtown neighborhoods include some of the city’s most storied buildings and infrastructure. Fittingly so, lower Manhattan is home to a thriving design scene.

You don’t have to be an architect or academic to step out on a sunny day and take on one (or all) of these no-cost adventures. You’re bound to learn something new, see something you haven’t before… all below 14th Street!



Adjacent to the angular, high-rises of Wall Street, the Seaport district is a historically rich seafaring and mercantile area.

The free South Street Seaport Museum tells the history of the city’s port area, from the still-standing 17th century Captain Joseph Rose House to Fulton Street’s cobblestoned Schermerhorn Row, one of the city’s original commercial developments. In the 1960’s, during a period of New York architectural revival, the Seaport was set to be remodeled. The Seaport Museum’s founders, a group of architectural preservationists, fought to save the area, which now flourishes as a waterfront social destination. Now, they share the story of the neighborhood through models, storytelling, and, on the docks outside, free self-guided tours of historical boats.

12 Fulton St, New York, NY 10038



A block from Washington Square Park, this AIA-founded culture center is a modern, stimulating space and open to the public.

In 2003, the American Institute of Architects opened this museum in Greenwich Village as a place to present new ideas about architecture, design, urban living and planning to a broad audience. Immersive exhibits include photography, models, drawings, and more, rotating often to allow for new concepts and creations to be displayed. The museum itself is heated with geothermal energy, putting the museum’s forward-thinking ideas into practice.

“Reset: Towards a New Commons,” the Center’s showcase of collaborative living, is on display through August.

536 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012



This architecture-focused gallery is a design feat in itself.

Those strolling down the streets of Soho are usually window-shopping for designs they can take home, but the Storefront for Art and Architecture, a space that appears as a wall when closed and as a recessed gallery when open, is not selling clothing or housewares. Founded in the 1980s as a place for civic dialogue, this museum features one exhibit at a time, and has displayed work from designers and architects around the globe. The storefront is visually impressive and an informative stop for a quick break from shopping.

The storefront is showing “The Absolute Restoration of All Things,” a visual discussion of the impacts of gold mining in the Sonoran Desert, until late July.

97 Kenmare St, New York, NY 10012



Visit a restoration marvel in the Lower East Side on pay-as-you wish Mondays and Fridays.

In the 19th century, Jewish immigrants who made their way to New York built the Eldridge Street Synagogue as a safe place to congregate, making it the first purpose-built synagogue in the United States. In the 1950’s, the synagogue was left to public neglect and nearly demolished before an unprecedented restoration took place, led by the now-museum’s founders, and reopened in 2007. Visitors can experience the museum and its breathtaking stained glass artwork, which houses two galleries of rotating Jewish artists.

12 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002



A photo-ready gallery for furniture and inventive decor.

This small yet memorable two-floor gallery in the Lower East Side is a showroom of art and furniture, including biomorphic mirrors, clocks made of take-out bags, and surrealist designer Ryan Decker’s “dungeon” of furniture and objects.

75 East Broadway, Second Floor, New York, NY 10002

Open 2 – 6 PM Saturdays and Sundays


These design-focused event calendars are excellent year-round references.



bottom of page