When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened in 1959, critics panned the design, comparing it to a washing machine, an inverted oatmeal bowl, and “an oversized and indigestible hot cross bun,” among other things. Today, however, it’s become one of New York City’s most beloved architectural icons. Designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum is a concrete masterpiece, featuring a top-heavy spiraling form that certainly makes for a unique space to display modern art in—the ultimate goal of Solomon R. Guggenheim and his art adviser Hilla Rebay. It was Wright’s first commission in New York City, but the architect was actually rather displeased about the chosen location. “I can think of several more desirable places in the world to build this great museum, but we will have to try New York,” he wrote in a 1949 letter. The compromise? Wright picked a spot next to Central Park on Fifth Avenue and 89th Street on the Upper East Side. The location connected the Guggenheim Museum with nature—a crucial component in the architect’s design ethos. Below, discover eight little-known facts about the iconic 20th-century building.
1. Frank Lloyd Wright wanted the museum’s exterior to be red.
You’ll find prominent use of Wright’s signature color, Cherokee Red, in many of his most famous works. The monochromatic Guggenheim is not one of these—but it nearly was. Wright intended to clad the exterior in red marble, claiming that “red is the color of creation,” but Hilla Rebay shot the idea down. “Red is a color which displeases [Solomon R. Guggenheim] as much as it does me,” she wrote in a 1945 letter to the architect.
2. The original exterior ended up being painted a brownish yellow.
That’s right—the Guggenheim was not originally the super pale gray it is today. During the $29 million restoration, conservators removed 11 layers of paint, unearthing the original brownish-yellow hue. There was a debate about what color to paint the restored exterior. Yellow proponents argued the color was more akin to what Wright would have wanted, since he didn’t particularly love white; while gray proponents argued that the building was better known by NYC residents and visitors for its nearly white hue, having been painted various shades of gray since the 1960s. At the end of the day, the proponents of gray won.