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Architecture in Manhattan and New York City

Things to do / Travel Guide

As New York City (NYC) has been an urban center for 300 years, it has stood at the crossroads of architectural innovation and creativity. It contains a wealth of architectural styles, from narrow five-story row houses to ornate churches to soaring skyscrapers. Checking out the city's most popular styles provides a unique perspective on the city's past, present, and future.

It is not unusual for a single site to have been occupied by a succession of buildings, each one built to reflect the changing needs of the location. Farmhouses were replaced by row houses, then by mansions, then large commercial buildings, and, most recently, by sleek skyscrapers. In some neighborhoods, like SoHo, the buildings remain while their uses change dramatically.

In Manhattan for most of the 19th century, no one style dominated. In terms of residential architecture, the primary dwelling types were the Brownstone and row house developments, which housed mainly blue-collar laborers, and mansions, lived in by the more well-off white-collar workers and upper-class caste of society. During the 1870s, technological advancements and imaginative design intersected to create the architecture that was to define New York - the skyscraper. The first of these remained somewhat bound to the Classical style, as can be seen in the Flatiron Building and the Woolworth Building, both on Broadway. Internally steel-framed, externally they were Gothic, Beaux Arts, Baroque, and Classical Revival style.

After World War I, skyscrapers began to be built in the Art Deco style. The three most notable structures in this class are the Chrysler Building, whose famous adorned radiator caps still beam modernity, the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world for several decades after its construction in 1931, and the iconic GE Building at the center of Rockefeller Plaza.

In the 1950s, skyscrapers were built in the sparse International Style to make their tenant companies look modern.
Architecture buffs will want to seek out the Lever House, the neighboring Seagram Building, and the United Nations complex. All of these structures are some of the city's best examples of the form-follows-function, glass and steel style. They were built with the idea that beauty was to be found in simplicity. The past 50 years have also seen Post-Modern structures rise from the ground in Manhattan, in the forms of the AT&T Building on Madison Avenue and the Lipstick Building on Third Avenue, among others.

The Upper West Side, Manhattan's residential neighborhood, is home to several prime examples of urban residential architecture. On Broadway, the flamboyant Ansonia Hotel is a splendid example of a building designed in the Beaux Arts tradition, which aspired to constructing academic classical building. The surrounding neighborhood of the same name abounds in other Art Deco buildings. Another Beaux Arts building in the area is the Dakota Apartments, at 72nd Street and Central Park West. The building's most famous resident, John Lennon, was shot and killed outside the 72nd Street entrance on December 8th, 1980; Yoko Ono still owns an apartment there. These apartments were also the site where the horror movie “Rosemary's Baby,” was filmed, and has served as the residential premises in several other movies and books.

With its 15 million books and an authentic Gutenberg Bible to boot, The New York Public Library is perhaps most well-known for the two marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, which grace its entrance. Located on Fifth Avenue, the library is another classic example of Beaux Arts architecture. Recent renovations have revitalized the same classic style for the Grand Central Terminal, an edifice full of restaurants, chic boutiques, and crowd-pleasing special events.

Just about every significant architect of the past century has a building standing in New York City - Louis Sullivan (Bayard Building), Frank Lloyd Wright (Guggenheim Museum), Philip Johnson (Lipstick Building), Walter Gropius (PanAm Building, now MetLife), Frank Gehry (Conde Nast Cafeteria), Le Corbusier (UN Building), Marcel Breuer (Whitney Museum), I.M. Pei (Jacob Javitz Center), Eero Saarinen (TWA terminal), Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (Lever House).