5 Architectural Styles That Define New York City

In a city that is always busy, one can easily see the hallmarks of the past upon looking at New York’s architecture. Home to a range of races, it is no surprise that New York’s diversity extends to its buildings and architecture as well. If you are a New Yorker or someone who wants to know more about the architectural styles that define New York City, read on!

1. Beaux-Arts

This one is the most closely associated architectural style with New York City compared to all the others.  It was born at Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts, or National School of Fine Arts, Paris. This style was built on the foundation of classical architecture and combined Rococo influences and French Baroque onto the ancient Greek framework. Beaux Arts was the most distinguished style from the late 19th to the early 20th century, when many of New York’s iconic buildings were being constructed. 

What made this architectural style different and impressive from others was the use of innovations like steel-reinforced concrete and large sheets of glass. You can see the structure of the Brooklyn Museum, where this style is especially obvious. 

Following are a few notable examples of Beaux-Arts:

The New York Public Library on 42nd street


Main entrance on 5th Avenue

The Woolworth Building

picture of the Woolworth building captured in circa 1913

Brooklyn Museum

View of the Brooklyn Museum at Night

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Terminal in New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fifth Avenue entrance facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

James A. Farley Building

a picture of James A. Farley Building captured in circa 1912

Columbia University

Picture of the Library of Columbia University

Ansonia Hotel

picture of Ansonia Hotel

To read more about Beaux-Arts, check out the article on Best Beaux-Arts Buildings in New York City.

1. Art Deco

This architectural style was also born in Paris, and it took the world by storm in the early 20th century – and New York was no exception. It excellently combines a brash, exuberant movement with geometric motifs, integration of industrial craft, and the dramatic historical allusions. This movement’s name is derived from Paris’s 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, and it survives today in a few New York landmarks. 

Buildings made according to this style often incorporated sleek, eye-catching materials such as colorful stones, plastic, chrome plating, glass blocks, and stainless steel. 

Following are a few notable examples of Art Deco:

Empire State Building

Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Plaza, New York City

Verizon Building (previously known as the Barclay–Vesey Building)

the Verizon Building

30 Rockefeller Plaza

30 Rockefeller Plaza

American Radiator Building

American Radiator Building

General Electric Building

picture of General Electric Building at 570 Lexington Avenue, New York

The Iconic Spire of the Chrysler Building

The building's distinctive Art Deco crown and spire

To read more about Art Deco, check out the article on New York’s most iconic Art Deco buildings.

3. Italianate

This style was born in early 19th century England and came to the U.S in the late 1840s. It was inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture and is commonly found in mansions and ornate halls in Europe. However, Italianate style was instead incorporated into low-cost rowhouses/terraced houses in Brooklyn and Manhattan – but thanks to the latest, refined construction techniques that allowed ornamentation in cast-iron and stone, which was previously reserved for the most luxurious homes only.

You can view these prominent features in the building facades seen in:

SoHo’s Cast Iron district

Cast-iron buildings on Grand Street between Lafayette Street and Broadway

Brownstones of Brooklyn

Painted brownstone rowhouses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

4. Postmodern

The postmodern architectural style is somehow hard to track down, but it is often described as an answer to the austerity and arrogance of modern buildings if the first half of the 20th century. The style is distinguished by its expressive shapes and features, watered-down historical allusions, bright colors, and often cartoonish elements.

Following are a few notable examples of postmodern architectural style:

Sony Building

Sony Building New York

Lipstick Building

Lipstick Building

Scholastic Building

Scholastic Books Headquarters

Battery Park City

Northern part of Battery Park City

5. Deconstructivism

Dating back to the 20th and 21st century, this architectural style looks similar to a child’s Lego castle after he starts tearing it down. Basically, this approach takes the form of structures that push the idea of what large-scale buildings can look like to the max limit. So when digital technology allowed to virtualize the ideas in our minds, architects like Frank Gehry didn’t miss the opportunity and created buildings that looked like they were being ripped open and mangled. 

However, the term “Deconstructivism” was introduced later in the 1988 Deconstructivist Exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMa). 

Following are a few notable examples of deconstructivism:

The Cooper Union

Cooper Union's 41 Cooper Square, seen from Cooper Triangle Park

8 Spruce Street

InterActive Corporation Building

InterActive Corporation Headquarters Building located in New York City

Following are some more architectural styles that one can see in New York:

6. Colonial/Neo-Colonial

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

1130 Fifth Avenue

Willard D. Straight House located on 1130 Fifth Avenue

St. Paul’s Chapel

west side across Broadway at St Paul's Chapel

American Academy of Dramatic Arts

Academy at the former Colony Club building in Manhattan

7. Neoclassical/Greek Revival

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Federal Hall

Looking south across Pine and Nassau Streets at the back of Federal Hall on a cloudy day

Brooklyn Borough Hall

Looking south at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

14 Wall Street

14 Wall Street, New York City

8.  Renaissance Revival

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Ellis Island

Ellis Island Immigration Museum entrance

City Hall

Exterior of New York City Hall

Flatiron Building

Aerial view of the Flatiron Building, facing south toward the building's pointed facade

9. Gothic Revival

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Trinity Church

Trinity Church in New York City

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral Exterior

Belvedere Castle

picture of Belvedere Castle in September 2005

10. Art Nouveau

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Little Singer Building

Singer Building with the Hudson Terminal in 1909

Decker Building

Decker Building on 33 Union Square West, New York City

New Era Building

11. Cast-Iron Architecture

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

E. V. Haughwout Building


E.V. Haughwout Building on 488-492 Broadway

12. International Style

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Headquarters of the United Nations

United Nations Headquarters in New York City, view from Roosevelt Island

Seagram Building

Seagram Building in New York City

MetLife Building

MetLife Building with Grand Central Terminal in the foreground

13. Brutalism

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Met Breuer

Upper East Side of the Met Breuer museum

14. New Formalism

Following are a few notable examples of this architectural style:

Lincoln Center

David Geffen Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic in Lincoln Center