Discovering New York’s Architectural History

New York City never ceases to fascinate. There is always something new and interesting to do in this beautiful City, which is why tourists love it. Besides all cool things about New York City, the standalone feature is its architecture. Everyone wants to witness the gleaming skyline of the City that Never Sleeps once in their lifetime.

A city that has seen 400+ years is bound to be a goldmine for architecture lovers. New York has been under construction since the very beginning. What you see today is a mixture of old and new, and something in transition.

There are more than 70,000 buildings in New York. Many of these buildings are not iconic but serve an essential purpose for those who want to map history. For example, the first meeting place of the United Nations is now a weary gym in the Bronx.

The beginning of times

Many historical eras shaped and contributed to the mushrooming growth of tall landmarks.

1800’s

The more you research, the better you understand how the Big Apple evolved into its current façade. If asked in the 1880s, New York was just Manhattan Island. The island served as a seaport, and that was it. There were grid-like streets and horizontal occupancy. That’s why the architects sought to expand the City upward.

Classical architecture first beautified the skyscrapers with features like arches, columns, and vaults. New York City’s City Hall (1812) and Woolworth Building (1913) are the best examples of Classical Architecture.

1900’s

The 1900s were mainly about Beaux-Arts in New York City. It borrowed inspiration from Baroque and Roman architecture. These buildings were made to depict elegance and class. The Public Library (1911) and some areas of Central Park are excellent examples of Beaux-Arts construction.

After Beaux-Arts, the builders went for Art Deco. This form of architecture planned to decorate the skies with geometric shapes, showy-perches, and zig-zag patterns. Many buildings took inspiration from machines like cars of the 1920s.

The three most famous buildings of New York were constructed in the Art Deco style. The Chrysler Building (1930), The Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center (1939) can give you an idea of Art Deco construction. Countless other buildings pay homage to Art Deco throughout Manhattan.

The Modern Skyline

Post-1920s was a rapid shift in terms of architecture in New York. Builders went for the International Style, an art that borrowed a little from all other aspects. The International Style was modern, simple, practical, and universal.

Architects who studied abroad and shifted to the US brought their International Designs to New York. For the first time, material like steel and glass was used to build tall structures. Before this, most New York buildings used bricks that were laid by hand.

Today, you will see some shining examples of International Style in the Big Apple. The Seagram Building is considered the most exceptional product of International Style in New York. It was built so well that the 1961 NY Zoning Ordinance declared it the model of skyscrapers. Many buildings around the world followed Seagram’s style. United Nations’ current building (1952), the Guggenheim Museum (1959), and Whitney Museum (1996) are the products of the International Style in New York.

Controversies and Debates

Unlike other metropolitans around the US, New York expanded its presence by landfills. The City continues to recycle its real estate, which is a constant chase for perfection. In this recycling process, New York City has also witnessed funerals of some magnificent structures, which are now only alive in memory. When the iconic Pennsylvania Station started getting demolished in 1963, it caused a great debate. The Penn Station was built in Beaux-Arts style, and stakeholders now wished to replace it with modernist techniques. Architecture lovers raised a hue and cry, and order for architectural preservation came into being.

Protecting beloved structures in the busy City is now a legal obligation. Pennsylvania Station is replaced by Madison Square Garden, which is an excellent example of how New York shuffles its buildings.

Some other buildings that had to bite the dust include the Metropolitan Opera House, the real Madison Square Garden, Singer Building, Vanderbilt Mansion, Lüchow’s Restaurant, and the Biltmore Hotel.

The evolution continues

As Orwell once said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” In the case of New York, it is the architects and builders who control the first impression of its skyline. New York City’s fascinating architectural history builds itself as we speak. As one of the busiest cities in the world, New York learns and unlearns new rules in every field of life. If you have ever visited this bustling City in life, you hold a unique account of its demeanor in that particular period. Sites like the Guggenheim Museum have completely changed how people perceive New York City today.

Even though the city has seen its fair share of tragedies (in real-life as well as in the movies), New York has always managed to recover. The 21st century New York City that you see today continues to thrive as well as act as a busy port. It’s also home to a diverse population, engineers, and architects who collectively make the city great. As a reminder, the city ratified the fresh US Constitution on July 26, 1788 and was the 11th state to become the member of the Union. Until 1790, it was the nation’s capital, after which Albany took hold as the state capital.

If you’re planning to immerse yourself in New York’s architecture, don’t forget to explore options like CITYPASS whenever you pay visit. You’ll get discounts to several attractions, including thee Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the Empire State Building, and more.

Have you been to New York? Which buildings impressed you the most? Tell us in the comments section below.