As we progressed through the ages, so did everything around us. Man has the unique capability to terraform his surroundings to his liking, and thus the concept of a city was born. Naturally, every city in the world has seen itself change and adapt to some degree. Some of these changes and adaptations are necessary, whereas others serve a more cosmetic purpose.
Perhaps there is no greater example than New York City. While cities like London or Rome kept true to their ancient roots, New York City was the poster boy of change. The ‘city that never sleeps’ did indeed evolve and continues to do so. In a way, New York City is not only an architectural museum of sorts, but also a look into the future of city planning.
The Humble Beginnings
No city starts out being a megalopolis, and New York City is no different. It started out as nothing but a small trading post; founded by Dutch colonists in 1624. It didn’t come under English control until 1664, when it was renamed New York after being handed to the Duke of York. Peter Minuit had had purchased the island of Manhattan in 1626 from the natives. During its time as a Dutch colony before 1664 as New Amsterdam, the colony saw simple European structures being erected as well as Fort Amsterdam for protection.
The Colonial Influence
It didn’t take long for New York City to find its footing as a powerhouse. Shortly after the independence and founding of the United States of America in 1776, New York City was named the capital in 1785. Though this was short-lived as it lost that title in 1790. Due to its significance and large harbor however, the city saw a lot of growth during this period. A tradition it would carry well into the 21st Century. This era was marked by European influenced structures, with symmetrical housing and gorgeous displays of either wooden, stone, or brick cladding alongside pitched roofs. Most of these structures still stand, and make for serene neighborhoods.
The 19th Century
New York City continued to grow and expand while enjoying a position of cultural and financial importance. As the city grew in significance, so did its ideas for city planning and grandeur. Banks and large corporations were, naturally, quite fond of constructing impressive headquarters and offices. The Greek Revival form of art style was an excellent addition to New York, and resulted in plenty of beautiful buildings propping up over the city like the Federal Hall for instance.
Other structures opted for more classical patterns and went for the Renaissance Revival art style. This architectural style was used for grand buildings for the rich, and was popular in the more well-off neighborhoods. The popular Flatiron Building is one fine example of the Renaissance Revival architectural style. By the mid-19th century however, yet another revival was taking place. Gothic Revival, a love letter to the Medieval Ages, took hold in New York City. St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church are just two examples of this art style’s magnificent turrets, pointed arches, and dormers.
The 20th Century
As the 20th Century rolled along so did the ambitions of its newer residents. It was pretty clear New York City’s status wasn’t a temporary one and was here to stay. With that in mind the art style of Art Nouveau took hold in New York City. Originating in France and mostly being popularized in the United States through paper media, Art Nouveau went for a much more relaxed look. Instead of grand displays of intricate and symmetrical geometry, more natural looking designs took their place. The buildings it produced had the look of just having been crafted by a passionate potter. The Decker Building and the New Era Building are two examples of Art Nouveau in play.
Of course, with mechanization being such a huge part of New York City’s success, Art Nouveau couldn’t have replaced other art styles entirely. One such rival art style of Art Nouveau was the Cast-Iron style. Simply put, buildings made with cast iron. Popular in Europe, it didn’t see as much widespread use in New York City. But the SoHo District of New York remains till date the densest collection of Cast-Iron architectural style structures.
The 20th century was an important one for New York City in regards to structural development and the adoption of new architectural styles. Some of the decisions made by the city during this time would go on to define its skyline in the future. The introduction of the Beaux-Arts art style is one of the more significant of these decisions. Beaux-Arts is based on the Renaissance Revival art style but with much more extravagance using up-to-date construction technology. Much of New York owes its popular landmarks to the Beaux-Arts architecture design. Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, and Brooklyn Museum are just some of the popular Beaux-Arts examples that New York contains.
Continuing with the trend of adopting architectural designs that would later become popular landmarks, New York City took on the Art Deco art style. This art style, recognized for its exuberant displays and dramatic grandeur, produced some of the finest works of art a city has ever seen. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Rockefeller Center, all easily some of the most prominent and familiar icons amongst New York’s skyline, are based on the Art Deco architectural plans.
The 20th century continued to fuel New York City’s as it went on. The International Style architecture style, originating in Germany, made its way to New York around the 1950’s. Another antithesis of the Art Nouveau art style, International Style was all about simplified geometry and plain uniform looks. The Seagram Building in New York City pretty much defines International Style architecture; as it has been emulated the world over and is popular because of its trendsetting design.
A few other architectural styles made their debut during the 20th Century as well. One such art style was named Brutalism. The Brutalism architectural style was all about concrete, and structures made according to this art style were often large, raw buildings. The Bronx Community College is an example of Brutalism. New Formalism was an art style that was another throwback to classicism. Abstract yet symmetrical designs made up New Formalism and the Lincoln Center is one example of such.
The High-Tech and Postmodernism art styles also made their way into New York City in the 20th century. While High-Tech focused on modern futuristic takes on buildings, Postmodernism was all about simple designs that held well on their own but would mostly blend in with their surroundings. The Citigroup Center is an example of High-Tech whereas 550 Madison Avenue (formerly the AT&T Building) is an example of Postmodernism architecture.
The 21st Century
The 21st century has seen no change in the pace of New York’s architectural evolution. New structures are cropping up and architects are working around the clock to continue to transform the city’s look. All the while New York City continues to enjoy the title of the world’s cultural and financial capital. The One World Trade Center and 432 Park Avenue continue to add to the city’s skyline with new and interesting designs. ‘New York by Gehry’ has even brought the Deconstructivism architectural style into the skyline. New York City’s evolution is on a fast-moving train that shows so signs of slowing down anytime soon.
New York City is a fascinating object of study when it comes to looking at cities and how they have evolved. New York has had a history of never slowing down and continuing to adapt and overcome, and it looks like it will continue to do just that for the foreseeable future.