In a city that’s constantly changing, one only needs to look up to see hallmarks of the past. Home to a range of personalities, it’s no surprise that New York’s stylistic diversity extends to its buildings. Here are a few of the more prominent examples of the architectural movements that have found a home in New York City over the years.
There might not be an architectural style more closely associated with New York City than Beaux Arts. Built on the foundation of classical architecture, this style combined French Baroque and Rococo influences onto the heralded Ancient Greek framework. Beaux Arts was the preeminent style from the late 19th to the early 20th century, when many of New York’s iconic buildings were taking shape. The Woolworth Building, Grand Central Station, and the New York Public Library on 42nd street are just a few examples of this regal style.
Born in Paris, Art Deco took the entire world by storm in the early 20th Century, and New YOrk was no exception. This distinctive style most closely associated with the futurism of the 1920s and 30s survives today in a few NY landmarks like the Verizon Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and most famously, the iconic spire of the Chrysler Building. Outside of Manhattan, Brooklynites can spot Art Deco stylings on the outer pillars of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza.
This style, inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture, came to be in early 19th century England and eventually came to the U.S. in the 1840s. Italianate design, found in mansions and ornate halls in Europe, was instead incorporated into low-cost rowhouses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, thanks to newly refined techniques allowing for ornamentation in cast-iron and stone that was previously reserved only for the most luxurious homes. These qualities prominently feature in the building facades seen in SoHo’s Cast Iron district, as well as the brownstones of Brooklyn.
The Postmodern style is hard to nail down, but it’s often described as a response to the uniformity of prefabricated, “modern” buildings of the first half of the 20th century. Works under this genre feature expressive shapes and features, with flourishes of personality aimed at representing the building’s use and location. Some NYC-based examples of this style are the Sony Building on Madison Avenue, said to resemble a Chippendale cabinet and the so-called “Lipstick Building” of Midtown East.
A distinct style of the 20th and 21st Century, the Deconstructivist approach often takes the form of buildings that push the idea of what a large-scale structure can look like to the limit. Shapes beyond the traditional, allowed by cutting-edge building materials and techniques are transforming cityscapes worldwide, and NYC is no exception. 41 Cooper Square, home of Cooper Union’s School of Engineering, and Frank Gehry’s 81 Spruce Street are two examples, both built in the last ten years, of this style that adds a future-facing touch to some of the old world streets of New York City.