Architecture Planning and Preservation New York City
by
Chelsea Bruner
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0066

Introduction

The island of Manhattan is one of five boroughs that comprises modern-day New York City. Joining the neighboring boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, the City of New York was consolidated as such in 1898. While part of a larger whole, “New York City architecture” typically refers to the built environment of Manhattan. Indeed, the iconic image of contemporary New York City is the Manhattan skyline. Its tall buildings have historically been concentrated in the Financial District on the southern tip of the island, and in Midtown, although recent developments have seen these traditional boundaries expand northward and to the outer boroughs. By the early 1700s, the Native Lenape population had largely been displaced by colonists—first the Dutch, who named their community on the southern tip of Manhattan New Amsterdam, and later the British, who again rechristened this area New York. As a result of the near-continuous cycle of demolition and construction that has characterized so much of New York’s history, little evidence of the earliest structures—both Native and European—survives. Yet the Dutch and British settlements laid the ground work for future expansion. With a population concentrated at the southern tip of the island, subsequent development continuously pushed northward. Infrastructure projects like the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, physically connected Manhattan to then-neighboring city of Brooklyn, and subsequent bridges and tunnels further linked the island to its surroundings, creating a regional metropolis. Because of New York’s significance to national history—for a short time, it was the capital of the early Republic, and in the 20th and 21st centuries it is a capital of finance, media, and visual culture—literature on the city’s built environment is vast. This bibliography thus proceeds from general resources to a chronology that begins in the late 18th century, and continues up to recent developments in the architecture and urban planning that shape the city in the early 21st century.

General Overviews

The long and varied history of New York City’s built environment lends itself to more specialized study of a particular building type, stylistic category, or time period. But of the more general overviews, Reynolds 1994 succinctly covers New York’s architectural history from the early Dutch settlement to the 1960s. Plunz 2016 focuses specifically on housing from the 1850s until the early 21st century. Many generalist texts are written as guidebooks, and for this reason focus on notable extant architectural examples. White, et al. 2010 documents both individual landmarks and historic districts. Gura and Wood 2018 explores a selection of interior landmarks. This category also includes cultural histories that foreground architecture and urbanism. Koolhaas 1997 is a classic text that connects Manhattan’s dense urbanism to the larger culture of New York. Bender 2002 similarly links urban planning and the built environment to the cultural and political context of the city. Symmes 2005 utilizes artists’ portrayals of the city to showcase the evolution of New York’s buildings and landscape.

  • Bender, Thomas. The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

    Thematic essays from an urban historian. Centers Manhattan within larger national themes of culture and politics. Part 1, “Icons of Transformation,” is most focused on specific architectural case studies.

  • Gura, Judith, and Kate Wood. Interior Landmarks: Treasures of New York. New York: Monacelli Press, 2018.

    The first publication to focus specifically on Landmark-designated interiors. Includes forty-seven examples of the currently listed 120 interior landmarks in all five boroughs. Organized chronologically from the oldest building to the most recent. Includes history and significance of the interior, and how it came to be landmarked.

  • Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. Rev. ed. New York: Monacelli Press, 1997.

    A polemical text from the Dutch architect and theorist first published in 1978 and subsequently reprinted. Explores New York’s built history through the lens of density.

  • Plunz, Richard. A History of Housing in New York City. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.7312/plun17834

    Thorough overview of residential architecture in Manhattan from the 1850s. Considers the full spectrum of socioeconomic status.

  • Reynolds, Donald Martin. The Architecture of New York City: Histories and Views of Important Structures, Sites, and Symbols. Rev. ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 1994.

    Historical overview of New York architecture from 17th-century Dutch settlement to the 1960s. Chapters on the early history are organized chronologically; 19th century and later are organized typologically.

  • Symmes, Marilyn. Impressions of New York: Prints from the New-York Historical Society. New York: Princeton Architectural Press in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society, 2005.

    Collection of nearly 150 artistic portrayals of the city in the Historical Society’s collection, dating from the 18th century to the 21st. Published on occasion of the New-York Historical Society’s bicentennial.

  • White, Norval, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon. AIA Guide to New York City. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Accessible guide to Landmark-designated buildings and districts in all five boroughs and interstitial islands. Organized geographically, each entry includes attribution information and short contextual history. Not all entries include photographs.

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