While New York City is renowned for its towering skyscrapers, the character of the city is defined by the style of its buildings.
One glance at the skyline and it becomes evident that no two buildings are really alike and each lends the city a different flavor, making NYC one of the most architecturally diverse cities in the world. Here are the five styles that built New York—and a quick primer on where to explore each one.
Often described as a refinement of Georgian Style, Federal or Adam architecture once dominated the American landscape. Typically federal houses are a square or rectangular shape and are no more than two stories high. Made from brick, they feature low-hipped roofs, elaborate doors usually surrounded with decorative crowns or small entry porches, and double-hung sash windows arranged in symmetrical rows.
Period: Early 1780-1830
Where to find them: Vandam Street in Soho has a sweet little row of Federal houses that have managed to remain close to their original appearance since being built in the 1820s.
Favorite find: 77 Bedford Street in the West Village. Built in 1799 this historic home is a free-standing, two-story home located on one of the most charming corners in the West Village. Its second owner, a copper merchant, supplied metal to Paul Revere for the boilers that powered steamboats.
Art Deco first appeared in France following World War I and can be best described as a “modernization” of many different artistic styles. The defining features of Art Deco are rich colors, bold geometric shapes, lavish ornamentation, and sleek, linear appearance.
Period: This style enjoyed popularity between 1920–1940.
Where to find them: Art Deco buildings can found all over the city, but some of the best are in Midtown between 34th Street and 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue.
Favorite find: Aside from one of the most famous, the Empire State Building, the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway was one of the first US skyscrapers, and was once the tallest building in New York City.
Often perceived as the last phase of Neoclassical architecture development, Greek Revival-style homes are usually painted white to resemble the white marble found on many costly public buildings. Bold details with simple moldings along with heavy cornices, gables with pediments, unadorned friezes, and columns and pilasters are typical of this style.
Period: Late 18th through early 19th Century
Where to find them: The East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, which runs from Second Avenue and Second Street up through Sixth Street. With over 330 buildings in the historic district, there is no shortage of building constructed in the Greek Revival style.
Favorite find: St. Mark’s church on 10th Street and Second Avenue. Steeped in New York City history, the church was originally built in 1660 as a family chapel by Peter Stuyvesant. One hundred years later, his great-grandson, Petrus, donated the property to the Episcopal church, and in 1795 the cornerstone of the present day church was laid.
Popularized in the 1840s as an alternative to Gothic or Greek Revival architecture, this style is characterized by low pitched roofs with emphatic eaves. Rounded windows separated or flanked by columns or pilasters are trimmed with lively variations such as U-shaped crowns, but the most outstanding feature is the square tower, topped with a bracketed cornice.
Where to find them: The city is rich in Italianate-style buildings, especially in the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District, which has 26 blocks full of buildings with cast-iron facades, many of which are done in this style. Greene Street between Houston and Canal has the richest section of Italianate-style buildings.
Favorite find: Completed in 1871 as a warehouse for the famous furrier William Gunther, the Gunther Building at 469 Broome Street in Soho should not be missed. Finished in a stunning white and featuring a cast-iron façade, ornate Corinthian columns, and 90-degree curved glass windows, the building is a visual masterpiece rich in history.
A popular style for churches, Gothic Revival is notable for the steeply pitched roofs, gables, pointed arches, elaborate porches, roof gables, and medieval details such as gargoyles and stained glass.
Where to find them: Gothic Revival style buildings and churches can be found all over the city. The campus of Fordham University and City College both have numerous buildings done in this style that are worth seeing.
Favorite find: Located at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, St. John the Divine is the city’s most exquisite example of Gothic Revival architecture. Its grandeur begins with its length—601 feet—and continues with its 124-foot high nave; at the east end of the nave is the largest stained glass window in the United States.