NYC Pre-War Apartment Lithos


The Alclyde. West 94th/CPW. Source: NYPL


This is a great archive from the New York Public Library: floor plans, footprints, drawings, and details of classic New York City apartment buildings, all in original, color lithographs from the turn of the 20th century.  The bulk of the buildings are in Harlem, Washington Heights, and on the Upper West Side, but the collection goes as far downtown as the twenties, and as far up as the Grand Concourse.   Note the parlors and chambers, rather than living rooms and bedrooms, in these units; and the fact that even modest apartments were designed to have living space for domestic help.  I found this cache during research for a paper about efficient land use in Late-Victorian New York City.

A Thesis

One idea behind this project is a goal of developing several related strands of thought that could inform and enrich the drafting process for local land use codes.  Since I’m at Rutgers, I’ll focus primarily on approaches that could work within the legal framework of New Jersey.  And since Euclidian zoning is a national phenomenon (curse? blessing?), what works in New Jersey could likely be considered in other American states.  So, yes, I’m working under the rubric of Euclid, and– in my own state– the equitable doctrine of the Mount Laurel cases.   But the aesthetic theories that are presented here build on a number of influences that are entirely unrelated to any American legal doctrine, and include some which have been directly abrogated by the generic boilerplate that has been enacted pursuant to the post-1926 Euclidian zoning model.

The planning approaches of Victorian America and England, and those that have been recovered from Classical world, are currently two my strongest interests.  I find the organic urbanism of the Greco-Roman world engrossing, as well as the detailed architecture and simple layouts of US and British towns that were built in the later 19th century.  And, interestingly, the building stock of the two distant periods, as well as their street plans, have some striking similarities.  But I don’t want to get too caught up here in a web of theoretical pretensions.  And I’m not an architect, so I won’t act as if I am.  What I’m really looking to do is distill is a practical assortment of the basic physical, aesthetic, and socioeconomic building blocks of cohesive, attractive, and viable neighborhoods, and the ways that their key elements can be memorialized in land use codes to encourage future development.