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New York City is a vibrant, thriving, throbbing melting pot that opens its arms to people from all over the world, proving that the promises delivered by Ellis Island and Lady Liberty are not merely lip-service.

In the city that never sleeps the cultures don’t clash; they merge, and the results are easily visible in everything from the food available to the architecture you find at some of the city’s most popular landmarks. If you’ve ever wondered why some of your favorite buildings look the way they do, the reasons might surprise you.

The Georgian aesthetic

New York Architecture Georgian style

Image via Flickr by Tom Thai

The Georgian style was popular throughout the 18th century, and in full disclosure, although it was often seen during New York’s very early days, only one building still demonstrates this fine old look. St. Paul’s Chapel has the unique distinction of being the only building still used in NYC that features any architecture from before the Revolutionary War. For that reason, it’s more than just a landmark, it’s an existing, tangible piece of history.

Like a Skyscraper

New York Architecture skyscraper

Image via Flickr by gula08

Ask someone what they picture when they think of NYC, and “skyscrapers” will likely factor high on the list. These towering buildings epitomize the city, and in fact Early Skyscraper was an age of design that lasted from 1880-1920.

Cast iron figured largely into this era, which in part made building skyscrapers incredibly cost efficient. With the building of so many sky-high buildings, there was finally room for all the businessmen, entrepreneurs, and even artists streaming into the city during this time.

Popular buildings in Early Skyscraper style include:

  • The Flatiron Building
  • The Woolworth Building
  • And the American Surety Company

The earliest examples used lots of historical décor. Some of them mimic the Beaux Art trend that took place concurrently.

Beaux Arts with French Flavor

New York Architecture Public Library

Image via Flickr by Patrick Nouhailler

Taking place between 1890 and 1920, the Beaux Arts trend of architecture got its name from the well-known Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a Parisian school that taught many architects and designers from America. The trend was lush, luxurious, and exuberantly opulent. It’s best seen in many well-known buildings, such as the New York Public Library and the Grand Central Terminal.

Ode to Art Deco

New York Architecture Art Deco

Image via Flickr by ctsnow

Paying homage to the Roaring ’20s, Art Deco took New York City by storm. In particular, hotels and restaurants fared well with his architecture. It was jazzy and modern for the times, filled with sharp angles and keen lines combined with intricate stylization. Rockefeller Center is a stunning example of the Art Deco look, as are the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

A Look at Postmodernism

New York Architecture Post Modernism

Image via Flickr by Dan McKay

From 1975-1990, the city thrived on a more modern aesthetic. Historic inspiration showed up again, although sometimes in outrageous amounts. Take a look at the Sony Building or the Morgan Bank Headquarters to get an idea of what happens when old meets new and then explodes with enthusiasm.

A lesson in history all in one city

A walk through New York City is a lesson in history, but while visitors love hearing the stories about who lived where and with whom, they sometimes don’t think about the stories behind the architecture. Do you?

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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.