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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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The Stuyvesant
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The Stuyvesant
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As people were debating as what type of tenement should be built in New York, apartment houses built for the middle class begin to appear very slowly. The first apartment house built specifically to cater to the middle class is a building called the Stuyvesant, which dates from 1869 and was designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt. Hunt was one of the most prestigious architects in America—we've seen other buildings by Hunt—and the first American to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. And it was appropriate that he was the architect for this first middle-class apartment house because one of the models for the middle-class apartment house was the fact that the Parisian middle class had been living in apartment houses for many decades. And Hunt was familiar with the French apartment building.

So the notion of the middle-class apartment house is brought over from France, but Americans did not like the planning of French apartments, which they thought were rather promiscuous. The fact that bedrooms were entered right off of the living room in some cases, and there was no privacy for bedrooms, or that you had to walk through different rooms to get from one place to another in the apartment. So the Americans experiment with a different kind of plan.

The Stuyvesant, which unfortunately has been demolished, was built as if it were a row of four row houses. It is massed with a very strong series of verticals so that you can read it as four individual row houses. This was done on purpose because the notion of the apartment house was so new.

One of the issues with persuading the middle class that they wanted to move into an apartment house was, How did you deal with the fact that if you lived in an apartment house, you were giving up some privacy, and that you might actually have to meet a neighbor whom you really didn't want to have anything to do with?

So one way that this is done is to have multiple entrances. So the Stuyvesant actually is divided into two separate buildings, so there are two separate entrances. And then there are two apartments on each floor in each of the buildings.

There is a main stair for you and your guests, and there's a service stair as well so that you never had to bump into your servants or to the deliveries. So this was very important since you're trying to attract middle- and upper-middle-class people to move into this building.

Now because this was an early apartment house—in fact the first apartment house—the plan was very experimental. And the plan was really flawed. This was the type of plan that people complained about. The public room is in the front, the parlor. You always want to have the parlor overlooking the street, where it'll have the most light. And the dining room is in the middle. And in order to get from the parlor to the dining room, you have to walk past the doors to several bedrooms. And this was considered really scandalous, that your guests might actually be able to peer in to a private bedroom.

In addition, the kitchen and the bath are all the way in the back, so it's not very convenient for your servant to get the food from the kitchen to the dining room because they're not really very close to each other. And in addition, it has very long, narrow, dark hallways. So these were problems with the layout, problems that apartment-house designers experimented with for the rest of the nineteenth century until they came up with an ideal plan that would separate the public spaces—the parlor and the dining room—from the private spaces, like the bedrooms, and from the service spaces.

The Stuyvesant was very successful, and it was followed by several other early middle-class apartment houses. But apartment-house construction stops in 1873 with the Panic of 1873, and it's not until the 1880s that we have the first major wave of upper-middle-class apartment-house construction.

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