Monday, July 13, 2009

Tenement Architects - Entirely Unneccessary?

It’s a good thing 19th century architects rarely got famous for their work on tenement houses. According to Andrew Dolkart, a historic preservation expert at Columbia who studies they city’s everyday, or “vernacular,” structures, tenement architects (and even the renowned designers of some cast-iron commercial buildings in SoHo) did little more than sign legal documents and select pre-fab ornamentations from warehouses.

The Italiante stone lintels above the windows of buildings surrounding the museum, for instance, which were in fashion at the time and helped stabilize the window frames, were probably chosen from a manufacturing lot somewhere in the city. (97 Orchard's have since been scraped off and smoothed over.)
And as for the design of the tenements themselves, the boxy four or five story buildings – subdivided into equally nondescript two or three room apartments – are among the simplest structures in the city to build. Contractors hardly needed to follow blueprints; in fact, they often improvised as they went along.

For more info: Check out Dolkart's book, Biography of a Tenement House in New York City (featuring none other than 97 Orchard), on sale at the museum shop.

97 Orchard in the 1940s, stone lintels still intact. Courtesy Municipal Archives.
-posted by Liana Grey

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