Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. To submit a question, leave it in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Were there ever height regulations placed on buildings in New York City, especially tenements on the Lower East Side?
Height regulations were first placed on buildings in New York City by the 1916 Zoning Resolution. As the first comprehensive effort at regulating the height, area, and use of structures built in an urban environment, the resolution proved influential to other U.S. cities that enacted zoning legislation after 1916.
While the 1916 Zoning Regulation was in a sense formulated as a reaction to the ways in which a new building form, the “skyscraper,” blocked sunlight to the surrounding streets (resulting in the setback, pyramid-style designs typical of New York City high-rises,) it applied to the entire city. Neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side were divided into height districts where limitations were formulated in relation to the width of the street. The Lower East Side was deemed a 1½ times district, meaning that no building was to be erected to a height in excess of 1½ times the width of the street. However, for each foot that the building or a portion of it was set back from the street line, three feet could be added to the height limit of the structure.
Although many of the tenements on the Lower East Side were erected prior to 1916, the height of those constructed after were subject to the limitations imposed by the 1916 Zoning Resolution.