The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

4/6/11

The New York Apartment - A History of Vertical Living -- New York Magazine

The New York Apartment - A History of Vertical Living -- New York Magazine


The New York Apartment: A Biography

The first week of April marks the anniversary of the founding of this magazine, back in 1968, and it occurred to us that it might be interesting to commemorate the occasion with an issue—maybe even an annual issue—that looks back at the history of the city itself. For this initial foray, we decided to take a rather sideways glance backward. What you see here is not a treatise on a specific period or event like New Amsterdam trading or the 1986 Mets. Instead, we’ve chosen to explore, across time, one of the things that has most defined New York life for centuries and has become a unit of measurement for our successes and failures: the apartment. It’s an interesting moment for the New York apartment. The housing market still shows pockets of trepidation, but bigger, more radical developments continue apace. Last month, Frank Gehry’s building on Spruce Street bested the record for the highest apartment in the city (on the 76th floor). The Chelsea Hotel, which in its early days played a leading role in inventing co-op living, only to spend much of the twentieth century epitomizing a certain artistic squalor, is now on the brink of becoming something else entirely.

Of course, once you start rifling through the past, you become aware of just how much history is alive and informing our present. (Yesterday’s maid’s room has become today’s rooftop dog run.) To live in this city is to continue to revisit the math and return to the drawing board, hoping that new inventions of architecture will help us cram ever more of us on slivers of land as efficiently, or conspicuously inefficiently, as possible. We thrill to the vertigo of sky-rise apartments, or construct elaborate fantasies out of small studios, or reimagine the artist garret (most recently as a trailer in Bushwick). Still, there’s something very reassuring about staring at a photograph of an apartment from the 1800s and seeing ourselves in it—imagining how we’d change the drapes, and maybe move that table a little to the left … and make it ours for a while.
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