Category Archives: Blog

Book Review: NY Skyscrapers

NY Skyscrapers

Dirk Stichweh, photos by Jörg Machirus and Scott Murphy | 192 pages | Prestel | 2016
< click image to see in
This is a magnificent celebration of the buildings that make New York’s skyline so exciting. The large 9½ʺ x 12½ʺ format and brilliant color photography make “NY Skyscrapers” a joy to browse again and again. You’ll find the city’s classic icons, of course, but also less-photographed and under-appreciated structures such as the West Street Building, Crown Building, and Paramount Building. Half of the photos are high-angle shots – seemingly from a helicopter or nearby buildings – so even familiar landmarks seem fresh. Each of the book’s 82 buildings is described with concise architectural commentary.

“NY Skyscrapers” provides context three ways: The volume begins with a history of skyscrapers in New York City; downtown and midtown skyscrapers are grouped, with maps; and numerous aerial group photos show the buildings’ relationship to their neighborhoods.

While any book on this subject is soon out of date, “NY Skyscrapers” includes renderings and descriptions of eight under-construction buildings scheduled to be completed by 2020.

More reviews at NYC Architecture: Books

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

Thank You, Landmarks Preservation Commission!

Landmarks Preservation Commission
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has outdone itself with the new “Discover NYC Landmarks” web site. This interactive map is the fastest way to find and explore the city’s architectural heritage.

Since its creation in 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has granted landmark status to more than 35,000 buildings and sites, including 1364 individual landmarks, 117 interior landmarks, 10 scenic landmarks and 139 historic districts and extensions in all five boroughs. LPC shields this cultural history against defacement or destruction.

Equally if not more importantly, LPC has researched and written volumes of reports that examine and interpret those landmarks in the context of New York City and neighborhood history. The commission’s researchers also reveal the architects, builders and owners of the buildings.

Last but not least, LPC has made its work accessible in many ways. It published the “Guide to New York City Landmarks” (Fourth Edition – Wiley, 2009), and made individual report .PDFs available from its website.

Since 2011, I’ve relied on the LPC reports for details about the buildings I’ve photographed for Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Best Yet From Landmarks Preservation Commission

The new “Discover NYC Landmarks” site is LPC’s best-yet platform for browsing our architectural heritage. It’s an interactive map of the city, showing the locations of all landmarks and historic districts. Click on a landmark or district, a popup shows you the landmark name and designation date. Click on the popup image, and a .PDF report opens up. While the map itself is a major accomplishment, LPC has also upgraded its pre-computer reports. Old typewritten documents that had been scanned into .PDFs were often difficult to read and could not be searched electronically. The upgraded documents have been cleaned up dramatically and sometimes reformatted to make them easier to search and navigate.

The 433-page Greenwich Village Historic District report, for example, was originally published in two volumes. Here are the “before” and “after” versions of the original 1969 title page: The updated version combines both volumes and includes navigable bookmarks.


I’ve been using the improved report to document my new photos of Greenwich Village – it is so much easier to work with. Thank you, LPC!

Discover NYC Landmarks

Las Vegas

When my son won a trip to Las Vegas for a national billiards competition, my wife and I went along to cheer him on. Architectural snob that I am, I left my camera at home: What happens in Vegas, I thought, is not architecture.

But I succumbed to the bright lights and the ersatz geography of The Strip: New York, Paris, Rome, Luxor, Venice… I borrowed my wife’s Canon SX50 and shot about a thousand frames, cursing myself for not bringing a tripod.

Lesson learned: Architecture is everywhere, and doesn’t have to be classic to be arresting.

P.S. – What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas….with your money to keep it company.

Las Vegas Highlights

Google Map

The Dakota – A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building

The Dakota – and indeed NYC apartment life – is beautifully illuminated by Andrew Alpern’s new “History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building.” The noted architectural historian presents the most comprehensive history of The Dakota imaginable! Mr. Alpern documents the building, its builder (and family!), the architect, the neighborhood, the architectural and historical context, and even the Dakota’s residents. Fascinating reading that illuminates not only The Dakota, but also the world of apartment living in New York City.

I’m deeply honored by Mr. Alpern’s use of my photography (from the Dakota Apartments gallery) in this volume.

Where Do I Get Inspiration?

With a million buildings in the New York Metropolitan Area, how does one decide what to photograph and research?

Books are one source of inspiration. Initially, the “AIA Guide to New York City” was my main guide. But after the architecture bug has taken hold, inspiration comes from everywhere.

This morning, I’m off to Brighton Beach because I saw (and subsequently tracked down with Google Street View) 711 Brightwater Court in a “Person of Interest” episode. Gorgeous Art Deco, seems to be in good shape – I just hope it’s not time for the building’s Local Law 11 maintenance and attendant scaffolding.

My Plan B is to shoot five other buildings in the seven adjoining blocks. Stay tuned.

Fabulous Forest Hills Fantasy

From time to time I like to hop into my personal helicopter, aka Google Earth, to roam new (for me) neighborhoods.

A recent “discovery” was the Tudor fantasyland of Forest Hills Gardens, Queens. Architecturally, it’s a residential enclave that makes Manhattan’s Tudor City look like public housing. Take a quick look for yourself in Google Earth view. I’ll wait.

Caution: It’s easy to get to Forest Hills Gardens by public transport,* and it’s just as easy to get hopelessly lost in the neighborhood’s maze of winding narrow lanes.

If you need a guide, let me recommend Adrienne Onofri – my former co-worker, a licensed guide, and more importantly the author of “Walking Queens: 30 Tours for Discovering the Diverse Communities, Historic Places, and Natural Treasures of New York City’s Largest Borough.” By happy coincidence I had just purchased the book. When I spotted Forest Hills in Google Earth, I checked “Walking Queens” and sure enough, Walk 9 was titled, “Forest Hills: Better Homes and Gardens.” I learned that the neighborhood’s history was as fascinating as its architecture, and my wife and I hopped on the subway to scout the area, book in hand.

Alas, Adrienne is a better guide than I am a follower. I didn’t pay attention, and more than once I turned left when I should have turned right or vice versa. But I wasn’t disappointed, and I went back with camera in hand to capture and share photos of Forest Hills’ architecture. See Forest Hills Gardens and Forest Hills Inn.

And to think: There are 29 more tours in the book to enjoy! The routes are about two to five miles each, clearly mapped and accompanied by a turn-by-turn summary. Each route begins and ends at or near a subway, so you can leave your GPS and car at home.

Adrienne also wrote the earlier guide, “Walking Brooklyn: 30 tours exploring historical legacies, neighborhood culture, side streets and waterways.” The book store shelves are filled with Manhattan tour books; it’s nice to see the outer boroughs get some play. (Yes, I’ll admit that even my own work is Manhattan-centric, though I’ve lived in Brooklyn or Queens for about 55 years.)

Like “Walking Queens,” “Walking Brooklyn” is rich in architectural and historical context. Each of the 30 two- to five-mile tours is accompanied by clear two-color maps and turn-by-turn instructions.

I really have to be kept on a short leash in a book store. My mother took me to the library a year before she took me to school, and I’ve been a bookworm ever since.

The same day that I picked up “Walking Queens” and “Walking Brooklyn,” I got Janko Puls’ “Point of View New York City: A Visual Game of the City You Think You Know.” This is a wonderful little book for lovers of New York, architecture and photography. It’s a puzzle book: 144 closely-cropped photos of well-known New York City places. Your challenge: identify the places. Some are easy, some are difficult; all demonstrate the power of seeing something familiar from a different point of view. Beautifully done, Janko!

Last, but not least, I got Tom Miller’s “Seeking New York: The Stories Behind the Historic Architecture of Manhattan–One Building at a Time.” Tom is one of my favorite writers – he’s the author of the Daytonian in Manhattan blog that I often refer to in my galleries. In “Seeking New York,” Tom has uncovered the stories of the people who lived, worked, and sometimes died in 54 landmarks across the length and breadth of Manhattan. Wonderful illustrations by Jenny Seddon, and color photography throughout.

See NYC Architecture: Books for more good reading about New York City and architecture.

* Forest Hills Gardens is just two blocks south of the Forest Hills/71st Avenue station on the E/F/M/R lines, or right at the exit of the LIRR Forest Hills station.

A Few Words

This post marks the relaunch of The web host I’ve been using (Bluehost) is unwilling or unable to keep my server running reliably, so I decided to move rather than renew the service.

While moving, I decided to make some changes. The most obvious changes are cosmetic, but I’ve tried to make the site easier to use. You can now search the site: There’s a search tool at the top and bottom of every page. You can browse a comprehensive contents/index on the home page, or browse visual indexes for the site’s major categories. You can follow tags at the bottom of each post to find similar galleries – browse by year, by architectural style, by neighborhood, by architect, etc.

While rebuilding I’ve (finally!) standardized the slideshows. The old site used three different styles, one of which wasn’t working very well. The new style is also easier to maintain, so I’ll be able to start reloading galleries with better photos. Which brings me to the last point: Rebuilding the site has been a humbling experience. In reviewing my galleries I’m embarrassed at the quality of my earliest work. If I didn’t have to move the site right away, I would replace the galleries before relaunching.