Announcing “City of Brick and Steel”

And now for something not completely different…

Here at OSE we are immersed in the old buildings of New York, all day long every working day. That has its advantages – we have become familiar with the details of the different types of past buildings here – and one odd disadvantage. We have become so used to old buildings that we sometimes forget that not everyone knows those details. A lot of my blog posts here are attempts to address this, but we decided to do something in a more organized manner.

We’re announcing today the publication of City of Brick and Steel: The Structure of New York Buildings. This is a guidebook, jointly created by OSE’s senior staff, that describes the basic structure of the kinds of buildings you see in New York: our rowhouses, tenements, schools, lofts, churches, and offices, among others. The goal was to help building owners and other non-professionals know what to expect from this buildings and to better understand the jargon that architects, engineers, and contractors use. There are many guides to the architecture of New York buildings, describing the appearance and use of buildings, but we wanted to describe how the buildings are put together and how they stand up.

Some of the issues we describe are simple, like what’s behind the brownstone veneer on the rowhouses in the picture above. Some are odder, as seen in the map below:

There are two buildings at 219 West 18th Street. They are both tenements – the five-story front tenement facing the street. and the there-story rear tenement at the north end of the lot. We have, on more than one occasion, had to explain to people that those rear tenements are not carriage houses. Putting aside the actual history of the buildings, there’s the question of how a carriage could get back there. This matters because tenements and carriage houses are built differently and designed for different loads.

A few more specific notes… First, last year we established a research wing to our firm, called Old Structures Research, to deal with non-project work of this type. There are other research projects in the works, so…watch this space. Second, the book is over 90 pages long with more than 50 illustrations, and includes a glossary of professional terms that we have found to be most confusing to our clients. It may not cover everything, but we feel it’s inclusive. Third, it will be available at regular on-line bookstores soon, but is available right now only at the printers: purchase it here.

The top picture is part of the Carol Highsmith collection at the Library of Congress. The map is taken from the 1895 Sanborn-Perris insurance map of Manhattan.

Scroll to Top