A walk around downtown New York City is full of distractions — from ambulance sirens, to darting cyclists, to fantastic shopping. It naturally leads to a head-down, straight ahead approach. As tempting as that inclination is, remember to look up as you might otherwise miss some incredible architecture!
New York City’s TriBeCa and SoHo neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan are home to the largest concentration of cast iron facades in the world. These architectural gems are the legacy of a now-defunct textile merchant industry that prospered from 1850 to 1890. Buildings employ five different styles of facades, the most exuberant of which is the Neo-Grec; and the facade of 478-482 Broadway (currently occupied by Top Shop) is a perfect example of the beauty achieved by this style.
A look at 478-482 Broadway
Location : between Broome and Grand Streets (east side), SoHo.
Built : 1873-74. Complete cast iron facade.
Style : French Neo-Grec
Distinguishing Features :
- The building’s nine bays are subdivided into groups of three by double-height, freestanding, Ionic capital columns; positioned on massive round pedestals, they have partially fluted shafts and horizontal bands. In between these massive columns, in stark contrast, ultra-thin stylized Ionic capital columns frame each window.
- This thick-thin column pairing is typical of the Neo-Grec: from a functional standpoint, it serves to maximize window space and interior natural light, particularly valuable in a time before electricity; from an aesthetic standpoint, it serves to emphasize the linear quality of the facade, making it appear as if it consisted of a series of horizontal and vertical lines supporting a wall of windowed glass.
- The building employs distinctive open latticework screening — depicting vines and flowers — in between the columns at the top of the fourth floor windows. This high level of decoration is typical of the Neo-Grec style. In addition to serving as decoration, it also highlights the three-dimensionality of the facade.
- Yet another distinctive feature is the concave roof cornice that is supported by thin, elongated brackets.
The best way to explore New York City is by roaming through its neighborhoods by foot. Our guide to cast iron architecture in SoHo and Tribeca gives you 13 buildings to seek out and learn how the architecture of this area evolved over time.