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Bold, Inventive, And Sometimes Hideous: NYC’s Love Affair With Concrete

Think you know New York’s best concrete buildings? This map will prove you wrong.

Real estate in the Big Apple moves fast, which makes the city especially rich when it comes to architectural styles. On a single block, you might find a classic 19th-century Brownstone next to a banal 21st-century condo, a Colonial clapboard house across from a Neo-Gothic church. So when Blue Crow Media–publishers of architecture maps that celebrate Brutalism in cities around the world–decided to tackle New York City, it had to broaden its lens.

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Its newest map, Concrete New York, covers not only the hulking edifices associated with Brutalism, but also unexpected expressions of concrete architecture dating from the 1800s ’til today.  “New York isn’t what you think of when you think of Brutalism,” says Allison C. Meier, the map’s editor. “We don’t have as many colossal examples as a lot of other cities. Rather than focusing on the 20th century, I found it fascinating that New York has a deeper concrete-architecture history.”

[Photo: courtesy Blue Crow Media]
In most cities, concrete architecture came into fashion during the post-war era, which is also true in New York. Meier’s map includes 50 locations scattered from Staten Island to the Bronx. As Meier points out, the boldest–and most famous–examples in the city include Marcel Breuer’s c. 1966 Whitney Museum, Eero Saarinen’s c. 1962 TWA Flight Center, and the United Nations General Assembly Building by superstars Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer dating from 1947-1953.

But there are also dozens of lesser-known but equally interesting examples that speak to the city’s culture of invention. One of her favorites is the Cleft Ridge Span in Prospect Park. Dating from 1872, it’s the first concrete arch built in the United States. She also admires the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which was the largest concrete structure in the world when architect Cass Gilbert completed it in 1919. Contemporary structures–like the sculptural New York Department of Sanitation salt shed designed in 2015 by WXY. “Granted, there are a lot of hideous concrete buildings and they don’t age well, but the forms people can make with them are impressive, and it’s a material New York City is so dense with,” Meier says.

Meier had one hope for the map: to encourage people to explore the places they think they know and find those concrete architecture gems that go unnoticed. “Every city has its unheralded concrete masterpieces to be discovered,” she says. Find Concrete New York on bluecrowmedia.com for $11.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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