In New York City, knowing some basic real estate language can help sell a place. However, architectural semantics are confusing if you’re new to the NYC real estate market. Ads and tours often use terms such as “postwar” or “prewar” to describe the style of an apartment’s construction, which may make you wonder what each of those terms means exactly. Read on for more on this architectural lingo and how to use it to choose the apartment that’s right for you.

Pre-war Buildings – Built Between 1900 and the 1940s 

Design Styles

Crown molding, the detailing that separates the top of the wall and the ceiling, is common in prewar buildings. Hardwood floors are a hallmark of prewar design as well. Other prominent features might include high (and even tin) ceilings, as well as French doors.

According to The New York Times, “prewar apartments can be further categorized as pre-prewar or even pre-pre-prewar. The former… refers to apartments from before World War I, typically with even higher ceilings of 10 to 12 feet, multiple fireplaces, and more ornate detailing.” 

What they Offer

Cheaper costs sometimes come with the elaborate architecture. While prewar buildings offer a lot of charm, the bones (or “structure”) may require some mending. For this reason, home buyers and renters can expect deals on apartments and homes that are in need of a little love and care.

Made with nearly sound-proof, sturdy materials, prewar buildings last. In NYC, where noisy neighbors are a fact of urban living, prewar buildings include a welcome barrier.

Post-war Buildings – Built Between the 1950s and today

Design Styles

The postwar style incorporates much of modern architecture and amenities. Expect sharper lines and less ornate aesthetics. Postwar building designers also tended to experiment with different materials, so hardwood floors aren’t a given.

The New York Times notes, “Among postwar buildings, the more distinctive are those from the 1950s and ’60s, including the many white-brick buildings on the Upper East Side. They tend to have lower ceilings than prewar.”

What they Offer

While considering modern urbanites during the design and building process of the postwar buildings, these buildings usually include many luxuries that older, prewar buildings might not. These days, it’s fairly common for a new building in the middle of a neighborhood like Bushwick, Brooklyn to feature an indoor swimming pool or game room.

Postwar building materials can have a potential downside – more specifically, the details within each apartment. Sometimes the contemporary style is cheaply executed. Depending on the designer, everything from tacky kitchen countertops to poorly insulated walls might result in sore eyes and extra earplugs for the apartment’s resident(s). Note that not all postwar buildings feature these shortcomings.

Choosing the Right Building

The right apartment building for you likely won’t depend solely on your design preferences. Keep in mind these architectural aesthetics are particular to a historical period and to where, regarding boroughs and neighborhoods, the buildings’ construction took place.

Expect to find prewar buildings in Manhattan neighborhoods such as West Village and the Upper West Side, where NYC was heavily developed at the time. Postwar buildings are often found in up-and-coming areas of  Brooklyn or Queens since the development in these neighborhoods is newer.

The right building for you, ultimately, may combine some factors, including the location and design, the school district, local shopping options, and more.

We want to hear from you. What architectural styles piqué your interest, and why? What’s your defining factor for finding your new housing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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