The Dakota co-op building is one of the most iconic New York City apartment buildings, home to many cultural luminaries, including the late, legendary singer-songwriter John Lennon. But what makes the Dakota—along with many other historic Manhattan buildings—stand out isn’t just the names of its famous and wealthy residents but its striking architectural details, including the beautiful imposing metal front gate.
While stone or brick is obviously the most-used material in co-op and condo buildings of a certain vintage in New York City, metal elements—predominantly iron, but also steel, brass, bronze, and copper—figure largely into the design of some of the city's apartment buildings, including the Dakota.
“Typically, the higher areas of Manhattan—Fifth and Park Avenues and their adjacent streets—have the historical and ornamental metals and stones because they're areas where more prominent people have built and lived,” says Lina Gottesman, president and owner of Altus Metal, Marble & Wood, with locations in Long Island City and Smithtown.
Rhoda Weber Mack—owner and program director of the Center for Metal Arts & Fine Architectural Metalsmiths in Florida, New York—created the interior courtyard gate for the Dakota building. She says that after World War II, sleek, unadorned modernism swept the architectural world and custom, well-built ironwork seemed to be a quaint art of the past. “But blacksmithing had a renaissance in the 1970s with the renewed interest in handcrafts, and anvils were hauled out of garages and barns for a new generation of blacksmiths,” she says.
Mack also explains that forging iron and other metals for architectural functions such as railings and gates presents dynamic design possibilities. “Unlike wood, which gains its strength from mass, ironwork takes up far less visual room, allowing even small spaces to feel open,” she says. “Even in a tight economy, the well-done railing, gate, or table base is a lasting investment.”