Surface 101 New York City's Building Facades

The facades of New York City's residential buildings are part of what gives the city its character. From historic brownstones to modern high-rises with glass-curtain walls, New York City's buildings are recognizable to people around the world and give a face to each of the five boroughs. But in addition to providing a distinct look to New York's buildings, every façade must be able to hold up to the elements and withstand damage and leaks. An understanding of the materials used and city laws is crucial to ensuring your building's facade receives proper maintenance and routine care.

Types of Building Facades

One only has to stroll down the street to observe the most common types of building facades: brick, limestone, sandstone, brownstone and the glass steel curtain wall.

"Lewis Mumford called the last three decades of the 19th century, the 'brown decades,' partly because of the preponderance of brownstone and other masonry," says Rick Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) NY Chapter. "From the subsequent 'white city' of marble and limestone, we have seen in the later part of the 20th century an internationally valid style of using glass to achieve greater transparency, as well as a reflection of the masonry legacy of our early 20th century heritage. As we start the 21st century, an eclectic combination of facade materials speaks of our greater diversity and sense of adventure."

"The most common facades in residential buildings are brick of many colors, but mostly hues of tan, earth and red. Also common is terra cotta, which is fired ceramic almost like pottery," says Jerome Yates, chairman of Yates Restoration Group in the Bronx. "The most interesting facades are those made of stone and terra cotta. They are usually have ornamental cornices, water tables, quoins, balustrades and are architecturally interesting. Terra cotta is the most difficult and the most interesting to maintain and repair."

"All of them have a porous value to them. More porous materials are the most delicate. Brick is more durable and the most inexpensive," says Wayne Bellet of Bellet Construction Co., Inc., in Manhattan.


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