Then and Now: American Apartment Construction Through the Years

Depositphotos1By Lauren Topor

A lot has changed since the first apartment buildings were built. In the early 19th century multi-unit horizontal living began to take off because it was affordable and convenient. Fast-forward to today and apartments are still affordable and convenient choices for many people, but there have been many updates over the years.


Early Apartment Construction

By the year 1900 more than 75 percent of the American population lived in apartments, according to the Dictionary of American History. During this time, most Americans were living in cities, which gave architects plenty of work. Some of the popular apartment styles were bachelor, one-room efficiency apartments and walk-ups. Eventually these structures were built bigger and the addition of elevators and other amenities were included. As time passed, new building codes made apartments safer from fires and other disasters.

The Original Luxury Apartments

The Roaring '20s saw a boom in luxury offerings including apartments, ushering in a new style of high rise-style apartment buildings. The first of these apartments was built in New York City. These apartments were popular with wealthy folks, as they commonly had a home and an apartment as well. New York was the birthplace of the studio apartment. And later, in the 1950s, New York’s SoHo neighborhood became famous for its late 20th Century apartment architecture — which eventually became a model in construction. Today you can still find apartments for rent in New York City that have this style of construction.

Suburban Apartment Construction

As middle-class families began moving out of the big cities, developers and construction workers began building a new kind of apartment building called the garden style. These apartments were different than the styles in New York and other large cities as they included landscaped courtyards and more space for residents.

Luxury for Less

Many apartments that exist today have undergone renovations or are built brand new with luxury-inspired amenities. In many of these apartments renters have laminate floors rather than wood floors, as one example as a luxury-inspired feature. Another trend that is cutting down on construction cost is the industrial-like look of the modern apartment. While some would argue that these residences look unfinished, it is a favorite among some renters. Consumers are buying into apartments with exposed ceilings and concrete floors rather than ornate, overdone living spaces.

Keeping Apartments Current

Now, since American housing needs to continue to change, work is being done on some of the older apartment models to meet those demands and needs. More people than ever before including single people, divorced people, childless couples and older Americans are seeking out apartments to live in. Since the demand is so high new construction is always happening.

Even old buildings are being transformed to meet apartment demand. For example, in Massachusetts, an old textile mill is being transformed into subsidized housing units and in Virginia construction workers and developers have turned old tobacco warehouses into luxury rental units. There are even apartments for rent in Phoenix that are built out of five-ton shipping containers that include all of the modern building materials like functioning plumbing, insulation, electrical wiring and windows. This goes to show that construction seems to be evolving as time passes and consumer demand grows.

Lauren Topor is a full-time freelance writer and alumna of Arizona State University. Her professional work has appeared in a variety of publications from lifestyle mags to business websites. Follow her on Twitter @laurentopor.

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