Jody Kriss Blog: Why 1/3+ of Manhattan’s Buildings Couldn’t Be Built Today

Jody Kriss, developer with East River Partners, works primarily on restoring historic structures across Brooklyn and Manhattan. As most New Yorkers know, a lot of these buildings do not comply with today’s building code requirements, and they need quite a bit of work before they’re ready for a modern family to move into. A team of writers from the New York Times recently reported data that reveals how much codes have changed, and they realized the differences are extensive. By today’s standards, around 40-percent of the buildings that currently exist in Manhattan would never come to fruition if the developers tried to get permits to construct them today. Here’s a brief overview of some of the buildings that would be nixed, and why.

Many Buildings are Too Tall

The Financial District’s Equitable Building, which sits at 120 Broadway, is truly a marvel. However, it’s also a massive 538 feet tall. It’s said it cast a seven-acre shadow when it was constructed in 1915. Many of the buildings in its vicinity were much shorter at the time, and received no sunshine at all as a result. Over worry that structures like the Equitable Building would become the norm, the city decided to enact its first building codes. These codes addressed height, as well as “setbacks,” which mandated that later buildings would have to have a tapered shape, or steps, as they rose in height. Manhattan is packed with buildings that don’t fit today’s standards, especially on the Upper East and Upper West sides.

Other Buildings are Too Dense

The housing shortage in New York City has caused some serious headaches over the years, which Jody Kriss and East River Partners have corrected on many of their projects- offering the spacious floorplans that that are necessary for comfortable living. However, many of the city’s older buildings still bear the markings of their age, and are overloaded with apartments in a feeble attempt to make space for everyone. These cramped living conditions led to numerous hazards, including fire dangers and general health concerns. Some of the most notable examples of this are referred to as “dumbbell tenements.” When the city mandated that builders incorporate a clean air source into every inhabitable room, they opted to keep the structures close together, while allowing just enough space for an air shaft between them. This enabled early builders to cram even more apartments in the tiniest footprint possible. The worst offenders for overcrowding are the West Village and Chelsea.

While these buildings add to the overall charm of New York City and give us a sense of nostalgia, the building codes have been put in place to help make the city more livable. This is, in part, why the work that Jody Kriss and East River Partners does is so important. By preserving the historic structures, NYC retains its unique vibe, but it also gains the high-quality living spaces that are in such short supply these days.