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Apartment hallways: semi-public, communal spaces

Can anyone recommend great sources (books, online or print articles, photo sites) that address the topic of apartment foyers and hallways? Or do you have personal insights and stories about apartment hallways you’ve loved or loathed?

I’m playing around with some ideas, possibly for a longer piece.

For example: the notion of public, communal space in private buildings; representational space (by that I mean space that’s given over to constructing a kind of public persona of the building, and by extension its inhabitants), which seemed more common in 19th century and also in early 20th century apartment buildings, but which became either extinct or chintzy after World War II …or at least by the sixties.

What drove those changes?


Lack of demand (the people who used to want to be represented all took off to the suburbs to strut in double-height entry foyers, eliminating the need for luxury lobbies in apartments – and shades of Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns…)?

And more: what about technology? Via this PDF, Looking Backward In Order to Move Forward: The Chicago Courtyard Apartment Building (by Richard Gnat), there’s a reference to Air-Conditioning America: Engineers and the Controlled Environment, 1900-1960 (by Gail Cooper): clearly, technological advances are going to shape the built form.

A search on Amazon for Manhattan apartment history brings up wonderful books – I was searching here because I was looking for Elizabeth Hawes terrific book, New York, New York How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1930), which I read some years ago. Hawes clearly delineated the history of how communal living was made acceptable to the middle / upper-middle classes in America. I find it funny that we’ve gotten “richer” in many ways since 1900, but our apartment buildings (and I include condos) have become worse when it comes to their semi-public communal spaces.

In a more recent NYT article, Hawes writes about Our Buildings, Ourselves, but doesn’t address the public hallway/ foyer question at all (she’s writing about moving from a traditional apartment with rooms to a loft). It’s been too many years for me to remember whether she talked about hallways in her book; will see if the library has it…

Other factors:

Economics? It’s obviously cheaper to chintz on hallways if you’re counting square footage and dealing with planning departments wary of too-high floorspace-to-footprint ratios. Maybe The Architecture of Affordable Housing offers insights into the form issue.

Style? The New American Apartment: Innovations in Residential Design and Construction: 30 Case Studies might be instructive.

A blog post that directly addressed the issue I’m asking about, Look! Hallways That Make Us Feel Frumpy, also included some terrific comments and a link to a flickr page about Gaytonia, a swank old apartment building – which I bet has gorgeous public / common areas.

This is the photo that Look! Hallways That Make Us Feel Frumpy used to make its point…


…and yet this isn’t even the worst kind of public/ communal space. This one makes the ones inflicted on people in the 60s and 70s seem grandiose (albeit frumpy and badly decorated for sure!).


  1. I’ve always been fascinated by these communal spaces, especially lobbies (Potemkin living rooms?). My Flickr set of Victoria apartment lobbies is here:

    Comment by robert randall — January 17, 2011 #

  2. The trend seems to be toward more practical, functional communal space, if there is any at all. Not so much the pools and hot tubs of the 70s but bike rooms, fitness facilities, rooftop gardens and media rooms. Something that can potentially be used daily but requires little costly maintenance.

    Comment by robert randall — January 17, 2011 #

  3. Thanks for the link to your flickr set, Rob! I recall your show at the Ministry of Casual Living, too.

    Comment by Yule — January 26, 2011 #

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