During the 19th Century thousands and thousands of people began to flood into America’s largest cities, including the hordes of newly arrived mainly European immigrants in search of a better life than what they had left behind in the old world.
In New York alone the population doubled every decade between the start of the century and its end. Buildings which had once been single family homes were divided up into multi-family dwellings to try and accommodate the swelling population of the city and so the tenements were born. Cramped, without indoor plumbing, and badly lit and ventilated, these tall thin buildings were a far cry from what we would today call an apartment. Winston Salem at the time, two separate towns in a rural area of North Carolina prosperous due its tobacco and textile industries, had no such problems.
Apartment buildings in the city now are far removed from anything the residents of New York had to cope with in those early years of mass migration to the United States when fully two thirds of the city’s population lived in the squalor and insanitary conditions of the tenements.
Meanwhile, across the ocean in England, the idea of apartment – or in UK English – flat living was a lot slower to catch on especially amongst the middle classes. In London, if you could afford it you lived in a whole house, apartment dwellers were politely described as ‘different’.
Around the turn of the century however attitudes began to change, as no longer could the middle and upper classes afford to maintain an entire house. More imaginative concepts were needed, the idea of rented mansion flats became increasingly fashionable, especially for bachelors and unmarried women.
The idea of modern rental apartments was born. Interestingly by the time of the 2011 census, 52% of homes in London were officially classified as apartments.
In the United States, The Dakota, the first of a new class of luxury apartment buildings was opened in 1884 but the vast majority of rented apartments remained tenements ruled over by unscrupulous slum landlords intent on as one contemporary report puts it “price gouging their unfortunate tenants”.
Conditions did start to improve in the early years of the 20th Century when largely due to the campaigning work of reformers such as Upton Sinclair and Jacob Riis new laws were passed to improve the lives of tenement dwellers, notably, the New York State Tenement House Act was passed in 1901.
More laws followed to help alleviate conditions. In 1949 President Harry Truman passed the Housing Act which paved the way to a general clearance of the worst slums and provide decent housing for the poor.
The 1950’s and 60’s saw a period of significant change in the concept and architectural design of apartment buildings as the whole concept of apartments Winston salem became increasingly fashionable in more wealthy areas. Notable constructions during this time were the groundbreaking 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments built in 1951, Marina City constructed in 1964 and Lake Point Tower which opened its doors 1968.
The modern age of apartment living had well and truly arrived.