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A regular house, apartment house, apartment block, block of flats, or tenement is a multi-unit dwelling made up of several (generally four or more) apartments (US), or flats (UK). A difference may be drawn, such as in San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker, between an apartment and a flat, where an apartment is one of many units on a floor and a flat is the only unit on a given floor. Where the building is a high-rise construction, it is termed a "tower block" in the UK and elsewhere. The term "apartment building" is used regardless of height in North America and the terms "residential tower" or "apartment tower" are used in other countries such as Australia. Hi-rise apartments are a popular mode of living in larger North American cities, as well as cities such as Dubaimarker.

A two-unit dwelling is known as a duplex (US); a three-unit dwelling is known as a triplex. A two-floor dwelling is known as a maisonette (UK); a three-floor dwelling is known as a three-flat in Chicago, or in Bostonmarker as a three-decker or a triple-decker. Beyond this, cardinal numbers are used (e.g., fourplex, fiveplex) in the US, and the term multiplex is also used.

Tenement law refers to the feudal basis of permanent property such as land or rents. May be found combined as in "Messuage or Tenement" to encompass all the land, buildings and other assets of a property.

Apartment buildings are used to house people from all social groups, from the lower socio-economic (such as public housing which features rentals and very basic living standards) to the wealthy, which sometimes include penthouse apartments (with luxury add-ons such as doormen, security, elevators, balconies, swimming pools and private gymnasiums, tennis courts and even boat moorings). Additionally, some apartment buildings, are designed to contain mostly studio apartments, serviced apartments or boarding houses to accommodate contemporary itinerant lifestyles.

Early history


In ancient Rome, the insulae (singular insula) were large apartment buildings where the lower and middle classes of Romans (the plebs) dwelled. The floor at ground level was used for tabernas, shops and businesses with living space on the higher floors. These buildings were usually up to six or seven stories. Some went as high as nine stories before height restrictions came into effect.


The medieval Egyptian city of Fustatmarker housed many high-rise residential buildings, some seven stories tall that could reportedly accommodate hundreds of people. Al-Muqaddasi in the 10th century described them as resembling minarets, while Nasir Khusraw in the early 11th century described some of them rising up to 14 stories, with roof gardens on the top storey complete with ox-drawn water wheels for irrigating them.

Cairomarker in the 16th century had high-rise apartment buildings where the two lower floors were for commercial and storage purposes and the multiple stories above them were rented out to tenants.


High-rise apartment buildings were built in the Yemenimarker city of Shibammarker in the 16th century. The houses of Shibam are all made out of mud bricks, but about 500 of them are tower houses, which rise 5 to 11 stories high, with each floor having one or two apartments. This technique of building was implemented in order to protect residents from Bedouin attacks. While Shibam has existed for around 2,000 years, most of the city's houses come mainly from the 16th century.

Shibam is often called "the oldest skyscraper-city in the world" or "Manhattanmarker of the desert", and is the earliest example of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction, as it was the first city to consist entirely of high-rise residential buildings. Some of them were over high, thus being the tallest mudbrick apartment buildings in the world to this day.

United States and Canada

Apartment buildings are multi-story buildings where three or more residences are contained within one structure. In more urban areas, apartments close to the downtown area have the benefits of proximity to jobs and/or public transportation. However, prices per square foot are often much higher than in suburban areas.

The distinction between rental apartments and condominiums is that while rental buildings are owned by a single entity and rented out to many, condominiums are owned individually, while their owners still pay a monthly or yearly fee for building upkeep. Condominiums are often leased by their owner as rental apartments. A third alternative, the cooperative apartment building (or "co-op"), acts as a corporation with all of the tenants as shareholders of the building. Tenants in cooperative buildings do not own their apartment, but instead own a proportional number of shares of the entire cooperative. As in condominiums, cooperators pay a monthly fee for building upkeep. Co-ops are common in cities such as New York, and have gained some popularity in other larger urban areas in the U.S.

In the United States, tenement is a label usually applied to the less expensive, more basic rental apartment buildings in older sections of large cities. Many of these apartment buildings are "walk-ups" without an elevator, and some have shared bathing facilities, though this is becoming less common.

Apartments were popular in Canadamarker, particularly in urban centres like Vancouvermarker, Torontomarker and Montrealmarker in the 1950s to 1970s. By the 1980s, many multi-unit buildings were being constructed as condominiums instead of apartments, and both are now very common. Specifically in Toronto, high-rise apartments and condominiums have been spread around the city, giving almost every major suburb a skyline.

The slang term dingbat has been coined to describe cheap urban apartment buildings from the 1950s and 1960s with unique and often wacky façades to differentiate themselves within a full block of apartments. They are often stilted, and with parking spots underneath.

History of US tenements

In 1839, the first New York City tenement was built, housing mainly poor immigrants. The tenements were breeding grounds for outlaws, juvenile delinquents, and organized crime. Muckraker journalist Jacob Riis writes in How the Other Half Lives:

The New York tough may be ready to kill where his London brother would do little more than scowl; yet, as a general thing he is less repulsively brutal in looks.
Here again the reason may be the same: the breed is not so old.
A few generations more in the slums, and all that will be changed.

Tenements were also known for their price gouging rent.How the Other Half Lives notes one tenement district:

Blind Man's Alley bears its name for a reason.
Until little more than a year ago its dark burrows harbored a colony of blind beggars, tenants of a blind landlord, old Daniel Murphy, whom every child in the ward knows, if he never heard of the President of the United States.
"Old Dan" made a big fortune--he told me once four hundred thousand dollars-- out of his alley and the surrounding tenements, only to grow blind himself in extreme old age, sharing in the end the chief hardship of the wretched beings whose lot he had stubbornly refused to better that he might increase his wealth.
Even when the Board of Health at last compelled him to repair and clean up the worst of the old buildings, under threat of driving out the tenants and locking the doors behind them, the work was accomplished against the old man's angry protests.
He appeared in person before the Board to argue his case, and his argument was characteristic.
"I have made my will," he said.
"My monument stands waiting for me in Calvary.
I stand on the very brink of the grave, blind and helpless, and now (here the pathos of the appeal was swept under in a burst of angry indignation) do you want me to build and get skinned, skinned?
These people are not fit to live in a nice house.
Let them go where they can, and let my house stand."
In spite of the genuine anguish of the appeal, it was downright amusing to find that his anger was provoked less by the anticipated waste of luxury on his tenants than by distrust of his own kind, the builder.
He knew intuitively what to expect.
The result showed that Mr. Murphy had gauged his tenants correctly.

The Dakotamarker (1884) was one of the first luxury apartment buildings in New York City. The majority, however, remained tenements.

Many reformers, such as Upton Sinclair and Jacob Riis, pushed for reforms in tenement dwellings. As a result in 1901, New York state passed a law called the New York State Tenement House Act to improve the conditions in tenements.

More improvements followed. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman signed the Housing Act of 1949 to clean slums and reconstruct housing units for the poor.

Some significant developments in architectural design of apartment buildings came out of the 1950s and 60s. Among them were groundbreaking designs in the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartmentsmarker (1951), New Century Guildmarker (1961), Marina Citymarker (1964) and Lake Point Towermarker (1968).


In Scotland, the term 'tenement' lacks the pejorative connotations it carries elsewhere, and refers simply to any block of flats sharing a common central staircase and lacking an elevator, particularly those constructed prior to 1919. Tenements were, and continue to be, inhabited by a wide range of social classes and income groups.

During the 19th century tenements became the predominant type of new housing in Scotlandmarker's industrial cities, although they were very common in the Old Townmarker in Edinburgh from the 15th century where they reached ten or eleven storeys high and in one case fourteen storeys. Built of sandstone or granite, Scottish tenements are usually three to five storeys in height, with two to four flats on each floor. (In contrast, industrial cities in Englandmarker tended to favour "back-to-back" terrace of brick.) Scottish tenements are constructed in terraces of tenements, and each entrance within a block is referred to as a close or stair — both referring to the shared passageway to the individual flats. Flights of stairs and landings are generally designated common areas, and residents traditionally took turns to sweep clean the floors, and in Aberdeenmarker in particular, took turns to make use of shared laundry facilities in the "back green" (garden or yard). It is now more common for cleaning of the common ways to be contracted out through a managing agent or "factor".

Tenements today are bought by a wide range of social types, including young professionals, older retiring people, and by absentee landlords, often for rental to students after they leave halls of residence managed by their institution. The National Trust for Scotland Tenement House museum in Glasgowmarker offers an insight into the lifestyle of tenement dwellers.

Many multi-storey tower blocks were built in the UK after the Second World War. A number of these are being demolished and replaced with low-rise buildings or housing estates known in Scotland as housing schemes, often modern interpretations of the tenement.

In Glasgow, where Scotland's highest concentration of tenement dwellings can be found, the urban renewal projects of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s brought an end to the city's slums, which had primarily consisted of older tenements built in the early 19th century in which large extended families would live together in cramped conditions. They were replaced by high-rise blocks that, within a couple of decades, became notorious for crime and poverty. The Glasgow Corporation made many efforts to improve the situation, most successfully with the City Improvement Trust, which cleared the slums of the old town, replacing them with what they thought of as a traditional High Street, which remains an imposing townscape. (The City Halls and the Cleland Testimonial were part of this scheme). National government help was given following World War I when Housing Acts sought to provide "homes fit for heroes". Garden suburb areas, based on English models, such as Knightswoodmarker were set up. These proved too expensive, so a modern tenement, three stories high, slate roofed and built of reconstituted stone, was re-introduced and a slum clearance programme initiated to clear areas such as the Caltonmarker and the Garngad.

Post second World War II, more ambitious plans, known as the Bruce Plan, were made for the complete evacuation of slums to modern mid-rise housing developments on the outskirts of the city. However, central government refused to fund the plans, preferring instead to depopulate the city to a series of New Town Again, economic considerations meant that many of the planned "New Town" amenities were never built in these areas. These housing estates, known as "schemes", came therefore to be widely regarded as unsuccessful; many, such as Castlemilkmarker, were just dormitories well away from the centre of the city with no amenities, such as shops and public houses (deserts with windows, as Billy Connolly once put it). High rise living too started off with bright ambition - the Moss Heights are still desirable - (1950 - 1954) but fell prey to later economic pressure. Many of the later tower blocks were poorly designed and cheaply built and their anonymity caused some social problems.

In 1970 a team from Strathclyde University demonstrated that the old tenements had been basically sound, and could be given new life with replumbing with kitchens and bathroom. The Corporation acted on this principle for the first time in 1973 at the Old Swan Corner, Pollokshawsmarker. Thereafter, Housing Action Areas were set up to renovate so-called slums. Later, privately owned tenements benefited from government help in "stone cleaning", revealing a honey-coloured sandstone behind the presumed "grey" tenemental facades. The policy of tenement demolition is now considered to have been short-sighted, wasteful and largely unsuccessful. Many of Glasgow's worst tenements were refurbished into desirable accommodation in the 1970s and 1980s and the policy of demolition is considered to have destroyed fine examples of a "universally admired architectural" style. The Glasgow Housing Association took ownership of the housing stock from the city council on 7 March 2003, and has begun a £96 million clearance and demolition programme to clear and demolish many of the high-rise flats.

Australia and New Zealand

Many of Australia's seaside resorts feature some hi-rise apartment buildings.
The skyline of the Gold Coast in Queensland is dominated by them.

In Australia, the term "flats" is used for lower income apartments, whereas the word apartment (with the exception of older style buildings) is almost always used for buildings of higher quality or character. Newer buildings are called apartments if they have an elevator. The term condominium or condo is rarely used in Australia despite attempts by developers to market it. A high-rise apartment building is commonly referred to as a Residential tower or Apartment tower in Australia.

Apartment buildings in Australia are typically managed by a Body corporate or "owners corporation" in which owners pay a monthly fee to provide for common maintenance and help cover future repair. Many apartments are owned through Strata title. Due to legislation, Australian banks will either apply Loan to value ratios of over 70% for strata titles of less than 50 square meters, the Big Four Australian Banks will not loan at all for strata titles of less than 30 square meters. These are usually classified as studio apartments or student accommodation. Australian legislation enforces a minimum 2.4m floor-ceiling height which differentiates apartment buildings from office buildings.

In Australia, apartment living is a popular lifestyle choice for DINKY, yuppies, university students and more recently and empty nesters, however rising land values in the big cities in recent years has seen an increase in families living in apartments. In Melbourne and Sydney apartment living is sometimes not a matter of choice for the many socially disadvantaged people who often end up in public housing towers.

History of apartment buildings in Australia

Many luxury apartments at New Quay in Melbourne Docklands, Australia come with boat moorings

Australia has a relatively recent history in apartment buildings. Terrace houses were the early response to density development, though the majority of Australians lived in fully detached houses. Apartments of any kind were legislated against in the Parliament of Queensland as part of the Undue Subdivision of Land Prevention Act 1885.

The earliest apartment buildings were in the major cities of Sydneymarker and Melbournemarker as the response to fast rising land values. Melbourne Mansions on Collins Street, Melbourne (now demolished), built in 1906 for mostly wealthy residents is believed by many to be the earliest. Today the oldest surviving self contained apartment buildings are in the St Kildamarker area including the Fawkner Mansions (1910), Majestic Mansions (1912 as a boarding house) and the Canterbury (1914 - the oldest surviving self buildings contained flats). Kingsclere, built in 1912 is believed to be the earliest apartment building in Sydney and still survives.

During the interwar years, apartment building continued in inner Melbourne (particularly in areas such as St Kilda and South Yarramarker), Sydney (particularly in areas such as Potts Pointmarker, Darlinghustmarker and Kings Crossmarker) and in Brisbane (in areas such as New Farmmarker, Fortitude Valleymarker and Spring Hillmarker).

Post World War II, with the Australian Dream apartment buildings went out of vogue and flats were seen as accommodation only for the poor. Walk-up "flats" (without an elevator) of two to three storeys however were common in the middle suburbs of cities for lower income groups.

The main exceptions were Sydney and the Gold Coast, Queensland where apartment development continued for more than half a century. In Sydney a limited geography and highly sought after waterfront views (Sydney Harbourmarker and beaches such as Bondimarker) made apartment living socially acceptable. While on the Gold Coast views of the ocean, proximity to the beach and a large tourist population made apartments a popular choice. Since the 1960s, these cities maintained much higher population densities than the rest of Australia through the acceptance of apartment buildings.

In other cities apartment building was almost solely restricted to public housing. Public housing in Australia was common in the larger cities, particularly in Melbourne (by the Housing Commission of Victoria) where a huge number of hi-rise housing commission flats were built between the 1950s and 1970s by successive governments as part of an urban renewal program. Areas affected included Fitzroymarker, Flemingtonmarker, Collingwoodmarker, Carltonmarker, Richmondmarker and Prahranmarker. Similar projects were run in Sydney's lower socio economic areas like Redfernmarker.

In the 1980s, modern apartment buildings sprang up in riverside locations in Brisbanemarker (along the Brisbane Rivermarker) and Perthmarker (along the Swan Rivermarker).

In Melbourne in the 1990s a trend began for apartment buildings without the requirement of spectacular views. As a continuation of the gentrification of the inner city, a fashion became New York "loft" style apartments and a large stock of old warehouses and old abandoned office buildings in and around the CBD became the target of developers. The trend of adaptive reuse extended to conversion of old churches and schools. Similar warehouse conversions and gentrification began in Brisbane suburbs such as Teneriffe, Queensland and Fortitude Valley and in Sydney in areas such as Ultimomarker. As supply of buildings for conversion ran out, reproduction and post modern style apartments followed. The popularity of these apartments also stimulated a boom in the construction of new hi-rise apartment buildings in inner cities. This was particularly the case in Melbourne which was fuelled by official planning policies (Postcode 3000), making the CBD the fastest growing, population wise in the country. Apartment building in the Melbourne metropolitan area has also escalated with the advent of the Melbourne 2030 planning policy. Urban renewal areas like Docklandsmarker, Southbankmarker, St Kilda Road and Port Melbournemarker are now predominately apartments. There has also been a sharp increase in the amount of student apartment buildings in areas such as Carlton in Melbourne.

Despite their size, other smaller cities including Canberramarker, Darwinmarker, Newcastlemarker,Adelaidemarker and Geelongmarker have begun building apartments in the 2000s.

Today, residential buildings Eureka Towermarker and Q1marker are the tallest in the country. In many cases, apartments in inner city areas of the major cities can cost much more than much larger houses in the outer suburbs.

There are Australian cities, such as Gold Coast, Queensland, which are inhabited predominately by apartment dwellers.


High security

Some apartment buildings have high levels of security. For example, to enter a high-security building, a person must validate their smartcard at the door. In some apartments while at the lift the smartcard would be used again to be able to press the button for lift access. Finally, the person walks towards apartment and uses their key to unlock the entrance door.

This 2 or 3-tier security will in most cases prevent home invasions and theft.

See also


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