apartment house, building having three or more dwelling units. Numerous early examples of this form of dwelling have been found in remains of Roman and medieval cities and in the 17th-cent. Pueblo villages of North America. Its most important development came with the Industrial Revolution. After 1850 crowded slums began to develop in the cities of Europe and the United States. Few good, low-cost multiple dwellings were built before World War I, but great progress was made in the development of more luxurious apartment buildings, particularly in Paris and Vienna. In the 1880s fireproof steel-frame construction, the improvement of the elevator, and the introduction of electric lighting made possible the rapid evolution of the apartment building. In 1901 New York City put into effect a tenement-house law; its purpose was to protect occupants against fire hazards and unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
Between 1919 and 1934 there appeared in Europe many commendable low-cost housing developments. Important examples are projects by Gropius at the Siemensstadt in Berlin, J. J. P. Oud's group at Hoek van Holland, and H. P. Berlage's apartments in Amsterdam. There has been government-subsidized public housing in the United States since 1937. A phenomenal increase in the building of apartments has taken place since 1921 in all the larger cities, reaching a peak in New York City, where apartments largely replaced private houses. In the mid-20th cent. a radical experiment in multiple dwellings called Habitat was designed for the Montreal Expo 67 by Moshe Safdie.
In addition to the traditional rental unit, contemporary apartments are available in a number of permutations. With cooperative apartments the tenants belong to a corporation that owns the building. In the condominium each apartment unit is owned separately and owner-tenants generally form an association to provide for apartment maintenance. The apartment hotel combines the accommodations of an apartment, including cooking space, with the services characteristic of a hotel. A greater sense of community is fostered in co-housing, where residents plan, develop, and manage a community, often comprised of apartments and town houses, that combines private quarters with common spaces. Apartment houses have spread to the suburbs of the larger cities, where they frequently include gardens, tennis courts, and children's playgrounds. Numerous apartment houses are constructed as living complexes for retired persons.
See S. Paul, Apartments: Their Design and Development (1967); E. Thompson, Apartments, Townhouses, and Condominiums (1975); D. Mackay, Multiple Family Housing (1977); and E. Cromley Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments (1990).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.