Last week the New York Public Library made over 180,000 images from their digital archives available in the public domain, and free for high-resolution download. Not only are the images available for download, but since they are in the public domain and free of any copyright restrictions, users have the freedom to get creative and alter, modify, and reuse the images in any manner they see fit. Featuring a wide variety of images including drawings, engravings, photographs, maps, postcards, and in some cases, digitized copies of entire books, the collection has been noted for fascinating historical artifacts such as a set of color drawings of Egyptian gods and goddesses, and a digitized book from the 18th century containing over 400 color plates depicting various current and historical fashion trends.
Of course, the archive also includes a significant assortment of captivating architectural images that range from everyday scenes to historic treasures. We've trawled the database to find some of the most unusual and insightful examples - read on to see a selection of the most interesting architectural images from NYPL’s digital archives.
Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the architectural images focus on New York City and the surrounding region. One especially striking piece from the collection is a series of four drawings depicting the design development of the Chrysler Building.
Similarly, a collection of images of the construction of the Woolworth Building provides a unique perspective on a familiar landmark.
Taking a broader view on the city, the collection includes a series of panoramic photos depicting the length of Fifth Avenue in 1911, as well as color drawings from 1899 depicting all of the buildings along Broadway.
The archive also features a digitized book documenting the facades and floor plans of various New York City apartment buildings from 1909.
Venturing outside the city, the 1860 book Villas on the Hudson provides photo-lithographs and floor plans of thirty-one country houses.
The library also has an extensive collection of images documenting its own history, including design drawings of the façade of the New York Public Library building, as well as hundreds of photographs documenting the building’s construction between 1902 and 1911.
In addition to the local focus, the collection provides historical views of places around the world that look very different today, like this view of Mecca from the 1880s, or the postcard of the Bund in Shanghai from the early 20th century.
The age of the images in the collection provides opportunities to see views of historic buildings that have since been demolished or destroyed, such as Pennsylvania Station, San Francisco’s City Hall prior to the 1906 earthquake, the Crystal Palace, and the Singer Building, once the tallest building in the world, but demolished in 1968.
These archives also remind us of the effort required to document architectural details in an era before photography was commonplace, with several books from the collection providing intricately detailed drawings depicting decorative elements of Arabic architecture.
One of the most interesting aspects of the collection is the wide variety of stereoscopic images, or stereograms. Similar in function to postcards, these stereograms frequently depict landscapes or urban views, with each card containing two nearly identical images that, when viewed through a stereoscope, give the illusion of a three dimensional scene. The archive of stereograms includes an extensive assortment of views of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Finally, perhaps even more striking than the stereograms from the World’s Fair are the images from the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
This selection only scratches the surface of the treasure trove of images in the NYPL’s digital archive. Explore the collection yourself here, and select “Search only public domain materials” to see all of the copyright free images.