Broadway and Wall Street in New York City. Image © Photo by Andy Willis on Unsplash
In cities across the United States, an address is more than just a street name or a building number- but a brand that translates directly into a symbol of wealth and prestige. Take the tallest residential tower in the country, 432 Park Avenue in New York City, which doesn’t actually sit quite on park avenue. Instead, it’s neighboring lot to the east sits on Park Avenue, and this mega structure actually faces 56th avenue- a significantly less iconic street. This practice of creating “vanity addresses” is hardly new, and has been misleading city dwellers for more than 30 years, famously dubbing itself as one of the most successful gimmicks in real estate marketing and promotion, but also creating an increasing problem where residents and visitors don’t know where a building is located because it doesn’t follow a standardized system of how the city identifies buildings.
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Here at ArchDaily, our editors and contributors are located all around the world. Through a few questions and discussion, we were able to reveal some interesting results about how an address shapes daily urban life.
Kaley: How does your respective country/city/town utilize addresses? Are they a critical part of a neighborhood’s identity? Are there any famous streets where you live and are they more expensive?
Eduardo (Florianópolis, Brazil): It is more related to “good and bad” neighborhoods and there are some, but very few iconic streets. Bogota is mainly ordered by Calles y Carreras, where each one has a number that goes sequentially. The Calles go from east to west and the Carreras go from south to north parallel to the mountains. In this sense, it is very easy to position oneself geographically and to know which area of the city is being referred to. For example, the downtown area, where the famous Candelaria is located, is between Carrera 1 to Carrera 14 and from Calle 5 to Calle 34.
Romullo (São Paulo, Brazil): Here in São Paulo, the neighborhood you live in counts more than the street itself. But of course, there are some iconic streets that leverage the prices of residential and commercial units, e.g. Avenida Paulista, Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, to mention just a few.
Christele (Beirut, Lebanon): Of course, like everywhere else in the world, the street that you live on says a lot about your social and financial status. A neighborhood is primarily determined by its street and its ground floors. Most of the names of our streets can be dated back to the French mandate, when french authority planned the center of Beirut (the ottoman had already started this venture), reshaped its urban fabric and architectural identity, and established new infrastructure. Famous streets are usually central such as Spears, Gouroud, Bliss, etc. Nevertheless, Lebanese people refer more to their addresses using the sector’s name, rather than the street’s. Fun fact- a lot of the used classifications are not similar to the ones on paper, and are the result of a collective Memory, related to a happening or commonly shared knowledge, etc.
Dima (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland): So far I’ve noticed that each city has both a posh & average-priced area (by average I mean 1,000 $ per month on net rent, welcome to Switzerland). Most of the time the price of houses increases based on their proximity to train stations, landmarks, tourist sites, or lakes. Big cities with international companies like Geneva, Lausanne, or Zurich are usually much more expensive than others, and the closer the house is to the city center, the more expensive it gets. Towns that overlook the lakes or the Alps are also considered expensive. Usually, all streets named “Bahnhofstrasse” or “rue de la gare”, which translates to “street of the train station”, are somewhat the most expensive to live in.
Matheus (Mauá, São Paulo, Brazil): In the city where I live, in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, based on topography and geography, the address becomes more expensive and valued in the regions close to the city center and also those in the lower levels of the topography. In addition, addresses close to the main avenues that cut through the neighborhoods, commerce, and transportation, value the value of the property/site plot.
Anto (Valparaiso, Chile): In Valparaiso specific addresses are not a critical factor in property value, the hill where they are located is more important than the street and identity is usually more related to landmarks than streets. Also, the value or identity of the property is determined more by its material and the time period when it was built than its location (which is of course a factor, but not as important or specific to the street).
Eric (Los Angeles, United States): Los Angeles is an iconic example of famous streets and iconic addresses that shape neighborhood identity (and real estate costs): Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Melrose Avenue, Rodeo Drive, and more. These extend to famous intersections as well, like Hollywood and Vine, Pico and Sepulveda, El Segundo, and Crenshaw, to name a few.
Andreea (Bucharest, Romania): The street itself is not driving the property value, rather the proximity to parks, metro stations, and other amenities. Neighborhoods tend to have a strong identity as a whole, which makes a place a more desirable address than others.
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Kaley: If you were to give someone directions, would you tell them how to get there using street names that are commonly known? Or would you identify buildings as landmarks to help them navigate?
Eduardo (Florianópolis / Brazil): We describe addresses through larger streets and some commercial point (gas station, hotel, shopping center).
Nicolas (San Juan, Costa Rica): I can answer the question by using a real address: A building with a palm tree at the left sidewalk of a street 75 meters to the north of a KFC branch at Colon Avenue.
Fabian (Bogotá, Colombia): The advantage of the streets called ‘Calles’ y ‘Carreras’ being numbered sequentially is that it is very easy to locate every place. In this sense, the numbering in Bogotá presents a coordinate. For example, if you want to go to Plaza de Bolivar, it is located at Cra. 7 # 11-10. This means that the place is on Carrera 7, 10 meters from Calle 10.
Romullo (São Paulo / Brazil): We utilize the main avenues and then other landmarks/commercial points.
Christele (Beirut/ Lebanon): We would definitely use much more than street names. Usually, when sharing our addresses, we refer to commonly known landmarks (or not so commonly known as the shop around the corner), to major visual points (for example we can say next to the little statue of the virgin mary, the mosque, the bank, etc.) and we describe the path that should lead you towards the place as well as the surroundings (it is common to say stuff like: take the first right and then do a full turn and on the second roundabout take the steep road down etc.).
Dima (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland): Since transportation services here are very accurate and punctual (one of the best in the world actually), we give out the full address (as you would write it on google maps), so it would be: name of the street, number of the house, followed by the postal code, and the name of the town. But usually, if someone asks you about your residence for general info, we just mention the name of the town and nearby big stores like Manor, Migros, coop… They rely heavily on Google maps and the train service’s application here, which is very practical.
Matheus (Mauá, São Paulo, Brazil): Here, we use the name of the main avenues and the commercial points (banks, churches, and shopping)
Anto (Santiago, Chile): It depends on the area of the city. Santiago is an extensive city, and closer to the city limits there are a few large, well-known avenues. It’s very common to use transport references: metro stations, bus stop numbers or terminals, and using bus routes as a reference.
Anto (Valparaíso, Chile): In Valparaiso using landmarks is more common than using streets. The city districts are determined by geography, so usually, a district is defined by hills and ravines. A hill doesn’t have many important avenues or widely-known streets (usually one or two), so the main street references are on the city plan and upper side of the city, being streets that connect more than one hill. To give directions within a hill, it’s more common to use landmarks such as city stair names, sights, notable buildings such as churches, or significant shops.
Eric (Los Angeles, United States): Most likely, you won’t use buildings as a landmark for navigation in Los Angeles. You traverse the city by the 101, the 405, the 10; major interstates and highways, and then you either know a neighborhood or hope your Google Maps or Waze is up to date.
Andreea (Bucharest, Romania): People are very familiar with the street names of the city center, regardless of where in the city they live, so when giving directions in the city center I would use street names and landmark buildings. Moving further away from the city center I would reference boulevards and other major streets and surrounding recognizable elements ( a bank, a store, a firm’s headquarters).
Kaley: What, in your city or town, places financial value or cultural significance on a building? It’s location, typology, historical impact, the value of its design, or other factors?
Eduardo (Florianópolis, Brazil): Mostly location. Maybe a little bit of design.
Fabian (Bogotá, Colombia): Bogotá is a city that suffers from many transportation problems. With this in mind, the location greatly influences the value of the place. However, like any city, there are historical sectors that are widely known and valued.
Romullo (São Paulo, Brazil): Location is the most important thing. Recently, architectural aspects and history began to play a bigger role in market value here in São Paulo.
Christele (Beirut, Lebanon): Location is major here because it identifies each neighborhood. In other words- the people you are surrounding yourself with. Recent trends have also focused on the architectural aspect (the architect of the building because this also means a certain type of typology and space etc.) and on the historical value of the structure (especially for traditional houses which are very desired).
Dima (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland): Location definitely; places nearby, proximity to train station, and views.
Matheus (Mauá, São Paulo, Brazil): The location in addition to typology is important.
Anto (Valparaiso, Chile): Almost all “urban systems” in the city follow the geographic structure (hills and ravines). This also applies to the “value system”: hills have reputation and significance according to urban myths (related to their names), urbanization history, and connectivity. Touristic areas are usually more expensive, and property value rises in the first line of hills, whereas the plan (city center) and the hills that are farthest from the sea are less expensive. This matches the presence of equipment and services (not as much transportation because it’s not public but ‘organic’).
Eric (Los Angeles, United States): Los Angeles value is defined by location and address (beach views, are you close to the highway, along the Sunset Strip, etc). Everything is expensive as almost half of the city is zoned for single-family residential. This makes new development really tricky, and land is at a premium.
Andreea (Bucharest, Romania): Location is the main driving point, meaning either proximity to the city center, or to parks, shopping areas, and metro stations. The correlation between property value and the proximity to different amenities sometimes leads to hilarious real estate marketing strategies, where “only 5min away from x metro station” proves to be a major stretch.
Kaley: Do you know of any places that have “invented addresses”, or buildings that don’t follow a standardized system, but have been altered to improve their image or increase their value?
Eduardo (Florianópolis, Brazil): COPAN in São Paulo is so big that it has a unique zip code for it.
Christele (Beirut, Lebanon): Beirut has it all. It has structures that are the result of old planning, and others that were created after having established new regulations. This dichotomy is very obvious in the city and has generated a confused urban fabric. Having said that, one major invented address is Solidere. Although it is the name of the company that was responsible for reconstruction works in the city after the war, nowadays, people refer to the central area as Solidere (this can take on both a negative connotation or a positive one). In that specific district, special rules were drafted to create a different type of built environment, with a new image and value.
Dima (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland): The government here really cares about the status of all buildings so they are always investing in renovations and proper infrastructure. As I’m not a Swiss native and I only moved here a bit more than a year ago, I’m not really aware of any places that have “invented addresses”.
Matheus (Mauá, São Paulo, Brazil): The Copan Building in São Paulo, designed by Oscar Niemeyer
Anto (Santiago, Valparaiso, Chile): I think large urban ensembles built by government entities previous to Chile’s dictatorship (such as CORVI or CORMU) tend to have some independence in their address system (being designed as an independent unit). At the time, government entities urbanized large city areas with homogeneous building ensembles that considered “interior” streets, parks or squares, that now, even if they are incorporated into the urban “fabric”, have their own numeration system and street name logic (for example all streets within the complex can be called according to poets, indigenous people, political leaders…). Some examples are Gómez Carreño and Conjunto Habitacional Quebrada Marquez in Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, or Villa Frei, Poblacion Dávila in Santiago. In the case of Santiago, contemporary social housing ensembles (which occupy large areas of the city) or high standard private condominiums currently follow similar rules (a general numeration system and then an internal one to find the houses or blocks).
Eric (Los Angeles, United States): Unlike New York City, addresses are pretty straightforward in Los Angeles. Sure, there are idiosyncrasies, but overall it’s pretty regulated (you still need to find your way through each neighborhood).
Andreea (Bucharest, Romania): As the actual street and number don’t hold much value in Bucharest and buildings are not necessarily referred to by their address, they follow the general rules.
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