Here we report the generation of a multimodal cell census and atlas of the mammalian primary motor cortex as the initial product of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN). This was achieved by coordinated large-scale analyses of single-cell transcriptomes, chromatin accessibility, DNA methylomes, spatially resolved single-cell transcriptomes, morphological and electrophysiological properties and cellular resolution input–output mapping, integrated through cross-modal computational analysis. Our results advance the collective knowledge and understanding of brain cell-type organization1–5. First, our study reveals a unified molecular genetic landscape of cortical cell types that integrates their transcriptome, open chromatin and DNA methylation maps. Second, cross-species analysis achieves a consensus taxonomy of transcriptomic types and their hierarchical organization that is conserved from mouse to marmoset and human. Third, in situ single-cell transcriptomics provides a spatially resolved cell-type atlas of the motor cortex. Fourth, cross-modal analysis provides compelling evidence for the transcriptomic, epigenomic and gene regulatory basis of neuronal phenotypes such as their physiological and anatomical properties, demonstrating the biological validity and genomic underpinning of neuron types. We further present an extensive genetic toolset for targeting glutamatergic neuron types towards linking their molecular and developmental identity to their circuit function. Together, our results establish a unifying and mechanistic framework of neuronal cell-type organization that integrates multi-layered molecular genetic and spatial information with multi-faceted phenotypic properties.