Adapted Manhattan

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David Mah

Ken Chongsuwat, Yinjia Gong, Peichen Hao, Yue Shi, Yujun Yin


Manhattan’s Commissioner’s grid is emblematic of the optimization and regulation of the nineteenth century gridded city.  It is a model for urbanization that enforces an assumed efficiency over the particularities of a territory.

Manhattan’s urbanization could have taken a different approach.  Mangin and Goerck’s 1801 plan for Manhattan suggests an urban sensibility that uses existing conditions as the framework for its definition. Rather than an exercise in standardization, Manhattan’s urbanization may have evolved as a negotiation with and adaptation to the existing.

Through the analysis and reading of the site in its pre-development state, as recorded in the 1865 Viele map, the following series of speculative drawings riff off the hypothetical narrative of an alternative Manhattan that emerges and evolves out of triggers both embedded and latent within the site.  Topography as well as hydrological processes offer some of the initiating patterns that reorient the simplicity of the cadastral and infrastructural grid into a highly differentiated framework for urbanism.

The Commissioner’s grid’s relative neutrality and standardization offers an urban that benefits from redundancy as well as a rudimentary formalism which supports the flexible repurposing of city blocks.  The adapted Manhattan, on the other hand, presents an intricate ecology that invites the identification of niches within its elaborate network.

The formation of an infrastructural network is developed by adapting and reorienting the vectors of movement to negotiate its swelling geomorphology and to cultivate the island’s surface hydrology.  This reorients the development of the cadastral grid from enforced standardization to the possibility of an organization that materializes from an adaptation to the predevelopment terrain.

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