(in collaboration with First Office)
The Commissioners' Plan of 1811 was the original urban abstraction. It superimposed an unyielding grid onto the territory of the island. In the two centuries that followed, the distance between representation and reality closed; the grid parcels seamlessly executed their instrumentality for real estate development. To open once again a space of representation that can reflect our distance from an assumed reality, the present form of the island is submitted to a series of transformations. Each model adheres simultaneously to the factual accumulation of Manhattan-as-such and to an alienation from that reality. The island is summarily reconstituted through a mechanical reduction of resolution: the extrusion. What emerges is a template for urbanism, governed not by the figure-ground plan, but by the flattened skyline. The models project the city from the outside in, describing it as a monumental object.
In the first model, Manhattan is divided into discrete parcels according to variations and anomalies in the original plan. Once the iconic districts are outlined in plan, each one is treated as an internally closed system, defined by two internal skylines--one on the southern, and another, on the eastern edge. The independently projected elevations, when brought together, reproduce a recognizable, yet inaccurate, model of the island. The irregularities tie this abstraction to real zones in the city, while the union of the two projected skylines produces an uncanny sense of distance.
The second model takes Manhattan to its lowest resolution. While the most recognizable image of the city is the skyline, an extrusion along this line delivers a radical estrangement from the real. The seventeen parcels of the first abstraction reduce to one undifferentiated block in the second. Describing Manhattan as one volume through its three faces, the island plan and its two skylines, produces pure plaid. None of the exceptions preserved in the first model exist in the second. Extrusion does not average. It does something else, favoring the extremes.
The final study gives the island a new form of discontinuity through a grid of evenly spaced two hundred acre parcels. As with previous models, each cube is then projected from three drawings only, crossing two hundred skyline segments through one another. When the cubes are placed together, the skylines do not match. Only the street grid lines up to connect the superblocks into a continuous urban fabric. There are visible seams. The cubic parcels resist being brought together into one unified model. Each one is a mini Manhattan, governed by its own internal logic.