The Greatest Grid and the Unifinished Grid at The Museum of the City of New York

The Greatest Grid and the Unifinished Grid at The Museum of the City of New York
West Side Improvements, 1868; Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York, J. Clarence Davies Collection, 29.100.2723

Through April 15th, the Museum of the City of New York is exhibiting The Greatest Grid: The Masterplan of Manhattan and The Unifinished Grid: Design Speculations for Manhattan. The two exihibits are in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 that transformed New York City into the city of endless streets and avenues we know it today, and speculations as to what the next 200 years will mean for the city.

More on the exhibits after the break.

The Greatest Grid exhibit takes visitors on a journey through the history that prompted Mayor Dewitt Clinton to commission the new plan and the steps taken in the years that followed to help bring the plan into fruition. Beginning with the surveys required to understand the make up of the land and the terrain north of Houston Street, moving through explorations, collection of data and understanding the shanty towns and settlements that had already sprung up in the northern part of the island, the commissioner’s team developed a plan accounting for 155 streets and 12 avenues. The plan as draw up was not built exactly as planned, and the exhibit gives a thorough look into how the grid, strict as it may seem, left room for modifications and evolution that can be seen and experienced today. The numerous parks and public spaces are one type of modification. The upper west side and Morningside Park, another.

John Randel, Jr., The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives

What the exhibit also offers, with abundance, are numerous maps, original documents outlining the allocation of building lots, original photographs giving us a view of how thoroughly the grid-plan transformed the landscape of the island. It is also optimistic in its conclusions of the open-endedness of the grid system. Zoning Laws of the 60′s changed the rigidity of the street edge, opening up many areas to the prospects of interior and exterior public space, and leaves room for the arguments presented in the exhibit one flight up: The Unfinished Grid: Design Speculations for Manhattan.

Egbert L. Viele, View of Second Avenue looking up from 42nd Street, 1861 Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York, 28.153.215

Featuring eight winning projects from the Call for Ideas sponsored by The Architectural League of New York, the Museum of the City of New York and Architizer, the proposals from architects and designers give a whole new way of thinking about the dynamics of the grid. Several projects break the 2-d plane, expanding the grid into the sky. Others reassess the fabric as it is, filling in voids at intersections, modifying what zoning regulations allow, or completely breaking the island out of its boundaries and colonizing the rivers with the grid. Each project is unqiue and poses questions about future urban planning whether in NYC or elsewhere.

Thomas Howdell, A South East View of the City of New York in North America, ca. 1763; Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York, 51.48.2

The museum also features a 22-minute film that you will not want to miss, about the 400-year history of New York City called Timescapes: A Multi-Media Portrait of New York. Visit the Museum of the City of New York at 1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St, NY, NY 10029. The musem is open seven days a week, 10am – 6pm. To read about other exhibits at the Museum of the City click here.

Further Readings:

The Greatest Grid edited by Hillary Ballon Mapping New York edited Black Dog Publishing Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas Manhatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Anderson and Markley Boyer

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Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "The Greatest Grid and the Unifinished Grid at The Museum of the City of New York" 01 Jan 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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