Sunday, July 30, 2006

Manhattan #2

In 1807 Simon deWitt, Gouverneur Morris and John Rutherford are commissioned to design the model that will regulate the "final and conclusive" occupancy of Manhattan. Four years later they propose - above the demarcation that separates the known from the unknowable part of the city - 12 avenues running north-south and 155 streets running east-west.
With that simple action they describe a city of 13 x 156 = 2,028 blocks (excluding topographical accidents): a matrix that captures, at the same time, all remaining territory and all future activity on the island. The Manhattan Grid.
Advocated by its authors as facilitating "the buying, selling and improving of real estate," this "Apotheosis of the gridiron" - "with its simple appeal to unsophisticated minds" - is, 150 years after its super-imposition on the island, still a negative symbol of the shortsightedness of commercial interests.
In fact, it is the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization: the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates; phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.

Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto For Manhattan