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The New York City Grid: Impediment or Opportunity for Innovation in Architecture

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Title:
The New York City Grid: Impediment or Opportunity for Innovation in Architecture
Creator:
Whitbeck, Emily M
Place of Publication:
[Gainesville, Fla.]
Publisher:
University of Florida
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Language:
English

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Subjects / Keywords:
Architectural design ( jstor )
Architectural education ( jstor )
Architectural history ( jstor )
Art museums ( jstor )
Cities ( jstor )
City planning ( jstor )
Commissioners ( jstor )
Conceptual structures ( jstor )
Formal logic ( jstor )
United States history ( jstor )
Genre:
Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Architecture

Notes

Abstract:
The grid system has been one of the most prominent visual organizations in urban structure throughout history, and can be seen at every scale of the human existence. The definition of the grid as it is applied here does not necessitate an orthogonal construction, nor must it be equal in dimension. The grid in this context may be defined as a formal and conceptual structure, which confines design decisions to a particular logic; while it may fluctuate, the organizing principles do not change. Manhattan’s organization is a gridiron plan on an unprecedented scale. This plan, conceived in 1811, formed a sort of “trellis” upon which the city could continue to expand with little disorder. The grid is the intersection of conflicting emotions and ideals of those who live within the city. The paradoxes of the grid are also it’s greatest strength; the grid sets up rules that force architects and designers to develop new strategies and formal logics that work within its structure to systematically break the very rules it establishes. To build within such a dense fabric of information presents a freedom of problem solving that, without the rules of the grid, would have no strategy or guidance. ( en )

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University of Florida
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Copyright [thesis author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.

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The New York City Grid Impediment or Opportunity for Innovation in Architecture Emily Whitbeck University of Florida April 2016 An Undergraduate Honors Thesis Presented to the School of Architecture and the Honors Program at the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Design in Architecture with High or Highest Honors

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! "! 2016 Emily Whitbeck

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! #! Acknowledgements I thank my studio partner, Kevin Marblestone, who collaborated with me to design and represent our project for NYUs 2031 plan. Images and concepts from this project are used extensively. I thank my advisor, Bradley Walters, who provided comprehensive feedback an d advice to improve the thesis. The Grid Book by Hannah B. Higgins was a fundamental source in the conception of this paper; it provided vital information on all topics discussed.

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! $! Table of Contents Acknowledgements 3 Abstract 5 Defining the Grid 6 Evolution of the Grid 7 Development of the Manhattan Grid System 8 Building within the Grid: NYU 2031 9 Dichotomy of the Grid 12 Role of the Grid in Shaping Architecture 13 Works Cited 15

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! %! Abstract of Undergraduate Honors Thesis Presented to the School of Architecture and the Honors Program at the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Design in Architecture with High or Highest Honors The New York City Grid; Impediment or Opportunity for Innovation in Architecture By Emily Whitbeck April 2016 Advisor: Bradley Walters Departmental Honors Coordinator: Mark McGlothlin Major: Architecture The grid system has been one of the most prominent visual organizations in urban structure throughout history, and can be seen at ever y scale of the human existence The definition of the grid as it is applied here does not necessitate an orthogonal construction, nor must it be equal in dimension. The grid in this context may be defined as a formal and conceptual structure, which confines design decisions to a particular logic; while it may fluctuate, the organizing principles do not change. Manhattans organization is a gridiron plan on an unprecedented scale. This plan, conceived in 1811, formed a sort of trellis upon which the city could continue to expand with little disorder. The grid is the intersection of conflicting emotions and ideals of those who live within the city. The paradoxes of the grid are also its greatest strength; the grid sets up rules that force architects and designers to develop new strategies and formal logics that work within its structure to systematically break the very rules it establishes. To build within such a dense fabric of information presents a freedom of problem solving that, without the rules of the grid, would have no strategy or guidance.

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! &! Defining the Grid No organizational logic of modern times is more ubiquitous or pervasive in the making of things than the grid. This is partly because of its ability to be adapted and applied to nearly aspect of life. As Rosalind Krauss describes it, no form within the whole of modern aesthetic production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so impervious to change .1 For the purposes of this discussion, the grid is defined as a formal and conceptual structure that is produced through a set of modular relationships. The concept of the grid can be traced back as far as the stone ages, and its structure today is present at almost eve ry scale from architecture and city planning to music notes and maps. The grid has become the physical building blocks by which we construct architecture; bricks are one of the earliest implementations of modular gridded construction.2 The definition of the grid as it is applied to urban planning does not necessitate an orthogonal construction, nor must it be equal in dimension or position. The grid in this context may be defined as a formal logic and order which confines design and planning decisions to a particular logic; while it may fluctuate or transform, the organizing principles do not change This definition then begs the question; does the grids confinement create a limiting context in which to create new architecture? Figure 01 | Piet Mondrian Composition in Yellow, Blue and Red 1937 423 Demonstrates the ubiquity of the grid as a visual structure; its impact on art is profound !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 Rosalind Krauss Grids, MIT Press (1979), 50 64 2 Hannah B. Higgins, The Grid Book (London: The MIT Press), 49 77 3 Rosalind Krauss, Grids, 50 64

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! '! Evolution of the Grid In an evaluation of the role of the grid system in the context of New York City, it is important to understand the development of the grid as a formal system through its various implementations. Rather than attempting to define a single source, the idea of the grid is one whose origin matters little in the understanding of its spatial form.4 This system of rationalization is arguably one of the most prominent visual organizations in urban structure throughout history and can be seen at ever y scale of the human existence. Fundamentals taken from the grid can be seen from the planning of our cities, to the planning of our homes and even the smallest of everyday objects. The longevity of the grid is largely due to its enormous capacity for adaptation and the breadth of its po ssible applications. The nuances of each citys grid system are a product of a myriad of factors that in many cases are indiscernible when compounded upon one another In some cities, property regimes played a dominant role in the initiation and organizati on of the grid, while in others the cultural or economic uses and contexts of the grid played a larger role in its development.5 The influences of politics and government on the spatial strategies of grid systems are often great as well. The grid can also be examined in the context of the idea of socio-spatial rationalization; that the discontinuities of the grid mark changes in the history or culture of a place.6 The complex origins and influences of the grid are aspects of this organizational system that become important in determining the significance and subsequent role in the architectural development of specific cities. Figure 02 | City plan of Miletus; Greek city rebuilt in 479 BCE using grid plan7 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 Reuben Rose-Redwood, Genealogies of the Grid, Geographical Review (2009), 42-58 5 Ibid, 42-58 6 Ibid, 42-58 7 Hannah B. Higgins, The Grid Book 49 77!

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! (! Development of the Manhattan Grid System When examining the evolution of New York Citys grid plan, it is important to discuss the way in which the city developed and also to evaluate the implementation and success of the various organizations that preceded it in an attempt to control the growth and expansion of the city. The original plan for the city developed by Dutch city planners in the seventeenth century was vastly out of touch with the realities of the New World.8 The town, therefore, developed irregularly and somewhat haphazardly, with roads mapped out along the common foot-paths of the residents.9 As the city began to spread north beyond the walls of the original town, there were only three attempts at dividing and distributing rectangular parcels of land according to a grid system; the first was a city ordinance that compelled those purchasing land to develop architecture that was proper or else their homes would be condemned.10 The issue of real estate was one of several factors that lead the city to eventually develop the grid plan that is so dominant today. Figure 03 | Commissioners Plan of New York City11 In 1811 the city implemented what was called the Commissioners P lan (see Figure 01), a gridiron plan on an unprecedented scale. It is believed that this plan was conceived as a solution to a major population boom and as a method of properly distributing land as the city developed. Many residents believed that the city was expanding too rapidly without blueprint and that this was !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 8 J ohn Reps, The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States ( New Jersey: Princeton University Press), 147-154 9 Ibid, 147-154 10 Ibid, 147-154 11 Ibid, 147-154

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! )! leading to debates over land and boundaries; the implementation of the grid was seen as a way to create neater and more marketable real estate boundaries.12 While the Commissioners Plan certainly had its shortcomings and was shortsighted in terms of its civic and economic impacts, the grid plan formed a sort of trellis upon which the city could continue to rapidly expand with little disorder or chaos.13 In examining past attempts to organize the growth of New York City through the implementation of various regulations and systems, we can better determine the impact of the grid on society and the problems it was used to solve. The question then remains as to whether or not these problems of real estate, population growth, and uncontrolled architecture still exist today and whether or not the grid system appropriately addresses these issues in a modern setting. The city has rarely deviated from this plan in over 200 years of architectural and civic development, and in those years, the city has engrained this organizational system into every part of city life. The grid is next to essential in navigating and understanding the city geographically and its regularity has made for stringent and exact codes and regulations for building throughout the city. Indeed, the gridded streets have become so much a part of the citys identification, that many say they could not imagine New York City in any other configuration. However, it must be acknowledged that a presence of 200 years cannot be used as evidence of the grids positive or negative impact on architecture. Building within the Grid: NYU 2031 New York University is formulating an extensive expansion plan to increase their presence in the city. The plan calls for an additional two million square feet of academic and housing space by the year 2031. These additions are focused on the two southern superblocks of NYUs central campus; the superblocks are each composed of three standard New York City blocks and are one of the least gridded areas of Manhattan. The edges of the existing structures on the site do not align with the surrounding blocks and their scale and orientation are likewise disjointed. The lack of information from the grid on this site led both to the existing problems of the site, such as underutilized green space and junk space, and posed enormous challenges to designing in that area. Without the contextual information provided by the city block, the scale and form of the intervention were difficult to resolve. See figures 04-06. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 12 Ginger Adams Otis, New York City (New York: Lonely Planet), 30-36 13 Marguerite Holloway, The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel Jr. ( New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 5-7

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! *+! Figures 04 06 | Axonometric model photos and diagrams exploring massing options on the site14 The design approach became to first reestablish the edges of the site to bring it into the New York grid system, and to relate the scale and measure of the intervention to the surrounding block edges. Adaptive reuse of spaces that were working effectively also became a focus in the project. By reestablishing the rules within the site, the subsequent limitations in scale and form allowed the freedom to focus on materiality, tectonics, views, and nuances of spatial relationships within and with the street. See figure 07. Figure 07 | Perspectival view of the entrance to one of the interventions15 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14 Model and photographs done in collaboration with Kevin Marblestone 15 Perspective done in collaboration with Kevin Marblestone

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! **! By allowing the grid plan to inform the rules of our site, we were able to systematically and strategically break these rules to allow the architecture to puncture through and alter the existing structures. See figures 08-09. Figure 08 | Photograph of model showing eastern faade and the scale of intervention and edge16 Figure 09 | Plan drawing of intervention in relation to existing structures17 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 16 Photograph taken in collaboration with Kevin Marblestone 17 Plan drawn in collaboration with Kevin Marblestone

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! *"! This project provided an insight into the complex role of the grid in New York C ity and acted as a springboard for this investigation into its role in architecture. Dichotomy of the Modern Manhattan Grid The effectiveness and relevance of the grid can also be seen through its mediation of the dichotomies that exist in a modern urban context. Robert Fulford, for example, observes the grid as the intersection of apparently conflicting emotions and ideals of those who live within the city. He views the grid as the literal crossroads of order and disorder, of reason and passion.18 This intersection is a reflection of the dichotomy in which the people of a city constantly live; they reside on the edge of order and chaos and despite their best efforts to organize the context around th em, there is a constant urge to break the very rules they strove to establish.19 It is from this apparent contradiction that much of the opposition to the structure of the grid springs; many see it as a fabricated imposition, one that turns its back on nature and pushes away reality.20 In the context of New York City, this type of grid development becomes even more significant; Manhattan Island is one of the most heavily gridded cities in the world, its structure pervades every aspect of life in the city. The argument that the grid imposes a limitation on architecture stems from the theory that architecture should always be informed by its context; the grid plan of 1811 effectively eradicated Manhattans natural context. Those who see the grid as an impedimen t to the evolution of architecture focus on the topographical and natural insensiti vity of the commissioners plan of 1811; they believe the plan erased the individuality of place and took a way the character of New Yorks site.21 Many also believe that in imposing this unnatural grid upon the city, architecture turned its back on nature and denied the realities and irregularities of human life.22 If this is the case, architecture that responds to and is controlled by the grid is considered by them to be out of touch with the realities of human occupation and habitation. The contradiction of the grid presents itself here; the Commissioners Plan effectively eradicated the natural context only to give architects another set of conditions within which to design. This begs the question; does context have to be naturally occurring? Allied Works Museum of Arts and Design in figure 10, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 18 Robert Fulford, People of the Grid: Passion and Reason in Modern Design, 36 44 19 Ibid, 36-44 20 Ibid, 36-44 21 Marguerite Holloway, The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel Jr., 5 -7 22 Robert Fulford, People of the Grid: Passion and Reason in Modern Design, 36-44

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! *#! reuse s the facade of the previous building in a beautiful way by making strategic cuts within the facade in the x, y, and z directions. Rather than replace the existing structure, which was dark and extremely enclosed, they created light-filled galleries and an interesting and unique faade that works successfully within the constraints of the established o rder of the city. Figure 10 | Allied Works; Museum of Arts and Design23 Role of the Grid in Shaping Architecture The paradoxes of the grid are also its greatest strength; the grid is a sets up rules that force architects and designers to develop new strategies and formal logics that work within its formal and conceptual structure to systematically break the very rules it establishes. Rem Koolhaas points out that in limiting architecture in the x and y planes, the grid gives unprecedent ed freedom in the z direction.24 He believes that while the grid does limit an architect, it is this limitation that stimulates freedom and innovation; without these restrictions and impositions, there is little for architecture to react to, leaving it meaningless in its context.25 While it may be true that the implementation of the grid system in the 1800s destroyed the natural context of the city, it can also be said to have supplied a new context in the form of the grid system itself. Hence, while it is true in many ways !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 23 Ginger Adams Otis, New York City (New York: Lonely Planet), 30-36 24 Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (New York: The Monacelli Press, Inc.), 20-22 25 Ibid, 20 22

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! *$! that the grid is a limitation on architectural development, it can also be argued that without restrictions, architecture becomes lost; the field is so broad and all encompassing, that to begin with a blank slate, that is to say, starting with infinite possibilities, is daunting. By allowing themselves certain given information, or certain necessary elements, architects then free themselves up to tackle more nuanced issues with greater intensity and focu s. Theorists, such as Eberhard Zeidler, also argue that the strong urban order of the city actually allows for the individuality of the streets and the lots themselves. He sees the grid system of New York as a phenomenon that perpetuates the kind of cultur al integration that occurs naturally within the city.26 The density and complexity of the grid system sets up a series of obstacles and challenges for an architect, and the ways in which they solve and overcome these issues is what makes the architecture of New York City innovative. To build within such a dense fabric of information presents a freedom of problem solving that without the rules of the grid would have no strategy or guidance. F igure 11 | Interior perspective; NYU 2031 library proposal27 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 26 Eberhard Zeidler, A Tale of Three Cities: New York, Tokyo, and Berlin (1994) B uilding Cities Life: An Autobiography in Architecture, Vol 2 (2013): 275. 27 Perspective view created in collaboration with Kevin Marblestone

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! *%! Works Cited Eberhard Zeidler, A Tale of Three Cities: New York, Tokyo, and Berlin (1994) Building Cities Life: An Autobiography in Architecture, Vol 2 (2013): 275. Ginger Adams Otis, New York City (New York: Lonely Planet), 30-36. Hannah B. Higgins, The Grid Book (London: The MIT Press), 49-77 John William Reps, The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States (New Jersey: Princeton University Press), 147-154. Marguerite Holloway, The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel Jr. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 5-7. Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (New York: The Monacelli Press, Inc.), 20-22. Reuben S. Rose-Redwood, Genealogies of the Grid: Revisiting Stanislawskis Search for the Origin of the Grid-Pattern Town, Geographical Review Vol. 98, Issue 1 (2009): 42-58. Robert Fulford, People of the Grid: Passion and Reason in Modern Design, Queens Quarterly Vol. 116 Issue 2 (2009): 36-44. Rosalind Krauss, Grids, MIT Press Vol. 9 (Summer 1979): 50-64.


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