The Manhattan That Never Was
April 10, 2012
“You may be amused,” intones the narrator of Reiser + Umemoto‘s new short film ‘Manhattan Memorious’, “that yesterday’s wonders, worlds of tomorrow, have been delivered, have become our everyday.” The wonders to which the film refers are the ghosts, here reconstituted, of Manhattan’s past speculative futures, those of the daringly polemic (or conversely, as the narrator suggests, silly) masterplans and megastructures that would have cut through the weathered urban fabric with a sublimity and terror that embody the polarizing conditions of the city itself.
The film, Reiser + Umemoto’s contribution to the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale, recasts post-war Manhattan as the site of massive building boom and urban renewal. In the hands of Robert Moses, who is seen speaking at the beginning, New York was submitted to unprecedented change, which, when backed by legislative clout and funding, proved capable of implementing the radical visions that would pave the way for the city’s future. Of course, not all–many, in fact–of these proposals ever made it off the drafting board.Yet, here is Midtown under the shroud of Buckminster Fuller’s colossal geodesic dome; there, the bottom quarter of the island’s tenement housing encaged by Paul Rudolph’s hulking LOMEX. Koolhaas’s City of the Captive Globe finds the grid it was always looking for, while the architects quietly sneak in more contemporary, less ideological offerings like Morphosis’ West Side Yard complex and their own Easter River Corridor plans. In the duo’s own words, this is a “phantasmagorical Manhattan where the visionary meets the everyday – the absurd and the sublime. The island as we know it is but a pale reflection of a city designed by visionaries – a city of mad, incongruous utopias.”
The Empire State Building under Bucky Fuller’s Geodesic Dome
Paul Rudolph’s LOMEX