Lower Manhattan National Park

[Image: Past Futures, Present, Futures at Storefront for Art and Architecture, designed by Leong Leong; photo by Naho Kubota].

A two-part exhibition called Past Futures, Present, Futures opened its second phase—Present, Futures—tonight at Storefront for Art and Architecture, exploring contemporary “reenactments” of classic architectural images, specifically showcasing new versions of “101 unrealized proposals for New York City, dating from its formation to today.”

With exhibition design by Leong Leong, the resulting space is silvered, gleaming, and literally reflective, a curved maze of mirrored blinds.

[Images: Past Futures, Present, Futures at Storefront for Art and Architecture, designed by Leong Leong; photos by Naho Kubota].

Working in collaboration, John Becker and I were asked to “re-enact” Lebbeus Woods’s 1999 image Lower Manhattan, with the rules specifying no more than 10 hours to work on the resulting version and no more than 400 words for the accompanying text.

We decided to be both straight-forward and tongue-in-cheek, proposing a Lower Manhattan National Park, a world of revealed canyons, caves, scenic plateaux, and, later, hiking trails, all brought to light—and newfound aridity—by monumental dams and seawalls built in the near future.

The image and text (exactly 400 words!) appear below—and the full exhibition, featuring new variant images by everyone from Candy Chang to Christian Kerrigan, BIG to dpr-barcelona, Margaret Bursa & Johan Hybschmann to Sean Lally, amongst dozens and dozens of others, is open through November 24.

[Image: Lower Manhattan National Park by John Becker and Geoff Manaugh].

Lower Manhattan National Park

In 2057, massive flood-control structures protecting New York City from the rising seas required a redirecting of the Hudson and East Rivers northeast, into Long Island Sound. The resulting dams—the construction of which triggered small earthquakes throughout New England—allowed for the draining of the old riverbed south and east of Manhattan, revealing the unearthly geological circumstances on which this archipelagic metropolis sits.

Following several years of scientific surveys into the mazelike gorges and intersecting cliffsides below—complex terrestrial forms previously buried by the waters and mud at the edge of the city—teams from the Army Corps of Engineers set about clearing the region from more than a hundred thousand years’ worth of silt and debris flowing down from the upper watershed. Even shipwrecks going back to the Colonial era were dredged, blasted, and removed—in some cases, the wrecks’ dried and re-kilned timber used to build houses elsewhere in the city.

The resulting reclaimed landscape of gorges, cataracts, caves, slopes, and arches was unlike anything seen in another city—as if the Grand Canyon had been discovered suddenly cleaving Shanghai in two. And thus a new National Park was swiftly declared: Lower Manhattan National Park, its name partially inspired by architect Lebbeus Woods, a New Yorker who explored the urban possibilities offered by damming the city’s rivers in a proposal back in 1999.

By 2076, the nation’s three-hundredth birthday, Lower Manhattan National Park was open to the public, encompassing hiking trails, campsites, interpretive routes, and modern visitors’ centers that unlocked the city’s depths for amateur exploration. For generations, bankers had no idea that, just off the fiscal cliff at the end of their well-known street, the Wall Street Gorges would soon loom, an extraordinary district of trails smelling vaguely of sea salt; or that, within walking distance of Chinatown, switchbacks would lead steeply down into the shadows of a marine void off the Lower East Side. There are the Hudson Caves; the Brooklyn Bridges (a nest of suspension bridges spanning boroughs); Governors Tower (formerly Governors Island); and, of course, the New Wall—the East River Dam itself—now an athletic attraction to people all over the world, lined with climbing routes and ornamental handholds.

New Yorkers once fearful of the rising waters of climate change now look down into vast canyons surrounding the city, lined with historic plaques explaining how this newest of National Parks was born.

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