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Design Research Projects (DRPs)

Manhattan Second Story

Eric Farr

With the power of necromancy, the ‘2nd story’ learns to harness the lifted memory of the grid that resurrects the effigy of power in order to yield it to the power of the citizens; the ground to the network of grounds where the land has already vanished; the surfaces of the raised groundscape within the ideoglossia of the first and second stories where the new collective memory is shared among the inhabitants and spectators. There is no hierarchy; no superiority or inferiority. This heterarchical practice of society appears to supersede the utopian idea of the first story by being replaced or at the least complemented by the dystopian society of second. This is how Manhattan Second Story sets out to tell the Second Story of Manhattan; the story of the Lifted Metropolitan, its Floating Cities and Wandering Towns. The second story cannot be perceived from any land: the political ground. There is no land anymore. The perceivers are either within the city or on another floating ground to identify it. The spectators do not walk on the land; they watch the lifted city from the floating cities or towns surrounding; they watch the everyday and incremental evolution of the city, instead of final condition and end-state of the field. This relentless evolution is not regressive or progressive. The city is being restored in different ways. With time passing and raising the water level, the more particles detach from the second story and float on water. These self-sufficient and self-sustaining compartments claim the individuation and constitute “detached floating towns”, while they can attach any time they want. They perpetuate the independence of existence with the coalition urbanization in a different realm; like the society of wanderers. Manhattan is gone; the grid is gone; the only remainder is the reminding part of central park: the reflection of central park; the vague memory of grid reflected on top plus the 5th avenue. As we ascend the city, we are in-between, as if the verticality is the horizontality. When we arrive on top, the upside down trees manifest the fact that we cannot walk among the trees anymore; we are only able to walk on the rhizome of the roots of the trees which manifest walking underneath the skin of Manhattan although we walked towards the unending horizon of the city; the horizon is the new beginning for the development of the rest of the city to be in between again, when the ‘3rd story’ begins to grow.   

Commoditizing the natural spaces and their particulars – ground, underground, air, light, water, flora and fauna – to provide a platform where the capital can flow and be exchanged; where consumption can be nurtured and facilitated. Alternative approaches to urbanism and urban planning – in its utopian(ist), Idealist, realist, totalitarian or even new-bourgeois sense – were in fact very little, if any, different from what was traditionally formed and flowed throughout the history of the city. The gestation or formation of the city has always been dominated by what has resulted in our cities in their current form and shape: “there comes a moment when formalism is exhausted, when only a new injection of content into form can destroy it and so open up the way to innovation.”

The city is formed of two intertwined elements: movement and settlement. Human settlements initiated the formation of the earliest cities and the strongest drivers of the movement in those cities were not just foods or resources but the sacred and spiritual forces – Genius Luci, leading to Vici formed around Lares Compitales; the rituals which were the conventions for forming our cities in their closest shape to contemporary forms of human settlements. Even further back in history, it was those rituals that caused people to gather together to form more primeval forms of settlement or move to another place to form a new settlement. The walled enclosure was an excuse to intensify the spiritual receptivity and emotional exaltation. The city could only be created by social enjoyment through maximum use of symbolized fantasy of art, with shared vision of a better life; what Aristotle would call the glimpse of utopia. All those hopes and fears in their broadest sense make the city the most political phenomenon of production of human being; or let us say human-kind.

The first factor of settlement is broken into this form of urbanism, the sacred, the monument and the rituals are invisible in this autonomous system. Projecting a city design by space requires more than just an extrusion of a two-dimensional grid into the third dimension based on the flexibility of the consumption of the market-oriented society.

In the past ‘Polis’ streets were not just the by-products of houses and shops which were generated by the grid consumption forces but they were the center-points in their own right: a showpiece of efficient urban governance; what dominated the city and how it was going to function and perform, not only logistically but also politically and culturally. Every citizen had an active role to play in a city which is the embodiment of formal order and beauty, the democratization promised by the concept of city.

The formation of today’s urbanism of street grid is the produce of historical circumstances. It is the result of the consumption forces. Before the formation of our modern city, whoever improved the land would have owned it. Therefore, the idea of improving started by the idea of consumption in the parceled form. The land became parceled up and sold, the grid became the future of settlement, and in the new municipality of the grid settlement the political forces of consumption compelled the citizen to take orders and to do what they are being told in a mandatory settlement.

The current form of urbanism acknowledges that the ideas which brought the urban grid into being no longer exist. As the cause has already changed, cities can no longer be described as economic growth and consumption, public health, infrastructure and the problem of zoning or any other technical or functional driver for that matter; the design cannot just solve technical and functional problems. Consider the gridded city like Manhattan, the main experience of the city comes directly from the structure blocks of the grid, therefore the city is dominated by form. This typological form of the city comes into existence as the product of sprawl; what has no relation to the metric order of the grid. The sprawl is the growth of the isolated object arbitrarily set in the field, the field that is experienced by its form and not space. That leads to a city where the object in its field has no relation to the city or how the city had been build. The grid city was designed based on similar, if not identical, block which are capable of expanding automatically and autonomously based on the market, autonomous from its citizen, from their adjacent blocks or any human or non-human agent of the city for that matter; the only tie is the infrastructure and the only boundary is the city access grid: the street. This autonomy is being defined by the horizontal distance from the resources hubs; the foreland and hinterland.

Here, the main question is between the modes of organization, and the form of urbanization comes into conflict with organization; how can we address the notion of space through the new modes of organization and settlement?  Manhattan second story argues the notion of the city dominated by this ground. It argues that if the grid, when properly recognized, can effectively engage in the process of design, the fate of our cities can be unlocked from being dominated by the mere two-dimensional grid-block as it has traditionally been. By using an old mode of organization it can refine the city; a new ground that gives the power to its citizen for settlement. Manhattan second story redefines the grid system and its relationship to the ground, creating a new network. It is through the new forms of organization that the urbanism can be shaped by ideas of productivity and can form new political and special forms. It uses grid as an abstract device to mediate between the ideas of flexibilities and expansions; to raise the ground above the ground. The grid is free from the horizontal sprawl of the contemporary urbanism, detaching itself from its ground for a new ground. No longer is the he ground here, the key factor for political and economic form of the city, or the economic accounts of development, but it is yet another dimension to free the post-formation of the city from those dominant functional or technical powers.

Eric Farr

The city can expand three-dimensionally upward and downward to hold the new space for its new urbanism in which it can closely be interpreted as the notion of a ‘second story’; a new urbanization offering a multi-layer advancement. The ‘second story’ here act as deferential form and incorporates the conventionality of the grid block. It is capable of defining more special fields unlike the traditional system. It is on this ‘second story’ that Manhattan’s growth happens not by hierarchical density but by spatial qualities. The new ground makes the rituals that gives birth to the first settlement are visible again through a new network that gives the social, spatial, political and economic factors within a value-laden system and elevates them to a the desire ground of citizens; a ground that otherwise either does not exist or else is so remote from the authentic characteristics of Manhattan that no longer can built up on and improve its values.

Eric Farr
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