Monday, May 17, 2010

NYC Imagined and Made

Last week was the opening of The City We Imagined/The City We Made, an "exhibition about architecture, planning, and development in New York since 2001" by The Architectural League now on display at 250 Hudson Street. The storefront is one short block from the new Trump SoHo Hotel, as much a symbol as any of the city's 21st-century changes. The two sides evident in the exhibition's title are presented on the inside (made) and outside (imagined) of a snaking partition of cardboard, designed by locals Moorhead & Moorhead. Both sides are thoroughly documented, the former via color-coded sheets of paper describing major developments and buildings in the decade, the latter via volunteer photographs overseen by Esto. With this layout one cannot look at the city imagined and made simultaneously, as if the League wanted a clear demarcation between the two, even though such a fine line in reality is arguable.

[The City Imagined (top) and Made (bottom) | image source]

Where the Imagined focuses on developments like Atlantic Yards or planning initiatives like Hudson Yards, Made is a for-grabs assortment of buildings and spaces around the city that veer from the mundane to the high-profile; the range is great and subtle threads are illuminated via the arrangement of photos. What can be found in the Made images that is missing in Imagined is the messy vitality of the city. This is not a surprise, since most developments -- top-down in nature -- try to eliminate the unpredictable in their presentations and focus on the final product ... if there is such a thing. The City We Made shows NYC as it always is: in continual change. Renderings of large-scale developments showcase an architecture that never happens, because plans change, the surroundings change, and designers are dropped in favor of other designers; Atlantic Yards is the best case in point.

What also comes across in the Made images is the small scale fabric of the city, something apparently at odds with the grand Imagined developments. While this fact could come down to something as small as the preference of the volunteer photographers, I think it points to the persistence of small changes in the city's various neighborhoods in the face of high-profile developments focused in a few areas of money and potential. An infill project can carry as much weight as a decked railyard in the lives of local residents. Of course one has to wonder if the developments could learn something from "the other half," if reality could inform them with the fine-grain qualities, the messy vitality and the ongoing change that is the city, breaking down the wall between the two realms.