Wild: Manhattanism Unhinged

Seok Min Yeo Thesis Project 8

by Seok Min Yeo (MLA I ’18) — Recipient of Masters in Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize II

The Manhattan Grid and its ability to absorb manic heterogeneity emancipates each block into an island of its own identity and ideology, inspiring architectural ecstasy. Conceptual alternatives by the likes of Ferris, Hood,Superstudio,Koolhaas & Vriesendorp, and Tschumi contribute to the island as a cultural ideology and a theorem: Manhattanism

The podium – a straight extrusion of the existing formal logic of the grid – is the datum of reliability that act as a stage for expressions above. Here I posit, that the space in between the podiums, The Street – is the largest contiguous public realm of the island, and it has been neglected from this conversation.

This investigation begins from Ferriss’ “The Metropolis of Tomorrow,” a series of atmospheric charcoal renders produced in 1929, which Koolhaas dubs as the “womb” of Manhattanism. Ferriss’ renders were an imagination of the impact of 1916 Zoning Resolution, which introduced the Sky Exposure Plane and Height District to provide “light and air”to the streets as a public health concern in a growing metropolis. What if this moment played out differently, what if there was an alternative womb that conceived the street not as a constrained two dimensional infrastructure to let light into, but as a three dimensional public realm to be designed?

The three laboratories investigate the parameters built in the key zoning apparatus that govern the form of the buildings – 1916 Sky Exposure Plane in particular –  and started to unhinge them in order to expand and thicken the streets. The investigations posit the street and its composition as the catalyst, the public as the agent, and the built form and the expanded public realm as the bi-product. Through the experiments, I seek to challenge the normative understandings of the street as a linear two dimensional element, the horizontal and vertical delineation between the public and the private realm/ownership and the boundaries and negotiations between various stakeholders – the users, designers, and regulatory agencies.


 A city is ultimately designed by the needs and negotiations between the various stakeholders rather than through a singular design will. I propose an adaptive set of parameters that utilizes and augments the form making devices (zoning resolution, amendment, addendum, and variances) to produce the urban landscape rather than imposing an obdurate masterplan, to prioritize and expand the largest public realm in the urban landscape: the street. This is the beginning of Wild: Manhattanism, Unhinged