Informal Grid

1) Manhattan’s grid has exhausted its ability to create difference. Increasingly, Manhattan is merely a playground for tourists and the extremely wealthy. Over the past 200 years, the constraint of the grid created a rich tapestry of urban experiences and expressions, but current zoning and real estate logics have neutered its capacity for heterogeneity. Diversity now only exists on the skyline.

2) Manhattan’s grid needs to loosen up. The grid for the next 200 years will be an informal grid, a planning system that promotes difference in both elevation and plan, on both the skyline and in the spatial experience of the pedestrian on the ground.

3) The informal grid introduces “slack” into the system. It creates spaces between the blocks, aerating the grid and opening up space for public inhabitation. The informal grid is not an abandonment of the existing grid, but rather an opportunistic realignment, an augmenting of an already effective system with an updated version of itself.

4) The informal grid blurs the figure of Manhattan. It systemically transforms the entire grid, at both its exterior and interior edges, blurring the boundary between nature and city, open and dense, public and private. Rather than a single line of greenway framing and bounding the island (striking a hard zoning line between city and nature), the informal grid creates a gradient of varied natural spaces that infiltrate into the island on all sides. Taking cues from the historic piers of Manhattan, the informal grid both extends the city out into its surrounding waters and pulls nature into its interior.

5) The informal grid believes in the block. The orthogonal street grid and the city block have historically been two sides of the same coin, inextricably bound together. The informal grid loosens this relationship, allowing the street and the block to exert independent but tethered pressures on the city fabric they create. The Manhattan city block’s form and size are preserved, along with its capacity for creating functional and equivalent developable areas.

6) The informal grid changes the rules of the game. Like its predecessor, it embraces both rigidity and freedom. However, the grid of the 21st century introduces new logics into the system, questioning the boundary between built and natural, challenging the stability of established neighborhood identities, transforming the symbolic into the associative, and rendering the formal informal.

Program: Public Space, Urban Design
Size: Large
Year: 2013
Status: Unbuilt
Location: Manhattan, United States

Design Team: Ryan Neiheiser, Xristina Argyros, Giancarlo Valle, Isaiah King