All Articles
All Articles

Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City

by Brian Fichtner
on 10 July 2009

Landscape ecologist Eric W. Sanderson's decade-long Mannahatta Project, an exhaustive study and recreation of the Manhattan ecosystem circa 1609 (the year of Henry Hudson's arrival in Mannahatta), finally culminated in a sumptuous book and equally stunning exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.


A project in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Pentagram's Abbott Miller designed both the book and exhibition, which feature Markley Boyer's stunning renderings of Manhattan's once verdant woodlands, broad meadows and crystalline wetlands.

Sanderson's meticulous approach informed these incredibly detailed renderings, a process which began through geolocating a 1782 British Headquarters Map to the island's modern street grid. Finding over 200 control points on the map to align to their current locations allowed Sanderson's group to create a virtual model with an error margin of only 40 meters.

Through a combination of historical record and scientific study, Sanderson's rich vision of Mannahatta offers stunning facts. Physically, the landscape featured over 570 hills (which accounts for the native Lenape's naming of the island—Mannahatta is thought to mean "island of many hills"), more than 60 miles of streams and over 20 ponds. Comprised of 24 species of mammals, 233 birds, 32 reptiles, 85 fish and 627 species of plants, the biological diversity was no less robust than the city's ethnic diversity today. In fact, Sanderson writes: "If Mannahatta existed today as it did then, it would be a national park—it would be the crowning glory of American national parks."


The exhibition offers visitors an immersive experience in this Edenic landscape, framing seven of Boyer's aerial visualizations within structures that call to mind a camera obscura. The luscious renderings, 6' x 6' in scale and backlit with fluorescent lights, gain a tantalizing depth that draw viewers back in time. A fascinating look into the natural history of one of the world's greatest cities, the exhibition and the book are both musts.

More images after the jump.

Purchase "Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City" online at the Amazon.

Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City
Through 12 October, 2009
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10129 map
tel. +1 212 534 1672

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity