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Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City
by Brian Fichtner
on 10 July 2009
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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.

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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."

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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

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