Saturday, February 16, 2013

Semiramis in Manhattan

New York, February 16, 2013

The simplicity of the New York grid is rather deceptive.  Its geometry negotiates some incredibly complex problems, dealing with everything you can think of, from topography to infrastructure.  Just take the example Fourth Avenue.  Yes, you may not even know where Fourth Avenue is, since it's call that only on its southern end, where it follows the skewed alignment of the Bowery.  By the time it aligns with the grid at Union Square (above 15th Street) it changes its name to Park Avenue.

When the 1811 Commissioner's Plan began to be implemented, it was still known as Fourth Avenue.  Beginning in the the 1830s it became the right of way for major train lines arriving to the city.  South of where it's now Grand Central, the railroads had to cut through Murray Hill, completely regrading the area.  And in 1903, the construction of Grand Central Terminal created a most elaborate three-dimensional puzzle rippling though the city grid.  To the north of the station, Park Avenue and the transversal streets had to be constructed as structures hovering above the train tracks even before any building was built.  Yes, early in the 20th century, the medians of Park Avenue look like veritable hanging gardens!

North of 97th, the tracks emerge again from under Park Avenue (sous les pav├ęs... the train tracks.)

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