Tagged: NYC

Invisible Manhattanhenge

Last week saw the second and last occurrence of Manhattanhenge this year. If you’ve been blissfully slumbering under a rock, or for some reason just not using Manhattan as the measure of the world, Manhattanhenge is when the setting sun lines up with the (approximately) East-West grid of Manhattan streets.

They say it’s best to observe the ‘henge from as far East as you can get on a wide street that has a clear shot through to the Hudson river. I don’t really relish standing in the middle of such a street to get a shot, so I chose 72nd street at Central Park West, where I could stand just inside the park and get a clear shot down 72nd at least to Riverside Park. There were dozens of others with just the same idea, but we were all foiled by summer haze.

Manhattanhenge, really

I mentioned the phenomenon to a friend who asked, “is it only in Manhattan?” I suppose you can observe something like this anyplace with a regular enough street grid, or even on any single straight street that at some point lines up with the setting sun, but of course (most of) Manhattan has a famously regular street grid, and famously deep canyons of tall buildings.

I also wonder why it’s only at the sunset and not the sunrise – that would give you two more occasions a year for dramatic photos. I guess New York is the city that never sleeps, but not one that gets up very early.

There are probably more elegant ways to figure these things out, but I rather like the view you can get from Sundroid, an app that, among other cool functions, shows the angle at which the sun rises and sets for a given place on a given day. You can find your own personal ‘henge this way.

Manhattanhenge Sunset

This weekend in wooden maps

While hanging out on the LES with the young lions of fintech, I stayed at the newly soft opened Ludlow Hotel and was enchanted by this coffee table in the shape of Manhattan with the street grid incised in it. It sort of reminds me of Max Becher’s Chocolate Broadway.

Manhattan coffee table at the Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side

It’s made of wood and it’s a map, what more could I ask for? How about a Central Park filled with actual plants? Done! Sure, you could argue that other parks are not given this treatment or that the reservoir or other major bodies of water are missing, but hey, it’s a coffee table, not google earth.

Manhattan in wood, Central Park in moss

I didn’t have a chance to ask the hotel staff where they got this wonderful thing and the closest I’ve been able to find online is the superficially similar (and unavailable) Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge of (California-based) Galerie Sommerlath.

Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge

I give Edge much credit for including the transit lines, but I prefer the darker finish – and distinctive Central Park treatment – of the hotel’s version. I wonder if the concierge uses it to give directions.

The farther I get from u(niversity)

They say that your MIT credentials get more impressive and valuable the farther you get from MIT. This is nicely illustrated by this thing that happened to me in New York the other day, which most certainly could not have happened in Cambridge. It also, by the way, could only have happened to a reader of paper (not e-) magazines.

I was sitting on a bench outside a Swedish coffee shop reading the MIT Tech Review and not paying much attention to the two guys on the adjacent bench who, as it turns out, were scheming to disrupt the entire world of institutional trading. I put the magazine down and started to gather my things, and the two guys, one British and one South African, commented on how impressed they were with MIT. Assuming they were scientists or engineers, I deflected modestly, “I just went to the business school.” That was all the entree they needed to launch into an NDA-free discussion of their disruptive plans. I won’t describe them here here but if these guys pull it off, you’ll be hearing all about it soon enough.

As we belatedly introduced ourselves, I revealed myself as the fossil I am by handing over a business card. I might as well have offered a clay tablet. They politely photographed the card for storage on their phones and suggested that we connect on facebook as well. I then showed myself to be a luddite by saying, “I declared facebook bankruptcy years ago, the account is there but I never log in.” This was nearly inconceivable. How do I even exist without facebook? They declared that they had to make a video, as if they had spotted the last passenger pigeon or an albino whale and their friends would not believe them.

Fossil, luddite, and to that add antisocial killjoy. I nixed the video but agreed to a selfie (it’s not really a selfie to me if somebody else takes it, but I was in his selfie I guess) that would be shared on twitter.

Bros icing institutional finance

I left the disruptors with the magazine – no doubt they’ll show it to friends and laugh about the use of wood pulp to transmit information – and moved on with a distinct sense of aged decrepitude. On the other hand, if this is the rep that MIT carries with folks from Europe and Africa, maybe I should pack my (stainless steel) brass rat and head farther afield than New York – but only after bringing my facebook page back up to date.

Two Rolled Steel Slabs, Two Ways

I saw a lot of art on a recent trip to New York, but I think the works that made the biggest impression on me (not literally, thank goodness) were four steel slabs by Richard Serra, two at MoMA made in 1974-75 and two at Gagosian from 2013.

Inside Out (2013) at Gagosian

At Gagosian’s hangar-like Chelsea space, Serra has set up two undulating arcs of beautifully rusted steel about ten or fifteen feet high and 80 feet long each forming corridors and cul-se-sacs for visitors to wander around in.


Some of the spaces are narrow enough to make it awkward to pass other people and others are almost cathedral-like.


The rusted steel looks almost like velvet in some places and its shape and angle reminds you of the hull of a ship.


In at least one spot, you can see bootprints on the steel, and the seams where the plates are connected are not hidden but neither are they ostentatious.


Delineator (1974-75) at MoMA

In an otherwise ordinary gallery space at MoMA, a piece called Delineator is installed. It takes a moment to even realize there’s something there.  On the floor, a slab of steel with a smooth finish that you’re invited to walk upon.


As you do, you notice the second slab, attached to the ceiling right above but offset 90 degrees from the one on the floor. The slab on the ceiling seems to have a rougher texture, maybe because nobody’s been walking on it.


Once again, you are in a sense “inside” the work, even part of it, but this piece from the ’70s contains a lot more menace than the sensual curves of the 2103 work. You’re forced to touch the work by walking on it and you’re forced to ponder what’s keeping the 2.5 ton slab up there. Where Inside Out is welcoming and even playful, Delineator (as the name suggests) asks point blank, “are you in or are you out?”

I’d rather live with or in the 2013 Serra, but the 1975 piece appeals to me more as art that makes you think a little as you pass through it. It’s nearly impossible to “get” these pieces from pictures or blogs, so see them in person if you get the chance.

Look closer at big abstract paintings

Have you ever waited for-effing-ever for some inconsiderate nerd to stop communing with the art and step away from right in front of a painting in a museum so you could get a clear photo of it? Well, at least in some cases, I am that nerd, and you should spend more time looking at the painting before you photograph it anyway.

MoMA wall text next to Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis

If you don’t know Barnett Newman’s work, you should. If you’ve seen it but never gotten real close, shame on you, get back there and get right up in there. At the very least, get close enough that the painting fills your field of view and you have to walk or move your head to see the edges. With Vir Heroicus Sublimis, which is about 8 feet tall and over 17 feet wide, that shouldn’t be too hard. Here’s a sample.

Part of the middle of Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis. Click to enlarge.

OK, maybe not the most accessible part of the work, but that’s all the more reason to go see the real thing.  It’s at MoMA. There are other Newman paintings elsewhere, too. Here’s a full view to give you a sense of scale, by flickr member Hank. Color balance is as color balance does, I’d say the truth is somewhere in between, less orange, more carmine.

Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Hold up a rock where Stieglitz stood

I read in the New Yorker (well, on the New Yorker’s Goings On About Town app) that Giuseppe Penone had installed three life-size and lifelike bronze trees in Madison Square Park and balanced some boulders up in them.

The most understated and ecologically minded artist of the Italian Arte Povera movement has planted a trio of bronze trees, the largest of which weighs twelve thousand pounds. Boulders, placed in the crooks of their branches, appear to defy gravity. The trees were cast in pieces and reassembled on location; the results look at once vital and petrified. It’s not apt to call the Italian sculptor’s work site-specific—Penone’s uncanny arbor could be installed anywhere—but in the heart of Manhattan, the transformation of nature into culture has a particular bite. Through Feb. 9.

This I had to see, and so I did. The bronze trees are – or at least appear to be from the fence that protects them from us or vice versa – amazingly life-like and not immediately distinguishable from their wooden neighbors until you notice the boulders and if you look for them, the seams where sections are welded together. But I have to disagree with the writer at The New Yorker about the site specificity – sure, they could be anywhere, but they are special here.

Ideas of Stone, by Guiseppe Penone,  in Madison Square Park

The media photos for this work carefully ignore Madison Square Park’s most famous architectural neighbor, the Flatiron Building. Some of the photos show the Empire State Building, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but once you put the Flatiron into the picture with Penone’s trees, I think you’ve got no choice but to call to mind Alfred Stieglitz’s (or if you insist, Edward Steichen’s) iconic photo of that building through a tree.

As I had some years earlier, I tried to find a composition similar to Stieglitz’s but this time using one of Penone’s trees. Instagram doesn’t have a setting for Camerawork Gravure, but it adds a little fake nostalgia. Yes, I know it’s not really at all similar.

Flatiron Building and Bronze Tree with Boulder

I suggest you get there if you can, the installation will somehow be removed February 9. If you witness that, please share photos.

The most uptowniest Starbucks in Manhattan is not on the island of Manhattan

I thought I was so edgy, I checked in at the Starbucks on 181st street in Washington Heights and noted that I was at the northernmost Starbucks in the borough of Manhattan. How wrong I was, by two coffee shops and an interesting carto-historical technicality.

Like many Manhattanites, I was guilty of conflating the island of Manhattan, the borough of Manhattan, and the civilized world. Understandable, I’m sure you’ll agree.  But what gives about the most uptowniest Starbucks? Well, it turns out there are two Starbucks establishments in Marble Hill, a chunk of political Manhattan physically embedded in the Bronx thanks to the motion of history and the Harlem river.

If you look at maps closely, you’ll see the border line. Marble Hill has a Bronx zip code and Bronx school district, but Manhattan representation. It used to be part of the island of Manhattan but was made an island by a canal and later joined to the Bronx by the infilling of the original course of the Harlem river. The more you know.

For extra credit, check out the excellently named Spuyten Duyvil Creek, anagrammed subway station maps (Damn Tyck Trees!), and Vanshnookenraggen’s excellent subway map poster showing the Marble Hill stop on the 1.

November Redemption

A casual Yankees fan at best – I fail all tests of fanaticism for sports – I watched the 2009 World Series with more than passing interest, and it delivered the bookend I had hoped for, closing a chapter opened at the 2001 series.

In 2001, the world series was delayed – but not canceled – by the September 11 attacks. The series started late on October 27, and finished with game seven on November 4.  The ninth inning opened with the Yankees ahead of the Diamondbacks 2-1 and seemingly untouchable closer Mariano Rivera on the mound.  Arizona scored two more runs and won the series.

The Yankees made it to the World series just one more time for the rest of the Bush administration, and lost that one four games to two.

In 2009, the series started on October 28 and finished with game six on November 4.  The ninth inning opened with the Yankees ahead of the Phillies 7-3 and all too human closer Mariano Rivera on the mound.  And close the game he did, and the Yankees won their 29th title.

Sure, an eight-year drought is nothing compared to what other teams have gone through.  But I felt that New York (the city, not the team) needed a win in 2001 more than just any year, and I’m hopeful that this win in the first post-Bush series indicates a positive reversal of fortune for the city, the country and maybe even the world.

High and low, old and new lines on the West side

Last week I spent some time in NYC, almost all of it on the West side, upper, middle and lower.  As usual, I took the subway, and along the way I noted two ends of the lifecycle of transportation: the birth of a new station on the 7 line, and the rebirth as a park of a section of an old elevated freight line.

The 7 line extension

The 7 train connects Times Square and Flushing via 42nd street, Grand Central Station, Queensboro Plaza, Jackson Heights, and Shea Stadium, to name just a few of the stations and neighborhoods.  But anybody who’s ever had the misfortune to attend a convention at the Javits Center can tell you where the 7 does not go.  But this will change.  Sometime in the next ten years or so, the 7 train will have a new Western terminus at 34th street and 11th avenue.  You can see a bit of the area in question here, via google maps:


What’s even more interesting to me are two additional factoids about the 7 extension, gleaned from the estimable Transitblogger and the ever-turgid wikipedia.

  • It *might* eventually get extended to 23rd street and 11th avenue, further revitalizing Chelsea.  More on Chelsea in a bit.
  • A planned station at 41st street and 10th avenue (“Hell’s Kitchen”) has been canceled or postponed.  I for one would be totally excited to have a station called “Hell’s Kitchen” but it appears that the plan would label it “10th Avenue.”

The high line

Way out at the other end of the transit lifecycle is the High Line, a new park created from the skeleton of a long-abandoned 1930’s elevated freight rail line near 10th avenue.  The first section of the High Line, which opened on June 9, runs from Gansevoort street in the appetizingly-named meatpacking district up to 20th street.  Eventually the park will run all the way to 30th street, then West around the rail yards, ending up pretty close to the Javtis Center and the new 7 line terminus.  You can see the tracks more clearly in Google’s map view, and the satellite view doesn’t yet show the High Line’s current state.


I’m very much in favor of walkable urban space, urban green space and imaginative recycling or urban relics, but I found the High Line a little unfinished.  Actually, it is unfinished, not just because not all the old track has been opened as a park, but also because as a park, it has yet to grow and develop.  The plantings are young, the wooden parts have yet to weather, and yes, the taggers haven’t made their mark yet.

The High Line

The High Line has some great beats making imaginative use of the materials at hand, such as the chaise lounges on wheels set into the old tracks and a sunken ampetheater that ends in glass windows looking up 10th avenue.  It also passes under or through some buildings along the way, notably the Standard Hotel, which straddles it between Little West 12th and 13th streets.  The vistas are impresive and there’s a good amount of green for the space available, which is maybe 20 feet wide in most parts.  There’s an elevator at 16th street (also the location of the only restrooms), so the line is pretty acessible.

What’s missing for me – and I hope this is just temporary – is shelter.  None of the plants are tall enough for shade yet, and there seems hardly anything to break the wind that comes off the river and down the avenues.  I wonder what the park will be like in the winer.  But these are small nits, and I’m very happy to see such an interesting new space come up.  And of course, some of the gritty side is still visible from the line, if not at yet on it.

The High Line