1811 Commissioners' Plan

Today, in the age of Google Maps, ubiquitous satellite imagery, and GPS-enabled smart phones, everyone has become a cartophile. Thanks to the way that new technological tools have democratized mapmaking, many people now even fancy themselves amateur cartographers. And while this recent burst of interest has generated plenty of frivolous plots and plats, maps are uniquely powerful tools for helping us to understand the world around us: what it looks like, who we share it with, what we have access to.

Maps can also help us to imagine how the world around us might change.

In 1807, for instance, the New York State Legislature appointed a three-member commission to create a comprehensive plan for Manhattan in order to improve public health and better facilitate the city’s increasingly rapid development. The result was the most influential map in the New York City’s history: the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Commissioners Gouverneur Morris, John Rutherfurd, and Simeon De Witt proposed that the entire island north of the city’s edge at Houston Street be re-organized into the orderly rectangular grid that we know today.

At the time, most of Manhattan was a rambling patchwork of farms, forests, and family estates, and the grid represented a radical re-organization of territory. Today, the city still maintains the original maps created to help New York’s leaders visualize the northward march of their city. Each Borough President acts as the official map-keeper for their borough, and the panels of the Commissioners’ Plan are tucked away in the Manhattan Municipal Building, the elaborate McKim, Mead, & White confection that is celebrating its centennial this year.

During the 12th Annual OHNY Weekend, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer—a supporter of the festival since it began back in 2003—will open her office to the public to host a very special exhibit of maps charting Manhattan’s development, including the Commissioners’ Plan and several additional, formative maps from throughout the city’s history. [UPDATE: Please note that, while the site is listed in the Open Access section of the OHNY Weekend Event Guide, entry is timed, and you must reserve a slot in advance. Space is limited, and reservations go live beginning at 11 AM on Wednesday, Oct. 1.]

On Saturday, October 11th, participants will be able to visit the 19th floor of the Municipal Building to view:

  • Nine individual 20” x 30” panels of the original 1811 Commissioner’s Plan, covering the East Side from downtown to approximately 59th Street;
  • A copy of the overall Randel grid plan, measuring approximately 30” x 96”;
  • A 48” x 48” original of the rarely-seen 1860 Blackwell Farm maps, which surveyed the area north of 155th Street (where the Commissioners’ Plan terminated), along with dozens of field notes for that map;
  • And the original 1801 Lower Manhattan Survey Map (36” x 36”), featuring the “Collect Pond” located where today’s Javits Federal Building stands today.




The explosive growth of manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries left an indelible mark on the five boroughs. While New York is now known for its dominance in fields like finance, media, and design, it grew up as a city of industrial districts. Back when the manufacturing sector was one of the primary forces driving the city’s economy, residential and commercial development often followed the factories. This was a time when neighborhoods were known as much for what they produced as for who lived there.

As shown in the infographic above [NYPL], which is exhibited in Vertical Urban Factory, the city’s core circa 1919 was a melange of crosshatched manufacturing clusters. Not only did many of these clusters overlap with each other, they mixed right in with the city’s residential and commercial sectors. In 1919, New York City was home to 32,590 factories in neighborhoods across the city, employing a total of 825,056 people. But while this meant that many New Yorkers were able to walk to work, the soot, smells, and clamorous sounds of the factory also followed them home. The city’s earliest zoning regulation, in part, was intended to create more distance between noxious industrial sites and the places where people lived. “Until the early twentieth century most urban areas had unrestricted uses,” explains Vertical Urban Factory‘s Nina Rappaport. “The first zoning regulations in New York were put in place in 1916 to separate noxious uses from residential areas, to provide for healthier living. This gradually placed noxious uses in low income areas, or the industrial areas that developed became sequestered. This separated industry and workers from the everyday, removing diversity from city life.”

Continue reading “Learning from New York’s Industrial Legacy” on the Making it Here website

11th Annual OHNY Weekend Photos


Walk the Internet Tour_credit Nicolas Lemery Nantel:salokin.com4

Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com


Check out photos from this year’s OHNY Weekend, including exciting new sites like 4 World Trade Center, the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, and the new Whitney Museum and returning favorites like Brooklyn Army Terminal and the High Line at the Rail Yards.

Click here to view photos from the Weekend.
Click here  to view photos from the Launch Party.



A Big Shout Out to our Sponsors


High Line at the Rail Yards_credit Nicolas Lemery Nantel:Salokin.com1

Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com


As a non-profit organization, OHNY depends on the generous support of so many to keep the Weekend free and affordable. The 2013 OHNY Weekend was supported by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council; New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; Hon. Daniel Garodnick; and Hon. Gale Brewer.

Additional support was provided by the Architecture and Design Film Festival; the Lily Auchincloss Foundation; Design Within Reach; Eastern Millwork; New York University; Silverstein Properties; StreetEasy; TPG Architecture; Visualhouse; and Youngwoo & Associates.

OHNY Weekend media sponsors included Architizer; The Architect’s Newspaper; Interior Design Magazine; Time Out New York; WABC; and WFUV.



Focus on Architecture Competition


Marriott Marquis_Roisin Collins

Photo: Roisin Collins


Over 300 photos have been submitted to the 2013 Focus on Architecture Competition by budding and experienced photographers looking to share their OHNY Weekend experience. Photos will be juried by an esteemed group that includes Stanley Greenberg, Sean Hemmerle, Elliott Kaufman, Erica Stoller and Gregory Wessner. Watch for an announcement in November about the winning submissions. And thanks to New York City Photo Safari for their support of the Focus on Architecture competition.

Click here to check out the submissions!



OHNY Weekend in the Media


Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation_credit Nicolas Lemery Nantel:Salokin.com1

Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com


New York Times
New Yorker
Time Out New York
Conde Nast Traveler
Interior Design Magazine
Fox 5




And now for the big reveal: This year’s Mystery Tour is a behind-the-scenes look at the Criminal Court Building at 100 Centre Street. Sometimes called The Tombs, in reference to the prison buildings known by that name that preceded it, the late 1930s, Art Deco 100 Centre Street was designed by Charles B. Meyers and Harvey Wiley Corbett; Corbett was also one of the architects involved in the planning of Rockefeller Center and the north building of Metropolitan Life on Madison Square. Congratulations to winner Carrie Driscoll, who will have this special opportunity and thanks to Diana Heller for making it possible.


Congratulations also to Erana Kratounis, winner of a Tour of the Construction Site of Hudson Yards; Alena Lehrer, winner of a Tour of the New Jacob K. Javits Center; and Charles McKinnon and Bob Cuk, winners of a Bird’s Eye View of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.


Open House New York 2013

Gowanus Canal SuperFun(d) Canoe Tours / David Mark Erickson


Glorious weather, hundreds of inspiring sites and tours, and tens of thousands of people made the 11th Annual openhousenewyork Weekend one of our best ever! From canoe tours on the Gowanus to previews of 4 World Trade Center, the 2013 OHNY Weekend was an unparalleled celebration of architecture, design, and New York City, drawing record-breaking crowds of visitors from throughout the five boroughs, across the country, and around the globe.

Our deepest thanks to all of you who made it possible: the funders without whose support there would be no OHNY Weekend; the site and program sponsors who opened their doors to invite the public in to visit their homes and workspaces; the nearly 900 volunteers who welcomed visitors and helped manage the crowds with kindness and grace; and the tens of thousands of visitors who traversed the city in the true spirit of urban exploration and waited patiently in hours-long lines. Stay tuned for pictures from OHNY Weekend in the coming week. And thank you again!