For many, the visual history of Manhattan is like a jump cut from early industrialization to what it is now—from Gangs of New York to Ghostbusters or Tammany Hall to OWS. Albeit significant points on Manhattan’s timeline, we often forget that Manhattan’s skyline did not appear overnight. Through growth animation, Cube Cities demonstrates Manhattan’s development from the time of Rockefeller industrialists into the glowing metropolis of Roc-A-Fella Records.
Using 59th Street as a south-facing vantage point (Columbus Circle is located at the bottom right corner of the screen), the visualization tracks the pace of the rising midtown skyline over the last 165 years. Buildings are input according to the year they were completed and appear in the animation by decade.
Their findings? The 1920s were roaring, the ’40s and ’50s were dull, and the ’70s saw growth which slowed by the 1990s—it appears (unsurprisingly) for want of space. That hasn’t halted development into the 21st century, and proves, if anything, that New Yorkers can make space anywhere.
For a time capsule, check out the short film below critiquing the mid-Eighties boom in high rises on the Upper East Side, a building boom that erased the remnants of the old German neighborhood of Yorkville. The film’s host is Paul Newman, and it was produced for the nonprofit CIVITAS in 1986. Apart from the legendary actor, himself a neighborhood resident, the use of physical architectural models and film techniques to simulate streetscapes is astonishing and not likely to be seen again in the age of 3D renderings. Hint: the opening shot is a miniature.
Also—interested in visualization of the next 165 years and beyond? Soon, Mannahatta 2409 will allow us to script the ecological future of New York.