Turn Back the Clock: Is Pre-Colonial the Design Vibe of the Moment?

The 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s landfall romances salt marshes and beaver pelts.


Over the past week New York
marked the 400th anniversary of the Dutch arrival with a design
on Governor’s Island and the
unveiling of a pavilion
by Dutch architect Ben Van Berkel, among
other commemorations.


The events were sprinkled with references to Mannahatta, or “island of many hills” as the 500 or so Lenape inhabitants called it. If the anniversary has a central image, it’s the computer rendering of the unspoiled Manhattan landscape of 1609, with its rolling hills and salt marshes.


The image was drawn from the Mannahatta Project, a decade-long effort by Landscape
ecologist Eric Sanderson
to map the ecology of Manhattan in the hours before Henry Hudson arrived. An exhibition based on Sanderson’s work and designed by Abbott Miller, Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City, is on exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York until October 12 and Sanderson’s informed imaginings of wild Manhattan is on the cover story of this
month’s National Geographic.


An early hint of Mannahatta
nostalgia came last year at the Whitney Museum’s Bienniale,
where Fritz Haeg, an architect by training and artist by temperament,
filled the museum courtyard with habitations for the bald eagle, bobcat, beaver
and nine other creatures that Sanderson says would lived on the museum’s
Madison Avenue site 400 years ago.


The Lenape revival includes a
garden Haeg created on the lawn of a public housing development in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York
using only plants that the Lenape employed for food or medicine, a list that includes hazelnut, persimmon, milkweed and elderberry.

The planting is part of a four-year project called Edible
which Haeg persuades homeowners to rip up their front lawn and create an edible
garden. You might think of it as a home makeover show with a radical activist

sundown salons

sundown salons

Last night Haeg threw a party
for the publication of his book The Sundown Salon Unfolding Archive, a scrapbook of performances, stunts and happenings
held at his geodesic dome in Los Angeles. For six years, the Sundown Salons
were a gathering spot for the city’s avant-garde, and Haeg has documented them
on one 140-foot long accordion-fold paper with text on one side and photos on
the other.