FLOW MY TEARS, THE COMISSIONERS SAID
Winning competition entry 2011
Architectural League of New York
Ghilardi+Hellsten Arkitekter, Espen Vatn
For the 200th anniversary of the Manhattan Grid, The Museum of the city of New York and the Architectural League of New York launched a competition for future scenarios of the grid. Ghilardi+Hellsten was picked as one of eight winners to exhibit in New York.
Flow My Tears, The Commissioners Said tells a story, that of a vaguely unhappy couple visiting a dying relative in Manhattan’s vertical city, a structure several miles high spanning the entire width of Central Park North. Spending the night at level 700, a necessary layover to allow their bodies to adjust to the change in atmosphere, the couple reflects on the urbanism the vertical city has rendered. Flow My Tears describes a world that is at once recognizable and foreign. Politics continue to shape settlement patterns, even 2400 floors above ground level, and conflicts remain about appropriate uses of public space. In this world, where vertical urbanism is taken to the extreme, Flow My Tears seeks to recapture the sense of limitless possibility and radical experimentation the Commissioners’ Plan made possible two hundred years ago.
New York City
Amale Andraos, Hilary Ballon,
Sarah Henry, Wendy Evans Joseph, Marc Kushner, Mark Robbins, Bernard Tschumi, Annabelle Selldorf, Gregory Wessner, Sarah Whiting
FLOW MY TEARS, THE COMMISSIONER SAID
“I can’t believe you said that”, she uttered as they stepped into Central Shaft South. She was feeling slightly depressed that night. They were travelling up to Level 1126 at 4000 meters above ground to pay a forgotten visit to her dying grandmother. After crossing ID security control, they rushed to catch the last train and began ascending towards the lower boroughs of the vertical city.
As the train moved upwards, she felt she could no longer differentiate her desires from her perceived reality, her eyes focusing on the nocturnal skyline below, wondering if the city they were leaving behind was still the same. They reached Level 700 and made the usual stop at the Lerryt Middleheight Hotel; from an altitude of 2400m a person can only rise up to 300 meters a day, so the elaborate and hedonistic entertainment of the night was actually a requirement of the health department.
They woke up late, feeling dizzy. As they travelled further up, he produced the typical leaves from his pocket and both started chewing. Through the intermittent windows of the main frame she glanced at the occasional goat and shrubs on Terrace Park West. The architectural ensemble of this area was actually quite unique, but the neoconservatives were pushing for suburbanization, creating areas that people hardly ever visited. Heavily controlled zones, fenced away from the overpopulated public terraces and the spectacular testing grounds of the new cantilevers. Looking at that abandoned airplane crash site at Level 800 West, she imagined the vertical city like a monstrous coral reef of infrastructure, architecture, people and mechanical transports, growing unnaturally out of the Manhattan grid below. She spent a full night talking to her grandmother, about the skypeople and how most of them had never visited ground level, mostly because of lack of oxygen enjoyment and the permissive urban regulations of the upper levels. They also remembered how her grandfather died during the construction of the first helium tank at Level 451, which made the main structure possible by such pioneering techniques. People at the top are really weird, she told her grandmother, but they are certainly participating in the experimental pursuit of generating the unprecedented, far beyond the mere hallucinatory life in thin air.
Why is everything moving so slowly, she wondered. It`s taking forever to get down to Manhattan. Suddenly, and for no reason she found herself talking to him about the love affair. Still at several thousand meters up, she also told him she might be moving, maybe with her grandmother. That was the last sentence he heard, as they travel down into the predictable abyss below, under the roaring thunder of the low-lands and away from the intoxicating delusion in the sky.