From the Steps of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, a Vision of the Simulated City

Longtime readers of Walking Off the Big Apple may remember the photo I took four years ago of a striking vista in Lower Manhattan. It was March 14, 2008, and I was walking up the steps of the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street. At the top of the stairs I turned around to go back down, and suddenly this sight of Lower Manhattan came into view. I've never quite experienced anything like it in the city. Suddenly, I felt like I was in simulated city, more in virtual reality than in what we conceive of as real time and space. See original post.

on the steps of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Chambers Street.
looking south.

So, walking on Chambers Street again yesterday, I decided to revisit the site. It's been almost four years. First, a few words about the images. I took the March 2008 picture with my old point-and-shoot camera, and the effect produced a sharp image albeit one with relatively low resolution. This time, I took the picture with my iPhone4 using the HDR app. The application takes two pictures, one of low lights and another of high lights and then resolves them together. That's why, for example, the sky is filled out with clouds and why the people seem to be leaving their souls behind while they are walking.

In terms of content, the vista presents a study of modernist geometries. The old city of the 19th century doesn't exist here. Quite the contrast with a walk earlier in the day down on Broadway in Lower Manhattan, an historic thoroughfare lined with many ornate commercial buildings of the 19th century. The campus of the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the foreground was completed in the early 1980s. Damaged in the attacks of September 11, the vast structure has since been renovated to great effect. (Source: White & Willensky, AIA Guide to New York City, Fifth Ed.) One World Trade Center, in the background of this new picture and absent in the previous one, gives some sense of the proximity of the college to the WTC site. Many of the buildings between the campus and WTC, the ones you see dominating the back and middle grounds, were also built in the 1980s, an era of geometry-loving big box architecture.

A humanizing aspect to this scene is the bronze sculpture on the pedestal, Icarus (1976), by artist Roy Shifrin, in the patterned courtyard.

View Vista at BMCC in a larger map

Continuing the virtual theme, let's place the site in Google Street View. To approximate experiencing this vista, though, you will have to walk up the stairs. And for that, you will have to walk there.

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