12448 - 20170423 - "Mastering the Metropolis: New York and Zoning, 1916-2016" at the Museum of the City of New York - 08.12.2016-23.04.2017


Partnership for New York City, Industrial Map of New York City Showing Manufacturing Industries, 1922. Museum of the City of New York, Gift of McKim, Mead & White, 42.412.7.
The Museum of the City of New York presents Mastering the Metropolis: New York and Zoning, 1916 – 2016, an exhibition that celebrates the centennial of New York’s landmark Zoning Resolution of 1916 and brings to life this often overlooked part of New York City in an accessible and engaging way through architectural renderings and models, info-graphics, rare maps, primary source documents, and archival photographs and film.
The exhibition illuminates how New York City’s iconic skyline has been shaped for 100 years – and continues to be shaped today – by a colossally ambitious law meant to balance the complex and competing tensions of modern urban development. Zoning and its effects across the five boroughs are highlighted in the exhibition, including famous Manhattan skyscrapers, supermarkets in the Bronx, and single-family homes in Staten Island and Queens. In telling the story of the law’s conception and evolution, Metropolis examines a century of evolving ideas and heated debates about what constitutes an “ideal” city, a debate that continues today. The groundbreaking resolution was designed to find a middle ground between real estate interests and public welfare, anxiety over change and excitement for the new, and the imposition of order against the promotion of growth and innovation.

“The Zoning Resolution of 1916 is so fundamental to the shape of our city, but it remains unknown or shrouded in mystery to many visitors and even some lifelong New Yorkers,” explained Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “With this exhibition we hope to shed light on the law’s transcendent legacy by unpacking its intricacies in engaging ways. Museumgoers will leave Mastering the Metropolis with a full understanding of how invisible forces like zoning policy affect our daily lives, and a deeper appreciation of how our unparalleled skyline and neighborhoods from the Bronx to Staten Island came to look and feel as they do today.”

Beginning with a city in crisis in the face of unprecedented growth at the turn of the 20th century, the exhibition follows the city’s attempts to regulate its physical setting from the 1916 ordinance, through the 1961 amendment, and all the way up to today’s debates over rezoning efforts, super tall skyscrapers, and affordable housing. Organized by guest curator Andrea Renner and associate curator Eric Goldwyn, Mastering the Metropolis focuses on zoning as a five-borough experience, exploring neighborhoods throughout the city. As the outer boroughs were less developed than Manhattan in 1916, the exhibition highlights the many ways in which zoning laws may have had even greater influence in areas such as Fieldston, Richmond Hill, and Williamsburg than in the canyons of office buildings most imagine when contemplating zoning.

The exhibition is divided into sections that demonstrate the zoning code’s development over the decades and how it has reflected the city’s changing values and shifting of prevailing wisdom on how a city should look and feel:

• City in Crisis
• A Rational Plan for Growth: The 1916 Ordinance
• Creating a Postwar City: The 1961 Amendment
• Shaping the Skyscraper
• Separation of Uses
• Zoning Today

More than 150 objects and artifacts for the show were selected with the goal of bringing an esoteric subject to life physically and visually. Highlights include architectural models of well-known skyscrapers like the Equitable Building, the Woolworth Building, the McGraw-Hill Building, and 432 Park; contemporary photos of neighborhoods throughout the city that have been affected by zoning codes in different ways; original primary source documents; maps from three different centuries; and classic images of New York City.

Mastering the Metropolis offers Museum visitors a unique lens through which to view the texture of New York City, inviting one and all to explore every corner of the five boroughs with zoning laws as a guide.

Mastering the Metropolis: New York City and Zoning, 1916-2016 is sponsored by ConEdison, Kramer Levin, the Lindenbaum Family Charitable Trust, New York State Council on the Arts, and Vornado Realty. Additional support is provided by Greenberg Traurig and Tishman Speyer. The exhibition is co-sponsored by the City of New York Department of City Planning and presented in memory of Samuel H. Lindenbaum. Exhibition co-chairs are Jill N. Lerner, FAIA, Linda Lindenbaum, and Michael T. Sillerman. Carl Weisbrod, Chairman of the City Planning Commission, serves as the exhibition’s Honorary Chairman.