Alternate Geography– Series I, 2022, Complete Set of 10 Plates

Alternate Geography, by Edward Hsu, reflects on the undulating terrain of Manhattan’s northern edge, most commonly referred to today as Washington Heights. While this region is home to such a diverse population due to various waves of migration*, its topography formed natural borders, and, as such, inhabitants live with highly defined boundaries. Alternate Geography spatializes these boundaries, mapping the critical yet little known links between distinct enclaves in the region. The project consists of a book of plates featuring three series, each taking a distinctive formal approach to chart Uptown’s geography and its evolution.  

In 1924, Reginald Pelham Bolton authored a book on his findings in northern Manhattan. Known as a ‘relic hunter,’ the English-born civil engineer published Washington Heights, It’s Forgotten Past to display his talents as an amateur archaeologist and historian who repeatedly uncovered artifacts at the tip of the island. The book was the first known biography of Washington Heights. 

Made curious by the narrative presented in the book and fascinated by the terrain depicted, Series I of Alternate Geography co-opts all 100 plus illustrations in the book and systematically reclassifies the collection of photos by the type of terrain depicted in each image. Organized chronologically from top left to bottom right, images are composed on individual plates to chronicle the development of various landforms over time. Taken together, this new taxonomy produces an alternative reading from archival photographs and traces the evolution of changing geographies along Manhattan’s northern edge. In highlighting divergent landscapes to reveal ways people lived, perceived, and cultivated distinct aspects of the terrain, Series I constructs a portrait on the coming together of geography and settlements in this relatively small part of the island.

*From being nicknamed ‘Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson’ in the 1930s for its influx of Jews that fled Europe in the years leading up to World War II, the neighborhood’s current demographic make-up garners the name ‘Quisqueya Heights’ as home to the largest Dominican community in the nation. 

Unique, Signed
Series of ten 7 x 7” artworks in a 13 x 13” maple frames with UV resistant/anti-glare glass

Edward Hsu is an architect based in New York City. Through predominantly spatial practices, his work interrogates symbiotic relationships between communities and the built environment. Alternate Geography began as a curiosity about Hsu’s uptown neighborhood. Over time, through many conversations, self-guided explorations, teaching, and generous grants by the New York Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and the Architectural League, this research-based undertaking yielded a book of 30 plates that present a unique window into northern Manhattan’s complex make up. The output of this project reflects an evolving process that took place over the course of three years.



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