NYC skyline in black and white

SITU Studio’s “Sharing Models” takes a look at the future of NYC.
Image: Shutterstock

SITU Studio is an architecture firm based in Brooklyn. Architecture firms are the source (in various ways) of a lot of the many, many public art works across New York City, but this one seems special. Self-aware, maybe.

“Sharing Models: Manhattanisms,” was conceptualized by SITU Studio and realized by the Storefront for Art and Architecture. It is a collective exhibit by more than 30 NYC-based architectural firms. Each one was assigned a slice of Manhattan and asked to produce a scale model of their own dreams for the future of the city’s structures.

The resulting complete map of the borough is intricate and fascinating, both in where it copies reality and where it diverges from it. But that’s not the point of the collective effort.

In a broad slice across the center of the city, a transparent wave of poured Plexiglas rises high above the tiny buildings, undulating in crests and troughs, peaking above river-front properties.

And every ripple has a meaning.

Those meanings take a bit of explanation. SITU Studio was led to this project by a 2013 study from the Furman Center, called “Shifting the Burden: Examining the Undertaxation of Some of the Most Valuable Properties in New York City.” Specifically, SITU was interested in property tax disparities.

New York’s odd taxation system was laid out in an era when the city had to literally bribe people into building housing. So housing is taxed at an extremely low rate. In the 1980s,when section 581 (the tax code in question) was written, it worked out. Today, in the era of high-rise condos and increasingly massive single-owner apartment blocks, it does not. And modern taxation is so complex, it’s impossible for the average tax-payer to understand their tax burden at all.

What is depicted in “Sharing Models” are the disparities between the value of a home–any home–and the tax burden leveraged against it. That is the crest of the wave, and SITU hopes to draw attention to it before it comes crashing down.