MAN-NAHĀTA – The land of many hills

In their continued effort to seek out an equilibrium between man-made and nature, MAN-NAHĀTA is the latest project by OXMAN (previously Mediated Matter Group at the MIT Media Lab). The project is a top-down master planning braved by bottom-up-design in the place where the grid was once a garden. Taking the long view of habitat loss and species extinction, OXMAN revisits Manhattan’s pre-1600s landscapes, when the Island was home to the Lenape people and known as Mannahatta (‘land of many hills’) comprised of a diverse, natural landscape of hills, valleys, forests, fields, wetlands, salt marshes, and streams.

What is now a human-centered cultural hub was once a nature-centric econiche, home to mammals, birds, fish, plants, fungi, and bacteria. It supported more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more native plant species per acre than Yosemite, and more birds than the great Smoky Mountains. 


To form the Man-Nahata landscape, the buildings of the urban landscape are transformed through repeated morphological closing operations, where the field of influence follows a gradient from the center to the outskirts of a circular region. Simulated erosion and soil deposition are applied to the modified cityscape according to site-specific environmental conditions. This results in a topography in which hills are the remains of skyscrapers and valleys follow the streets of the city grid.

The emerging city is shaped by sunlight and airflow, a water line defines its boundaries, and a hilly landscape underlies its grid.

Computer simulation of growth on an architectural scale
Growth patterns informing the MAN-NAHĀTA grid

In a series of urban studies, OXMAN proposes synergy between Manhattan’s cultural diversity and Mannahatta’s biotic livelihood: grid and garden. Informed by climate projections and inspired by urban habitats such as stone circles and megaliths, the series of models transitions from a human-centric biosphere to a distributed Nature-centric landscape, evolving harmony between the built and the grown. The year is 2100, and as the climate intensifies, the project proposes a re-balancing of landscape and inhabitants. Four essential seeds—shelter, nutrients, energy, society—self-organize into a layered circular system. The interconnections between growth and needs are expressed literally, in the form of an underground web of synthetic optical fibers and natural root systems. Plants play a major role in this era; through intelligent mediation of the environment, they allow the city to breathe – “Through growth, the city reconfigures itself to meet the changing needs of its occupants”.

Project Page | OXMAN

Research team: Christoph Bader, Anran Li, Nitzan Zilberman, David Franck, Grey Wartinger, Khoa Vu, Neri Oxman / Collaborators & Contributors: Kennedy Fabrications; Boris Belocon