Up From Anonymity: the Rise of New York’s Infrastructure

Event: Tour of New York Rises: Photographs by Eugene de Salignac
Location: Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), 08.15.07
Organizers: AIANY Member Services Committee; AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA); Museum of the City of New York

Queensboro Bridge

Queensboro Bridge, exposures made for experiment, February 9, 1910.

Photo by Eugene de Salignac, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York and the New York City Municipal Archives

The current exhibition on view at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) helps celebrate an anonymous NYC by providing a glimpse into how the urban fabric and infrastructure we depend upon today was created. New York Rises: Photographs by Eugene de Salignac does portray known structures, but the workers and other folks gazing into the camera frequently steal the frame.

Eugene de Salignac, a civil servant who remained largely anonymous himself until a decade ago, is the eye behind the photographs in the exhibition. Beginning in 1903, de Salignac worked for the NYC Department of Bridges/Plant Structures for three decades, capturing thousands of ordinary and extraordinary views of the city. While his photos are overarching (construction shots of the Municipal Building construction in 1912 are archived alongside views of a Depression-era shelter), they are also detailed and poignant. Exhibition curator Tom Mellins stressed that the photographs were organized to impress de Salignac’s unique skills upon visitors, while the accompanying book (also New York Rises) pushes NYC’s massive infrastructure improvements to the forefront.

Mellins’ guided tour and special viewing of the exhibition marked the MCNY’s new reciprocal membership program for AIA members. Available through December, AIA members will receive a 30% discount when they join the MCNY.
AIANY Secretary Abby Suckle, FAIA, LEED AP, said that this event was the second in a “series of partnerships with museums and other cultural organizations that is a combination of joint programming and membership swaps.”