On Exhibit: A Sculpture Garden Tells the Stories of NYC Trees

An immersive installation tells the story of New York City urbanization by focusing on its trees. 

Eve Glasberg
April 08, 2019

According to legend, in 1626 Peter Minuit, director of the New Netherland colony, “purchased” the island of Manhattan from the Lenape people in exchange for trinkets and beads. Despite there being no written documentation of this transaction, some historical accounts indicate that the sale took place under the “Tree of Peace,” a tulip tree located in what is today Inwood Hill Park at the northern end of Manhattan.

The tree, at nearly 17 stories tall and the remnant of a once dense forest, decayed over time despite efforts to save it by filling its cavity with cement and other material. In 1938 the tree was felled by a hurricane and chopped down.

Visitors to Offsetted, an exhibition at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery in Buell Hall, can see a reconstruction of the tree’s cavity filling. Presented by the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Offsetted tells the stories of the tulip tree and other trees throughout New York City through an immersive sculptural installation comprised of bark, branches, trunks, leaves, cores and cross-sections.

Each part of the installation—there are 42 in all—has a corresponding narrative that adds to a larger story of the evolution of trees in the urban environment. From colonial settlements to contemporary community protests against gentrification and recent green renewal projects such as Million Trees NYC, the case studies in Offsetted reveal the political and economic interests behind the planting of trees in the city.

The exhibition is on view through June 8.