NYSCA Grant Awarded to Architecture's Aleksandr Mergold

map with black lines and words won a yellow background

A portion of the original 1790s map drawn by Simeon DeWitt. image / New York State Library

January 14, 2015

Assistant Professor Aleksandr Mergold, architecture, is the recipient of a 2015 New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Independent Project grant for Sural Atlas of Central New York.

Sural Atlas aims to re-document the area originally designated as the Central New York Military Tract (now two million acres in Central New York state) first surveyed in 1792 by Simeon DeWitt. The proposal is to produce an atlas containing maps, diagrams, and drawings describing the current condition of land use and its evolution over the last two centuries in Central New York.

"There has been a notable change in the pattern of land use since the 1790s," says Mergold. "The attributes and amenities of urbanity are spreading further into rural areas, and rural living finds its way into cities. The familiar designations of land use — rural, suburban, urban — no longer apply. Instead, sural and rurban conditions are the extreme end of the same gradient range."

In the 1790s, when the region's 28 original townships were created, named after heroes of Greek and Roman antiquity, and overlaid as an ideal Cartesian grid over a wild landscape, a contemporary fascination with classics in literature and geometry was apparent, according to Mergold. "The act of drawing is often more than just documentation — it can clarify, focus, and shape the conditions that are imperceptible to the inhabitants," he says. "The challenge is to design the new representation of Central New York as a map that makes apparent the invisible forces that shape the making of buildings, landscape, and land use, and maintains the iconic clarity of the original DeWitt's drawing."

The Independent Projects category of NYSCA annually awards $10,000 project grants to professionals in the architecture, design, and historic preservation fields. Individuals must apply through a nonprofit sponsor. This year, NYSCA awarded 10 grants to individuals throughout New York state.

By Rebecca Bowes

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