August 19, 2020

Urban Omnibus redux: Home in Lenapehoking

A reminder of this wonderful article from February 2020 when the world was a little different. The recognition of the Lenape homeland, of which New York is the center, has always been the focus the work of the Lenape Center. BKSK Architects has been honored to play a small part in that effort with the restoration and rebirth of 44 Union Square. Read more about our relationship with the Lenape Center and their ongoing work to occupy their homeland in a meaningful way.

“UO: What could that civic understanding look like here? You recently worked with the architects of the renovation of Tammany Hall on a new dome for the building.

HC: Tammany Hall is an example of how an architectural firm has, from the beginning, done everything in the best way to bring out a sense of recognition and place of honoring the original people. I credit Todd Poisson for having led the most thoughtful effort to include the Lenape every step of the way. We’re very happy with the glass turtle dome roof, and it’s rare to have an example in the city of thorough consultation that resulted in something that is really a new landmark.

Tammany Hall, as a political organization, did not care for the well-being of the Lenape, and was using a romanticized notion of a chief. It’s exciting to have an architectural firm realize the misappropriation of this name historically, but also see that there is an opportunity to bring in authentic, legitimate voice and representation into the story. That’s more exciting than a monument — that’s actually creating change.

UO: You have worked with the same architects to explore the idea of a physical Lenape Center in Northern Manhattan. What do you hope to see in another ten years?

JB: My vision for our work would be that we would be able to provide access to the city and all of its cultural amenities, all of its educational opportunities, for Lenape people. That people could come and go from here, knowing that this is their homeland, and be inspired by contemporary life that’s here today, and the creativity of the city. It’s always been our goal to return to Lenapehoking.

UO: The Lenape Center isn’t concerned just with the presence of the past, but with calling attention to the continuing effects of environmentally and socially destructive practices.

HC: The Lenape culture is forward-thinking, and it is about survivance — what the people have done, collectively, as a means of survival — not about replicating something of the past. That forward-thinking mindset is all the more needed now in the city.

I think that in the absence of Lenape leadership since forced migration out of Lenapehoking, environmentally, New York City, New York State, the United States have done a terrible job. The wall at Wall Street meant that in a very simple way, that was a break in the holistic ecosystem of the island. It meant that the Lenape would not be invited to take part in creating balance with Mother Earth going forward. One can easily point out that the only source of fresh water, Collect Pond, was polluted very quickly by the colonists.”