History Rendering: New York City circa 1609

Four hundred years ago, New York City looked very different from today. Gone are the endless miles of pavement, skyscrapers of steel and glass and food carts on every corner. Instead it was a lush landscape of marshes, forests and swamps inhabited by an equally diverse collection of plant and animal species alongside the native people, the Lenape. The idea of New York City as a temperate paradise full of “sweet smells” inspired Hypothetical’s first history rendering project.

We set out to visualize New York City’s distant past according to the latest research available and historic descriptions by Henry Hudson, his crew and successors. It’s the first step of a journey to show the city as it evolved into the metropolis it is today.

New York City has an incredibly rich history. It was transferred multiple times between the Dutch and English. It became a leading American city after figuring prominently in the Revolutionary War. And it went on to become a world-leading center of culture and commerce.

The area shown in these history renderings was known as the Collect Pond and has a twisting story of its own.


To create the animations and images shown in these digital recreations is a complex process. It starts with sculpting the terrain based on current research and historic records.

That landscape is digitally eroded to add detail, encoding metadata about the terrain along the way such as how much debris has piled up, how steep the landscape is and where the water would pool.

Then vegetation like Red Maple trees, Prairie Fleabane and Canadian Horseweed is added. These are placed according to how they would likely grow in real life – too steep and a tree can’t take root. Too shady and sun-loving plants won’t thrive.

Ground textures are added to give more detail to the landscape like tree roots, fallen leaves and mud.

Finally we add cameras and sunlight and the result is a lifelike, accurate depiction of how Lower Manhattan may well have looked 400 years ago.

The images below show a work-in-process of the forest as the trees and ground vegetation are being placed.



Hypothetical has a lot more in store as we continue to create our collection of historic CGI recreations of New York City, stay tuned!