Last night, ArchDaily joined the community of Chelsea and Friends of the High Line in the crowded auditorium of PS 11: The William T Harris School eager to see James Corner and Rick Scofidio’s latest ideas for the third installment of the High Line. This last segment of the amazing elevated park project is the designers’ most crucial intervention as it culminates the strategies introduced in Phases 1 and 2 and must adaptively respond to new contextual relationships between 34th and 30th Streets. Corner and Scofidio’s eloquent and coherent presentation very much responded to the community’s input from the last public meeting held in December, as the design addressed the need for a child’s play area with an idea for a section with rubberized beams, a place for spontaneous and planned performances, and more seating. Scofidio kidded, “There are some things we could do better, and that’s exactly why we get to do the third phase.” More about Phase 3 after the break.
The third section of the High Line is different. It does not have the industrial context of the Meat Packing District, nor the residential fabric of Chelsea. In fact, a lot of what the High Line must respond to in the future, is yet to be built, namely the plans of the Hudson Yards Development which will largely impact the visitors’ experiences.
In Section 3, the site is divided into a permanent eastern area which is more embedded into the city’s fabric, and a western portion Corner has been calling the “Interim Walkway” which opens toward the river. The project confronts a change in elevation which brings the High Line to the level of the plaza at Hudson Boulevard creating a “destination point” at a major point of convergence where visitors can decide whether to head south to experience Phase 2 and Phase 1, head toward the River to experience the Interim Walkway (the major curve along the west side of the Rail Yards) or head toward the city to see the Spur section.
The High Line will weave itself along new territory, however, Corner explained the strong conceptual underpinning of the work would “Feel consistent and feel recognizable as the High Line and create a sequences of experiences that bring variety.” Some of what was presented last night was expected: the different variations of “the flock” furniture, or updates to furniture that moved along the tracks (with a safety feature so as not to let children’s fingers get caught), or a different treatment of the rail tracks that would bring the steel to the surface and allow for interaction. Some ideas presented were explorations of something a little different – the variations for stages on the Spur and an organic spiral stair with a gateway bridge – that test the vocabulary of identifiable elements on the High Line. And, then, came the Interim Walkway.
Corner began by explaining that for Phases 1 and 2, every element on the rail tracks had to be completely removed for the retrofit of soil, plants, seating, lighting, etc. That would not be the case with the Interim. Everything would be left untouched. The tracks would remain, the plants would remain, nothing would be modified. Only the simple walkway would be laid upon the existing to allow for access.
At first, it seemed like a huge let down. This part of the High Line, with the most spacious views of the Hudson River, is, in many ways, the pinnacle moment of the project. And yet, Corner was saying nothing would be designed? The notion seemed quite disappointing and, the moment read as a missed opportunity. Corner went on to explain that the hope was that “Modesty would be its real power” as the final loop of the project would allow people to be on the authentic High Line and the real design goal was not to “design something cool…but what’s really cool, which is the context.”
And, Corner is right. It would seem superficial if DS+R and Corner tried to modify their auditorium seating or their peel up furniture planters for this space. It would become just another variation with no defining characteristic. In fact, the lack of designed elements brings the space a sense of natural peace – a real escape from the city that exists as it was meant to be – and a space that we cannot wait to experience. Although the visions presented are still works in progress, the ideas of Phase 3 are quickly generating much public attention because they offer an extension of what most expect of the project, and then, a drastic change in the Interim. Square foot for square foot, the High Line is the most visited park in the city, outdoing Central Park, Bryant Park, Washington Square and Union Square, and the likes, and that will no doubt remain the same for years to come. As usual, we’ll be following the progress of the project and keep you in the loop.