The New York Highline, a project by James Corner Field Operations with the collaboration of Diller Scofidio + Renfro has been open to the public for a few weeks (as we reported previously on AD) and as a New Yorker who has waited patiently for the project to finish, I was anxious to stroll along the latest addition in Manhattan. The visit was a completely new way to experience the city. Just the idea of observing Manhattan by walking above (and through) it, rather than being an actual part of it, made the Highline a project one must encounter to feel what the space can offer. More about some impressions after a visit to the Highline and more pictures after the break.
Entering on Gansevoort Street, I was greeted by papers being thrust in my hand as protesters quickly explained that the wood on the Highline was taken from an endangered Amazon rain forest. The protestors were trying to prevent the remaining parts of the project from being made with this material and thus tried to raise awareness by handing out fliers and talking to those about to walk up the main stairs. It is interesting to note that the Highline’s official website refutes these attacks by explaining, “The Ipe wood used on the High Line was chosen for its longevity and durability, and taken from a managed forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is recognized for creating and enforcing the world’s strongest standards for forest management. FSC membership requires conservation of biological diversity, water resources, soils, and fragile ecosystems and landscapes to maintain the integrity of the forest and discourage exploitative deforestation.”
After passing through the protesters, the main entrance stands invitingly and allows light to channel down the stairway. As I walked up this great entrance, I couldn’t rid my mind of how unfair it is that a handicapped person would never be able to experience this space (much farther down the line, on 16th Street, a small glass elevator is haphazardly plopped on the side of the line). Once up the stairs, the chaotic streets seem to fade away as the overgrown landscape dominates the setting. The perfectly arranged grass and flowers, growing between and over the tracks, creates patterns of varying heights, colors and textures. The original tracks, complete with their old writing and graffiti work, show that the architects truly embraced the past and incorporated it into its present condition. The compositional quality of the landscape transforms the whole atmosphere making it entirely different from the portion just down a few stairs.
The beginning parts of the Highline are beautifully designed. The overall aesthetic is very simple and yet, flexible as a variety of benches and seating are all different and yet all seem to belong. Handrails are engraved with the streets numbers, providing a map to those walking along. And, the walk provides perfect views of the Empire State Building, the Hudson River and Gehry’s IAC Headquarters. On the downside, there are also spectacular views into people’s apartments, galleries and conference rooms, as well as the exposed, and unappealing, meatpacking factories and rundown buildings. People walking along the line can come face to face with those changing their infant or interviewing their newest prospect. In addition, large billboards are angled directly toward those on the Highline. It would be a shame if the Highline became an advertising haven constantly annoyning those walking with the latest fashions or technologies.
Approaching one bend in the Highline, there is an amphitheatre condition with broad stairs allowing people to sunbath, read, or be at their leisure. The amphitheatre is stepped down toward the street, so those sitting are confronted by a large glass panel that focuses on the taxis whizzing by and the people dining on the sidewalk. Although the idea to isolate a busy Manhattan street is very enticing, it is a lot like DS + R’s tactic for their Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Rather than isolating the water as in Boston, the architects have merely flopped the city for the water to copy the effect.
It is true that some pieces of the Highline are still very much under construction. Some stair cases are far from being close to the elegant main entrance and the area under the residential tower needs some work, but all will come together in time. There is so much potential for the surrounding areas and within a few years, the area is going to be exponentially more popular than it already is.
The Highline was bustling with life as people enjoyed sitting, lying, reading and walking in this new atmosphere. It is a successful project that highlights New York as much as the actual Highline. It is truly a great treat for anyone.