Surface Mag Interviews Liz Diller on Architecture, Art, and Early “Aha” Moments

© Ungano + Agriodima

Below is an excerpt of the cover story of this month’s Surface magazine: an in-depth interview with , published online for the first time here on ArchDaily.

The 35-year career of Elizabeth Diller, a founding partner of the New York–based architecture studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is a study of contrasts: conceptual and pragmatic, temporary and permanent, iconoclastic and institutional. After graduating from Cooper Union in 1979, Diller started her practice mounting temporary installations with her partner and future husband, Ricardo Scofidio, their interests leaning closer to art and theory than conventional buildings and construction. Today the duo—along with Charles Renfro, who became a partner in 2004—is responsible for some of the most important architectural projects in the country. DS+R counts Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (completed in 2006) and a makeover of New York’s Lincoln Center (finalized in 2012) among its highest-profile works. Especially influential, at least among architects and academics, has been the firm’s unbuilt Slow House (1991), a proposal for a residence on Long Island, , renowned for its examination of how we see in a media-saturated world.

One notices sharp contrasts not just in the firm’s work history but in its public reception as well. Widely lauded for repurposing a dilapidated elevated railway into New York City’s beloved High Line park (the third phase opened in September), DS+R received heavy criticism this year for its involvement in a major expansion proposal for the Museum of Modern Art. The museum’s plans included the demolition of its little-guy neighbor, the American Folk Art Museum; despite efforts to work the idiosyncratic building into the design scheme, Diller’s studio, hired to lead the expansion, ultimately acknowledged that the structure couldn’t be saved.

Surface recently met with Diller at her office in Manhattan to speak about the ensuing controversy, as well as early career experiences that have influenced her firm’s recent commissions for cultural institutions, including the current exhibition “Musings on a Glass Box” at the Cartier Foundation in Paris (through Feb. 25, 2015), a collaboration with composer David Lang and sound designer Jody Elff. Diller, 60, is pensive and surprisingly relaxed for someone whose aides are constantly interrupting her to remind her of meetings she has to attend. She speaks with an erudite inflection befitting her academic credentials and professional accolades (she is, after all, a professor at Princeton and a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient), though she smiles with the ease of an affable neighbor.

The High Line’s Final Chapter is Complete; But Don’t Close the Book Just Yet

View looking west along one of the Rail Track Walks. Image © Iwan Baan, 2014 (Section 3)

With the opening of the final section of New York’s High Line last month, the city can finally take stock on an urban transformation that took a decade and a half from idea to reality - and which in the five years since the first section opened has become one of the great phenomena of 21st century urban planning, inspiring copycat proposals in cities around the globe. In this article, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “The High Line’s Last Section Plays Up Its Rugged Past,” Anthony Paletta reviews the new final piece to the puzzle, and examines what this landmark project has meant for ’s West Side.

The promise of any urban railroad, however dark or congested its start, is the eventual release onto the open frontier, the prospect that those buried tracks could, in time, take you anywhere. For those of us whose only timetable is our walking pace, this is the experience of the newly opened, final phase of the High Line. The park, after snaking in its two initial stages through some 20 dense blocks of Manhattan, widens into a broad promenade that terminates in an epic vista of the Hudson. It’s a grand coda and a satisfying finish to one of the most ambitious park designs in recent memory.

Take a Walk on the High Line with Iwan Baan

View looking west along one of the Rail Track Walks. Image © Iwan Baan, 2014 (Section 3)

Sunday marked the completion of the New York City High Line, a three-phased project that transformed the once disused elevated rail tracks on ’s West Side into one of the world’s most respected public parks. With the first section opening in 2009, architectural photographer Iwan Baan has been documenting the entire process. Now, for the first time we present to you a photographic journey through the completed High Line designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Take a look, after the break.

Paul Goldberger on the High Line

The east-west orientation of the newly opened High Line at the Rail Yards allows you to “ride off” into the sunset along the rails. This view – nearly identical to that of the shot we shared this morning – is looking west along 30th Street towards the Hudson River.

This past Sunday, celebrated the opening of the High Line’s final section. More playful and untamed than its counterparts, the elevated park’s northernmost segment seems to have pleased the critics. As explained, the High Line at the Rail Yards is “stunningly refreshing” and “gives you an altogether new, relaxed, low-key way of being on the High Line.” You can read Goldberger’s take on the new portion of the High Line here on Vanity Fair. 

The High Line’s Third (and Final) Section Opens this Weekend

Fantastic news: the High Line at the Rail Yards – the third and northernmost section of the park – will be opening to the public on Sunday, September 21! Read the full announcement: http://bit.ly/RailYardsOpening Photo of the Interim Walkway, one of the new design features in the Rail Yards, by Kathleen Fitzgerald | OCD

This Sunday (September 21), the third and final section of the New York City High Line will open at the Rail Yards. You can expect to see familiar benches morphed into picnic tables and seesaws amongst a lush, diverse and seemingly unkept that is reminiscent of the “forgotten” tracks. As Piet Oudolf - the Dutch garden designer who worked with James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio & Renfro - described, the $75 million northernmost section will be an “introduction to the wild” that responds directly to the public’s desire to “walk on the original tracks.” Stay tuned for more images from the opening.

SCDA-Designed Condominium to Rise Between High Line

Courtesy of

“515 Highline” is the latest luxury condominium planning to make its claim next to ’s beloved High Line. Clad in an undulating glass and steel facade, the 12-story, 12-residence development designed by Singapore’s SCDA Architects will be unique in that it is the only property bordered by the elevated park on two sides. 

New Images Leaked of Zaha Hadid’s Luxury NYC Apartment Complex

New images have been leaked of the inside of Zaha Hadid’s New York City luxury apartment complex, set to be built alongside the second section of the High Line at 520 West 28th Street.

The renderings, first published by Curbed, show the layout of a typical kitchen and master bath in this 11-story sculpted glass and steel apartment. While the kitchen rendering features a curvy island and faucet in the middle, the bathroom appears to have textured walls.

From “The Landscape Imagination” – James Corner’s Essay on the High Line

© Russel Fernandez/ Princeton Architectural Press

The following is an excerpt from The Landscape Imagination: The Collected Essays of James Corner 1990–2010 by James Corner. In this passage, Corner discusses the work of John Dixon Hunt, and the qualities of Hunt’s work that he seeks to incorporate into his own (including his firm’s - James Corner Field Operations - redesign of the High Line).

Over the past two decades, has reinvented the field of landscape architecture. His highly influential writings of the 1990s, included in our bestselling Recovering Landscape, together with a post-millennial series of built projects, such as New York’s celebrated High Line, prove that the best way to address the problems facing our cities is to embrace their industrial past. Collecting Corner’s written scholarship from the early 1990s through 2010, The Landscape Imagination addresses critical issues in landscape architecture and reflects on how his writings have informed the built work of his thriving New York based practice, Field Operations.

The Hudson Yards – New Development, “Smart” Development

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s “Culture Shed” is awaiting approval, but other projects are already underway in the 28 Acre Hudson Yards development. Image Courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group

The largest private project  City has seen in over 100 years may also be the smartest. In a recent article on Engadget, Joseph Volpe explores the resilience of high-tech ideas such as clean and power during Sandy-style storms. With construction on the platform started, the Culture Shed awaiting approval, and Thomas Heatherwick designing a 75-Million dollar art piece and park – the private project is making incredible headway. But with the technology rapidly evolving, how do investors know the technology won’t become obsolete before its even built?

NBRS Proposes to Extend High Line Vertically

Exterior View. Image © NBRS + Partners

In response to New York City’s rapidly expanding population, NBRS + Partners has proposed a 40 story tall skyscraper that could help the city embrace its rapidly shifting demographics and size. Entitled “VIVO on ,” the adaptable steel-frame tower is essentially the vertical extension of the city’s beloved park. 

“The podium screen engulfs the High Line folding it in and extending the lifeblood into the building base, like capillary action drawing it vertically,” described the team.

Liverpool Becomes Latest City With High Line Plans

The Churchill Flyover in Liverpool. Image © Flickr CC User Arthur John Picton

Thanks to a group called Friends of the Flyover, Liverpool has become the latest city with aspirations to build its own High Line-style elevated parkway. The group have raised over £40,000 on the civic crowdfunding website Spacehive to conduct a feasibility study on the elevated Churchill Flyover, with the aim of creating a park, events space and cycle route. Liverpool Council currently has plans to demolish the flyover at a cost of £4 million – however they are said to be open to the proposal by Friends of the Flyover, who hope to show that they can deliver a better solution for around half the cost. You can read the full story on the Independent.

Construction Begins on the Vast Platform for New York’s Hudson Yards

YouTube Preview Image

The construction of Hudson Yards, the biggest private real estate development in the history of the United States and currently the largest development in New York City since the Rockefeller Center, is gaining momentum. The vast infrastructural project in the heart of the city is set to enclose an active rail yard with an expansive platform, paving the way for 28 acres (and 17 million square feet) of commercial and residential space. Housing over 100 commercial units, 5000 residences, 14 acres of open public space, an enormous school and luxury hotel all on top of a working train depot, the project will directly connect to a new subway station and meet with the High Line.

VIDEO: Liz Diller on the High Line, A Mile of Respite in the City that Never Sleeps

Liz Diller, one of the three partners of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, discusses the history of the High Line and the active design decisions which led to its success.

The elevated railroad, which was designed to penetrate city blocks rather than parallel an avenue, saw its last delivery (of frozen turkeys) in 1980. By 1999, a “very strange landscape had formed, with a whole eco system around it,” says Diller. Advocacy for the site’s preservation began with two local residents, and culminated in its reclamation with the multidisciplinary collaboration of city officials and impassioned designers (namely James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf). “The High Line project couldn’t have happened without the right people, the right time and the right administration.”

Today, thirty-feet above the hardscape in the canopy of the New York City jungle, the High Line pauses for a meditative mile. “The high line, if it’s about anything, it’s about nothing, about doing nothing. You can walk and sit, but you can’t be productive,” comments Diller.

“Immersive Bowl-Shaped Structure” Proposed to be High Line’s Final Gateway

© James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, courtesy of the City of

Friends of the , along side James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, have unveiled what could possibly be the gateway into the third and final stretch of New York’s most prized parkway. Planned to mark the northeast terminus of the High Line at Rail Yards on 10th Avenue at West 30th Street, the “immersive bowl-shaped structure,” known as “The Spur,” hopes to bring a pocket of New York’s lush woodlands to the heart of the city.

High Line Co-Founders Awarded Vincent Scully Prize

© Iwan Baan

The National Building Museum has awarded the 15th Vincent Scully Prize to Joshua David and Robert Hammond, the founders of the High Line in New York. In 1999 the pair formed the non-profit organisation Friends of the ; this award recognizing their efforts in transforming the abandoned structure is the latest accolade for the internationally celebrated project. David and Hammond were also awarded the Jane Jacobs Medal in 2010.

Read more about the award and the High Line after the break.

Zaha Hadid Unveils New York Apartment Block Alongside High Line

Courtesy of Related Companies

has unveiled her first City commission: an 11-story, luxury apartment block planned alongside the second section of the High Line in Chelsea at 520 West 28th Street.

Spearheaded by New York developer Related Companies, the “sculpted” glass and steel residential development hopes to lure buyers with its expansive, double-height entrance lobby, communal garden, generous terraces, private courtyards, and, of course, exclusive views of New York’s most beloved attraction: the High Line.

A Crash Course on Modern Architecture (Part 2)

, New York, is a good example of what is to come. Image © Iwan Baan

Merete Ahnfeldt-Mollerup is associate Professor at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. This article originally appeared in GRASP.

Miss Part 1? Find it here.

Architecture is inseparable from planning, and the huge challenge for the current generation is the growth and shrinkage of cities. Some cities, mainly in the Southern Hemisphere, are growing at exponential rates, while former global hubs in the northern are turning into countrysides. In the south, populations are still growing a lot, while populations are dwindling in Europe, Russia and North East Asia. The dream of the Bilbao effect was based on the hope that there might be a quick fix to both of these problems. Well, there is not.

A decade ago, few people even recognized this was a real issue and even today it is hardly ever mentioned in a political context. As a politician, you cannot say out loud that you have given up on a huge part of the electorate, or that it makes sense for the national economy to favor another part. Reclaiming the agricultural part of a nation is a political suicide issue whether you are in Europe or Latin America. And investing in urban development in a few, hand-picked areas while other areas are desolate is equally despised.

The one person, who is consistently thinking and writing about this problem, is Rem Koolhaas, a co-founder of OMA.

Chicago On-Track To Break Ground On Elevated Parkway

Courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

Chicago is set to be the next U.S. city to park-ify on one of its abandoned rail-lines. First proposed back in 1997, the 2.7 mile, 13-acre Bloomingdale Trail and Park is proposed for a stretch of abandoned railway trestle dating from 1910, which has been lying unused since the turn of the century. And, even though it is already being compared to New-York’s High Line, the planners are adamant that the park will be an entirely different animal to its cousin.

Read more about ’s unique proposal after the break…