Fresh ideas about design
A few weeks ago I found myself making my third visit to the High Line in New York.
My first visit, in 2011, was to an urban spectacle—an elevated park, still a new species, where curious tourists and city dwellers were moving tentatively along the edges.
Under the banner of an educational field trip, my job on this visit was to pick up on the details, the moments of design that made this “park” unique. In addition, I noticed a few of the glamorous facades that were already appearing at the borders of the park. Among them was Neil Denari’s High Line 23, possibly my favorite structure along the entire stretch, and hovering above the pedestrian, the Standard, High Line NYC Hotel. They were beautiful objects that spoke to a beautiful park, some even mimicking and saluting (to my mind) the geometry of the seamless concrete floor and benches below. At the time, however, perched two stories above street level, the park with its shiny building plug-ins, felt slightly removed from city life below.
Two and half years later, on a Saturday evening, I returned to a very different place. The park had infected everything around it, above and below.
Murals, like the one seen here by Street Artist Eduardo Kobra, had popped up at prominent intersections on the streets below, or at strategic sight lines, drawing the eyes outward and stretching the magnetic power of the High Line to objects beyond the park itself. New condominiums, several of which had only just opened, oriented patios and terraces so that they faced and clung to the High Line, almost at hop-able distances from visitors to the park. The built fabric was densifying, and rapidly.
I was more intrigued, on this particular trip, by the reactions that the High Line was generating. Much of the design eye-candy that viewers were enjoying wasn’t under the official curatorial program of the High Line at all. The pop-up art, the patio designs, the neighboring floating roof gardens, were simply triggered and inspired by the park. I was excited as a Stradaista, as a place maker, at the sight of how much power this single place exuded.
Some later research proved how much was and is actually changing in the blocks surrounding the High Line. The sale of air rights from the High Line, part of New York City’s new stance on Transferrable Development Rights (TDRs), has contributed to the immense densification and growth around the park. Unused FAR (floor area ratio) from below and above the park is on sale to neighboring blocks—to convert to masterpiece high rises, or to buy out uninhibited views onto the park itself.
On my third and most recent visit, the weekend summer crowd had taken over the park entirely. Every corner of the park was occupied with vendors, art kiosks and food carts. The High Line tunnels through two historic buildings, one of which is the Nabisco Building. The three-story high underbelly of this building is now a food-lovers heaven, offering shade, chairs and kiosks to gorge on food. Outside, patches of the park’s concrete floor have been animated with bubblers. Children were mushing their feet into the water and onto the cool concrete.
What stayed with me that day, and over the course of these three visits, is the dynamic quality of this single ribbon of space. The ability of the High Line to expand and contract, to embrace varied and seasonal uses, and above all, the infectious power it has over its neighbors and the city at large, are bookmarked in my brain. These are certainly pointers that what we, as place makers, can aim for.
Top Photo: High Line 23 by Neil Denari bordering the High Line, 2011.
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