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High Line Designs Are Unveiled

High Line Designs Are Unveiled

New York Times 6/25/2008

By Sewell Chan

City officials and the Friends of the High Line presented the final design on Wednesday for the first phase of the High Line, the $170 million park that is under construction on the West Side of Manhattan and has been called one of New York City’s most distinctive public projects in generations.

The park — modeled loosely on the Promenade Plantée in Paris — is being built on a 1.45-mile elevated freight rail structure that stretches 22 blocks, from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, near the Hudson River. The rail structure, built to support two fully loaded freight trains, was built from 1929 to 1934 when the West Side was a freight-transportation hub, but has been unused for decades. The tracks are 30 to 60 feet wide and 18 to 30 feet above the ground.

Ground was broken in April 2006. Over the past two years, work crews have been constructing the first, $85 million segment of the 6.7-acre park, which is estimated to cost $170 million, through federal, city and private money.

At a news conference in Chelsea, officials unveiled two sets of final designs: for the first phase, which will stretch from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street and be completed by the end of this year, and for the second phase, which will go from 20th Street to 30th Street and be completed by the end of 2009.

“The High Line will be like other parks in our city’s system, but it will also be distinct — a park in the sky, unlike any other,” Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, said in a statement.

Amanda M. Burden, the city’s planning commissioner, who joined Mr. Benepe at the news conference, said in a statement that the designers had “created a magical environment that is at once ever-changing, intricate and sweeping.” She added, “This amazing and totally unique public open space will be celebrated worldwide and stand as one of the great legacies of the Bloomberg administration.”

The designs for the park are the creation of a team led by Field Operations, a landscape architectural company, which along with architects from Diller Scofidio + Renfro won a 2004 design competition. The Museum of Modern Art exhibited the team’s preliminary designs for the first phase of the High Line in 2005.

The new designs reveal with greater precision the important elements of the park’s first phase. Those elements include Gansevoort Plaza, the park’s southern terminus in the meatpacking district and a major access point for the park; the “slow stairs” that will gradually ascend from street level to the elevated rail bed; pathways of tapered concrete planks that allow plants to creep up at the edges; a two-level sundeck, between 14th and 15th Streets, that will offer views of the Hudson, with wooden deck seating on the upper level and a “rail preserve” with dense native planting on the lower; an art installation space where the park cuts through the Chelsea Market, formerly a Nabisco factory; and the 10th Avenue Square, an area of steps and ramps at 17th Street where visitors can descend into the lower part of the elevated railway.

The second, $71 million phase of the project includes a Chelsea Thicket of dense plantings; the 23rd Street Lawn with stepped seating, where the High Line rises and provides crosstown views; the Woodland Flyover, a metal walkway allowing visitors to go under the shade of sumac trees and above moss and ground plantings; the 26th Street View Spur, a part of the flyover where visitors can look onto the streets through a billboard-like frame; a field of native wildflowers; and an access point at 30th Street.

An additional $14 million has been designated for a plaza and stairs to the park, still to be designed.

A third and final phase of the High Line, still in the planning stages, involves a half-mile section ringing the railyards north of 30th Street and 12th Avenue. A developer, the Related Companies, in May won a bidding competition held by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to redevelop the railyards; Related has included the park as part of its plans for the railyards, but who will finance that final phase of the project remains unclear.

Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit group established in 1999, which will eventually manage and operate the High Line in cooperation with the Parks Department, said the park’s grand opening has not been scheduled but would likely take place in December or January.

Asked whether the cold months were the best time to open a new park, Mr. Hammond replied that the timing would allow officials — and the public — to acclimate themselves to the new space.

“One of my biggest concerns is over-success,” he said. “It’s not MoMA. It’s not the Sheep Meadow. It’s a relatively small park. One of the advantages of opening the window is, it’s almost like a soft opening. As it gets more beautiful in the spring, we’ll be figuring out how to manage it. One of my concerns is it being loved to death in the first few weeks. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s something we’ve been thinking a lot about.”

James Corner, principal of Field Operations, said in a statement:

From an aesthetic and design standpoint, it has always been our position to try to respect the innate character of the High Line itself. Our design aims to reflect its singularity and linearity, its straight-forward pragmatism, its emergent properties with wild plant-life—meadows, thickets, vines, mosses, flowers, intermixed with ballast, steel tracks, railings, and concrete. The result is an episodic and varied series of public spaces and landscape biotopes set along a simple and consistent line—a line that cuts across some of the most remarkable elevated vistas of Manhattan and the Hudson River.

Ricardo Scofidio, a principal at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said in a statement:

Through a strategy of agri-tecture that combines organic and building materials into a vegetal/mineral blend, the park accommodates the wild, the cultivated, the intimate, and the social. New plantings build on the existing landscape character, working with specific environmental urban conditions and microclimates associated with sun, shade, wet, dry, wind, noise, open and sheltered spaces.

The Friends of the High Line also unveiled a publication, “Designing the High Line,” that traces the creative process behind the new park.