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James Corner and the High Line

James Corner and the High Line

New York's High Line is one of the most interesting spaces/places I've experienced in a while.  And Thursday night, James Corner, the project's landscape architect, gave one of the best Dallas Architecture Forum lectures I've been to.  Foiled by a dead cell phone (dang Treo Palm), I was unable to live Tweet the talk, but thought I would throw out a couple of the points I jotted down as I listened. 

The High Line reclaimed a freight rail spur that is elevated about 30 feet above the streets of the west side of Manhattan from the Meatpacking District to Hell's Kitchen. The steel behemoth was last used in 1980.  As court cases and development schemes stumbled along in the ensuing decades, nature took over and wild grasses, shrubs and even trees began to grow along most of the route.

In 1999, residents of the High Line's neighborhood created the non-profit Friend of the High Line to advocate for the Line's preservation and reuse as public open space.  City funding was allocated in 2004 and construction began in 2006 under the designs of Corner's firm Field Operations and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.  The first section opened in 2009 with plans for two more phases.

I've been on the High Line on a beautiful spring day and on a miserably cold and wet afternoon in late winter.  Both were great experience...although obviously very different.  And that seems to be a part of the intention.  The plantings were designed to echo the wild scheme that occurred naturally during the years the line was abandoned.  Plantings are not trimmed or cleaned up...flower transform to seed heads and some die to the ground.  It's in keeping with the "KEEP IT" philosophy Corner mentioned in his talk.

Some other things worth mentioning from Corner's conversation:

  • The City of New York says that it has already recouped four times its investment in the project through the increased tax base resulting from development.
  • Corner points out the confluence of nature and industry...an obvkious fact and yet one that more designers need to embrace.
  • The plantings on the High Line have created a great environment for birds and insects, including a butterfly thought lost from Manhattan.
  • The design encourages a sense of both voyeurism and exhibitionism (and that's leaving the Standard Hotel out of it!).  For example, the 10th avenue overlook provides and opportunities for folks to pause and watch the traffic below.  But it also frames those observers for the traffic below to observe.

It's worth a look if you haven't been.  Corner also talked about another project they're working on in Santa Monica.  Quite interesting.  Should be fun to watch the kinds of work that continue to come from his firm.

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