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Three Visits to the Highline

Three Visits to the Highline

Three visits to the Highline

First published on 'Street Talk'- Strada Architecture's blog, October 2014.

A few weeks ago I found myself making my third visit to the Highline, in New York.

My first visit , in 2011, was to an urban spectacle.To 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 details, the moments of design that made this ‘park’ unique. In addition, I noticed a  few of the glamorous facades which were already appearing at the borders of the park- among them Neil Denari’s Highline23, possibly my favorite structure along the entire stretch, and hovering above the pedestrian- The Standard 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.

Eduardo Kobra's mural at 25th St. and 10th Avenue. View from the Highline, 2014

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 Highline to objects beyond the park itself.

New condominiums, several of which only just opened, had oriented patios and terraces so that they faced and clung to the Highline, almost at hop-able distance 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 Highline was generating. Much of the design eye-candy that viewers were enjoying, wasn’t under the official curatorial program of the Highline at all. The pop-up art, the patio-designs, neighboring floating roof gardens, were simply triggered and inspired by the park.I was excited, 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 around the HIghline. The sale of Air-rights from the Highline, 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.

 Tunneling through the Nabisco building. Summer of 2014.

Tunneling through the Nabisco building. Summer of 2014.

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 everywhere.

The Highline tunnels through two historic buildings, one among them, the Nabisco Building ,and this three-story high underbelly of the building is now a food-lovers heaven. Shade, chairs and kiosks to gorge on food from. Outside, patches of the concrete floor of the park had been animated with bubblers, and 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 Highline’s space to expand and contract, to embrace varied and seasonal uses, and above all the infectious power over its neighbors and the city at large’, have been bookmarked in my brain. These are certainly pointers to what we, as place-makers, can aim for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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