New York Looks Up: Historic High Line’s Next Life

November 12, 2011

Architecture, like most businesses is based on a process and although each project may be entirely different than the previous one, it requires that process to proceed. In many instances patience is a huge portion of that process and the drive to continue and to not easily be defeated by negative voices or opposing views is mandatory.

In New York City, in the now historic, Meat Packing District an example of determination and pride of preserving history’s significant structures has been underway for over ten years.

In 1847 trains were authorized and implemented on street level. They were used to move livestock, poultry, and goods from the harbor to the District for distribution. But in the years to follow many accidents occurred, so many so that 10thAvenue in New York City became known as Death Alley. These continuous hazardous conditions led to a much needed change in 1930. The city decided to move the tracks 30 feet above ground as part of the West Side Improvement Project, changing its name to the High Line. This change allowed the trains to no longer interfere with street traffic and they were used until 1980 when truck use became more common.

Since the 1980’s the High Line has regularly come under scrutinized attention, with the threat of demolition always looming. But in 1999 a group founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond was formed to stop the threat and to raise funds to transform the High Line’s tracks and rail yard into a public park covering the entire 13 mile stretch. The group is known as The Friends of the High Line.

Unfortunately the tracks and yard remained untouched. But because they were left alone, they slowly transformed themselves into a living environment above the city demonstrating what the space was capable of becoming.

Between January to July 2003 The Friends of the High Line hosted an open competition to ‘Re-design’ the High Line with teams of landscape designers and architects, taking notice of its own, non-touched, transformation. More than 720 entries were received. In 2004 the winners were announced, the team of James Corner Field Operations, landscape architect, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architect were chosen.

The first two phases are complete with the transformation of the tracks into a living park above the city. The final phase is underway. On Nov. 1, 2011 all the stakeholders publicly announced their commitment to transform the remaining tracks and yard into open public space.

CSX will donate the remainder of High Line to the City of New York as it has the other parts. The City of New York with Related Companies will preserve the entire structure. This transformation of the High Line includes parts that are dug out, still above the city, for pools and resting places.

It is not only an introduction to a better, greener, environment but is also bringing new economic life back to the historic downtown, Meat Packing District, that has only recently began to turn around.

A lease agreement between Related Companies and Coach has been established. Related Companies will construct, beginning 2012, a new Coach office building of 600,000 square feet.

Architecture’s practice is not only about building the new or preserving the past but finding alternative solutions that bring both moments together in brilliant understanding. The use of a once innovative solution to traffic problems, the High Line, and now its transformation into a public park are just a small step to a grandeur future.

Resources: New York Architecture and The High Line


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Jennifer Shockley

Jennifer is originally from Colorado and has recently moved back from Michigan. She is finishing up her Master’s degree in Architecture. She is currently focusing on urban planning and sustainable design and hopes to gain employment at a design firm specializing in these areas. Jennifer also has writing experience serving as an editor for her school newspaper and college magazine. Jennifer has two cats named Prada and Dior-aptly named after her shoe obsession. You can follow Jennifer on twitter @jenshock81.
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